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National Restaurant Association - Community service pays off

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Community service pays off

When Corner Bakery Cafe expanded its participation in a campaign to end childhood hunger, it got more than it bargained for.

It’s a great cause, and it adds value for business, says Jim Vinz, president and chief operating officer.

Corner Bakery Cafe is one of the original participants in Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. The event, which began in 2008 as the Great American Dine Out, is set for Sept. 18 through Sept. 24.

Last year, Corner Bakery raised $250,000 and saw an improvement in Q4 sales, partly related to the campaign. This year, the company expects to raise even more for the campaign. As of Monday, this year's fundraising was ahead of last year's pace, says Vinz, a member of the National Restaurant Association's Fast Casual Industry Council.

But it took some trial and error to get there.

The first year Corner Bakery participated in the Dine Out, it raised $25,000 by donating a percentage of sales from certain menu items. Vinz was disappointed.
"It was a real learning year for us," he says.

The following year, the company raised $50,000, but Vinz and his team wanted to do more. In 2010, Corner Bakery extended its participation to four weeks. This year's Campaign began Sept. 1 and runs through Sept. 24.

"To get guests and staff more excited, you need more than seven days," Vinz says.

Last year, Corner Bakery also decided to offer bounce back coupons, rather than promote specific menu items. Here's how it's Dine Out bounce back works:

The company offers $1 certificates in exchange for its signature Whoopee Pies and $5 booklets for $35 of special offers. Each customer who makes a donation gets to write his or her name on a card, which is posted on the walls of each cafe. Last year, the company had a 49 percent redemption rate on the Whoopee Pie bounce back certificates.

Corner Bakery promotes Dine Out for No Kid Hungry through Facebook, Twitter, in-cafe merchandising and its eCafe mailings. It tracks results daily, weekly and monthly for its 102 corporate and 19 franchised stores.

"Employees are excited about it," Vinz says. "Nobody wants to see kids go hungry. And it's close to home, so employees can talk about [the Dine Out] pretty easily."

After the campaign ended last year, the company promoted its results to employees and guests.

"We said, "Here's what you did to help us raise $250,000,' " Vinz noted.

The campaign was a success with guests and employees because it allowed them to give back in a way that was meaningful to them, Vinz says. Share Our Strength uses Dine Out proceeds to fight hunger in the communities where Corner Bakery employees and guests live and work. The money goes to food banks and organizations that provide school breakfasts and after-school and summer meals.

Corner Bakery benefitted from more than a boost in employee morale. Q4 2010 sales increased 7.6 percent from the same period a year ago.

"It was our best quarter in years," Vinz says. "[Dine Out] was certainly part of that."

Share Our Strength aims to raise $3 million this year through Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. Last year, 4,153 restaurants raised more than $1.5 million, double the amount raised in 2009. The National Restaurant Association is a founding sponsor of the event.

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