How Restaurants and Cafes Make the World a Better Place (and how to track it)

How Restaurants and Cafes Make the World a Better Place (and how to track it)

By: Emily Kane Miller

As social impact work extends from traditional philanthropy and volunteerism to include advocacy, employee engagement, sustainability, impact investment and so much more – I wanted to create a tool for today’s leading-edge impact players that would better track and manage the entirety of their social impact data, measure KPIs and ROI, help deploy resources more effectively, and support sharing this work with internal and external stakeholders more powerfully. For a bit more context, you can read the “why I built this” story here

Restaurants, cafes and restaurant groups are some of our country’s most notable doers. You feed people for goodness sake! But often, the good work that you do - which, when you add it up translates to so much value - goes unnoticed and under-reported. 

The best way to address that issue is to track 100% of the good you do for your community, your employees, and our world. With all of this data in one place, you can truly track, manage, take pride in and share your impact. Here are just a few examples of what we mean (all of which - of course! - can be managed in Ethos Tracking). 

One note - our work is categorized using our Ethos Lever Model: a system I created to address the infamous lack of universal measurement in the social impact landscape, and to define the many actions – or “Levers” – that organizations take, which collectively make up a social impact portfolio. Each Lever provides an opportunity to create value, but when strategically pulled together – result in a powerful and cohesive social impact effort.

*Most organizations focus their efforts on 4-5 of the 14 Levers - so no stress if only a few speak to you. 

  • Cash: Cash donations are perhaps the most traditional method of giving. The Cash Lever refers to flexing your dollars to benefit social impact, whether dollars are going to nonprofits, advocacy work, or even dollars that flow to other for-profit entities but serve your overall impact gooals. 
    • Many restaurants make donations to nonprofits – like Flower Child does throughout each year on “Give Back Days” (Giving TuesdayAutism Awareness Month, etc.) for The Autism Community in Action (TACA).
    • The impact of your cash can reach beyond grants – you can use cash to make donations to a political candidate or cause which furthers your social impact goals. You can also use your dollars with for-profit partners (commerce) – working with vendors who share your values, or spending money on a values-aligned purpose. Dig Inn, for example, chooses to direct its dollars toward minority-run and small-scale farms who are equally passionate about sustainable growing practices. Those dollars are also part of the social impact landscape – so make sure you’re capturing that data, too. 
  • In-kind: In-kind donations of non-monetary goods or services can also generate significant positive impact. This is when you take the products or services unique to your business and donate them to partners, individuals, or organizations who need it most, and wouldn’t otherwise have access. This is such a huge point of value for restaurants and cafes, which are literally donating tons of food a year. 
    • Many restaurant companies opt to donate food. For example, Panera’s Day-End Dough-Nation program, which annually donates more than $100 million of unsold food products to local hunger-relief nonprofits.
    • Others opt to give industry expertise – like Tender Greens, whose Sustainable Life Project harnesses the company’s resources by providing six-month paid culinary internships to former foster youth (who are then invited to apply for employment).
  • Volunteerism: Providing voluntary labor (skilled or unskilled!) is a popular way for companies to engage their greater organization around their social impact work. Volunteerism might take shape through an annual employee volunteer day, or through activating your organization’s broader community on an ongoing basis.
    • Starbucks teamed up with NPO volunteer program Points of Light to launch a pilot program where 36 employees continue to receive their full pay package while working at select non-profit organizations for half the work week. That initiative added up to more than 17,000 hours of community service.
  • Advocacy: The Advocacy Lever refers to asserting individual or brand leadership to support a cause or policy. As we define it, Advocacy includes legislative support at the local, state, federal and international levels, of course – but also work that’s done through the private sector. This includes engaging with trade associations (like the National Restaurant Association or National Coffee Association) and key vendors to update important protocols and policies, which carry ripple effects for restaurant employees, contractors and the broader community.
    • Starbucks has made its advocacy presence known through its support of social causes over the years, such hiring refugees 
    • We saw so many restaurant leaders step up during the pandemic to secure public and private support for the industry and for their individual team members
  • Employee Initiatives: This Lever refers to companies taking “above and beyond” action to support employees and their families – in other words, bringing the power of your social impact work to the people that work for you.
    • Little Tart – an Atlanta-based group of bakeries whose social impact work centers around supporting restaurant workers – adds a 4 percent pre-tax fee to all transactions to pay for employee healthcare and PTO, a rare benefit in the service industry.
    • Shake Shack is also committed to upholding Employee Initiatives through an array of benefits – including a generous parental leave policy and its HUG Fund, which provides quick financial assistance to team members in emergency situations (grants average $1,960). 
  • Community is, of course, engaging with your neighborhood community  – but it also includes your online presence. Leveraging your company’s power to engage with people – in person or through your channels – and mobilizing that audience to engage with the issues your organization cares about is all part of your social impact effort. Don’t underestimate the importance of event-attendance numbers or social media metrics.
    • Pressed Juicery engages with its social following to bring attention to sustainability issues – for example, by sharing a blog post with a detailed breakdown regarding how to properly recycle
  • Supply chain: There is often an opportunity to advance your social and environmental goals by prioritizing mission-aligned vendors. Consider your contracts and relationships, and think about where it could be possible to build impact into those relationships. Many restaurants opt for suppliers who share their values and further their social impact objectives.
    • To support its DEI goals, Sweetgreen champions diverse farmers and partners: “Given that just 1.4% of the country’s 3.4 million producers are Black, we’re committed to longer term support for the work of BIPOC farmers, making it easier to onboard new and young farmers, suppliers, and growers, and removing roadblocks along the way.”
    • Finding mission-aligned vendors doesn’t always need to mean switching suppliers – you can start by helping to educate the groups along your supply chain. To promote humane livestock farming, many restaurant groups are working with farmers and ranchers to raise the bar.
  • Partnership: When it comes to social impact, your business is uniquely situated to do certain things – and vice versa; there are nonprofits positioned to make impact in ways out of your reach. Nonprofit partnerships unite like-minded organizations with shared values, so that the business and nonprofit can each bring what they’re best at to make the social change they both believe needs to happen.
    • The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit which provides emergency assistance for food service workers through financial support and a network of community resources, has longstanding partnerships with restaurants in the Southeastern United States.  
    • Just Salad and Zero Footprint work together to raise funds for regenerative farming, even releasing a new menu item (15% of its sales were donated to the cause).
  • Sustainability: Today’s social impact leaders are all thinking about sustainability – tracking environmental impact and holding teams accountable to meaningful environmental stewardship. Measuring, managing, and reducing your environmental footprint is critical. That said, it can be hard to keep track of everything you are doing, especially if some of it is related to vendors or downstream partners. A good place to start is by calculating a baseline of where your organization currently stands – then set goals and implement procedures to reduce your footprint over time, considering offsets when it makes sense. If you need help, make sure you’re working with consultants or resources that tie to generally recognized standards that are relevant to the restaurant industry. And of course, ensure all of that data is captured and wrapped into your social impact portfolio!
    • Blue Bottle is committed to being carbon neutral by 2024, and in the interest of transparency, publishes extensive sustainability reports.
    • Many companies opt to join groups like 1% for the Planet, “a global network of businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations tackling our planet's most pressing environmental issues.”
  • DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are fundamental to social impact success, and - of course - if you want to get DEI right, you must measure it, manage it, and stay accountable to your goals.
    • In the interest of advancing gender diversity – especially important in the restaurant industry, “which is known for being a ‘boys club’” – Tender Greens has committed to filling 50% of its restaurant leadership positions with women.
    • Shake Shack does a great job of quantifying and tracking its DEI goals, and publishes those statistics in its annual “Stand for Something Good” social impact report – for example, in 2021 “there were 2,835 internal promotions, with 56% going to women and 73% going to people of color, almost double the number of promotions from 2020.”
  • FundraisingWhile every Lever is critical - money matters. The Fundraising Lever focuses on using your brand and network to raise third-party funds that support your mission-aligned nonprofit partners. There are many creative ways to mobilize your community to contribute – consider a 50/50 raffle, where 50% of profits are channeled into your social impact work, or a special event where ticket sales are donated to a partner NPO. You can even open up your playbook regarding your organization’s key grants, and articulate how others can help add to the work (and leverage your major contributions at the same time).
    • Rustic Canyon is a leader in Fundraising: “Through the generous support of our guests, family and friends over the years, we’ve been able to raise nearly $2 million for LA-based non-profits focused on feeding those in need, supporting homeless families & individuals, the environment, racial equality, education and more.”
    • Rubio’s virtual fundraisers donate 30% of all pre-tax sales back to the cause (they also create custom flyers and social media images to help promote fundraising events – the In-kind Lever in action!).
    • Panera partners with charities working with underserved youth, like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs – and supplements its own Cash support through Give Change for Childrena program that provides customers the option to round up their orders, with excess proceeds donated to its nonprofit partners. 
  • Sales: You may be selling products or services that inherently support social impact objectives – think healthy food, where the good you’re bringing to the world is already baked (sorry!) into what you’re selling. If that’s the case, make sure the data you track on the sales side is integrated with data on the impact side.
    • Everytable, for example, is on a mission “to transform the food system to make fresh, nutritious food accessible to everyone, everywhere” by selling “nutritious, fresh, made-from-scratch food, at fast-food prices” in all communities, including food deserts and underserved areas. Every meal sold means someone is accessing healthy food, which is good for the world!

At the end of the day, multi-faceted impact work tends to fall through the cracks without a cohesive system to track it all on an ongoing basis. Ethos Tracking also offers a user-friendly survey function which can be used to automatically gather information from your different storefronts or teams in other regions. All of this data should be harnessed and laddered into one location – so when the time comes, it’s easy to communicate the extent of your incredible work to your customers, your leadership, stakeholders, and beyond.

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