"Excuse me, I am with the society for the betterment of the Universal Configuration of Pluto as a Planet and I would like to speak with someone about a small donation. Who would that be? By the way, I am a very regular customer."
Yes, the donation dilemma — that constant struggle of knowing you have to say “yes” to some and “no” to others is a daily contender for the "How do I deal with this" award. But, it doesn´t have to be. Donations are a huge part of the restaurant business and if planned and initiated within a budget, they are a wise way to give back to the community to those less fortunate. Seldom did my donation column ever approach the number that was in my budget. Plus, donations can also be a usiness booster. That aspect, however, should be a secondary concern. The return on a donation is a matter of heart, not money.
I don´t know if anyone has been tracking the restaurant donation figures over the last few decades but I am sure the numbers are astounding. And, they should be. There isn´t a restaurantowner in the country that should hesitate to donate gift certificates or meals to worthy causes. The question is how much do you give throughout the year?The answer should be based on a percentage of your volume, with the empty table factor taken under consideration.
I had the pleasure of attending the 13th annual Hands Across the Valley gala at the Rubicon Estate Winery, where Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola hosted over 1300 guests. The night was a magical mix of wine, food, music and auctions, both live and silent. The money raised goes towards feeding families of less fortunate means. As the auction paddles shot up like Andre Agassi´s racquet during yesterday´s Open, bid values soared on special wine lots, weekend getaways and dinner with Hoss Zare, Phillippe Jeanty, or Thomas Keller.
When Catherine Bergen, founder and president of Made in Napa Valley raised her paddle, returning a bidding war volley for Keller´s dinner with nine other guests, the auctioneer doubled the prize and Keller agreed – on the spot – to double the anti- offering each of the bidder´s dinner. In a split second, Keller decided to go for it, no questions asked, and in a split second doubled his donation.
Now this may not seem like a big deal to those of us who have empty seats, but Keller´s French Laundry is booked until Pluto melts. On top of that, his average ticket approaches stratosphere dimension at the famed culinary gallery where the artwork is displayed momentarily, at the table through numerous courses.
Donate or not to donate? That is the question. The answer has to be yes.
I enjoyed donating to community causes that were worthy. And, I had a very open donation policy- if I had empty seats during the middle of my dinner rush during the week the donation was requested; the organization got a gift certificate for two, including wine, for dinner. Seldom, did I have a house so full that I couldn´t honor a donated certificate. If I were completely booked, due to the busy season, I would offer the certificate with certain limitation stipulating when it could be used.
Often, a certificate for a catering- preparing dinner at a guest´s home for six or more – is a delightful way to give back. It can also be a smart way to launch a catering business.
Of course I offered these with advertising and marketing benefits in mind. But, first and foremost, I did it because I didn´t have the time to volunteer to help those who needed the help. My contribution was the food at the table in my dining room.
I found this was a simple way to categorize and analyze donations. Of course favorite organizations should receive a more gala donation than just a certificate for dinner for two. Giving back is an important aspect of our business. Seldom do we have any time for civic organizations. Therefore, we must give back should be through our art and profession.
The next time someone asks for that gift certificate for dinner, oblige if you can. It is a simple act of community on an owner´s part and in most instances the money raised goes a long way to helping those who are in need.
As far as the guy from the Pluto organization, just tell him you only contribute to planetary ventures. He´ll understand.