Our Progress and Plans: a brief discussion

- by Bob Perry

I’ve been fielding more questions lately about my plans for The Benefit Restaurant® Project. This post is a brief update on my experience thus far, my intentions for guiding its development, and the outcomes I expect for this new model of philanthropy.

First, and most importantly, I want to state emphatically that it is my goal to grow The Benefit Restaurant® Project into a national Association of Benefit Restaurants, with member restaurants numbering at least a thousand. I don’t expect this to be a simple process and nor do I expect it to happen quickly. But it is a job well worth undertaking because it is a clear win for all involved: participating restaurants, their employees and purveyors, nonprofits and all their stakeholders, and the dining public.

The Elephant Walk in Waltham became the first Benefit Restaurant® in September 2009. My plan was to pilot the Project in a single location and monitor how the restaurant’s performance changed over time.

Since becoming a Benefit Restaurant®, The Elephant Walk in Waltham’s sales have increased steadily and, after two consecutive record years in 2011 and 2012, annual sales are now more than 30% higher than any year prior to joining the Project. These trends are well ahead of our industry and local market. And, since joining the Project, the restaurant donated more than $180,000 in cash to its nonprofit beneficiaries.

Why nonprofits would welcome a large association of Benefit Restaurants is obvious: Their funding pool would grow much deeper and wider. So, too, would their ability to reach out to new and existing stakeholders be greatly enhanced.

The benefit of a large national Association of Benefit Restaurants to participating restaurants is more complex, but no less compelling. First the low hanging fruit: On the revenue side, our experience shows that Benefit Restaurants’ sales will be significantly higher than non-Benefit Restaurants, all other features and factors being equal.

Beyond the sales bump induced by the direct outreach to their stakeholders by beneficiary nonprofits, I believe that growing awareness of the community value added by Benefit Restaurants will lead a great many people to BEGIN their decision-making process as to where to eat out with consulting the list of Benefit Restaurants in their area.

This habit will form in much the same way OpenTable has become the daily starting point for untold thousands choosing their next dining destination. The relatively new Social Impact App – available on the web now, not just on iPhones – is a great example of a way you can constrain your search for merchants (including some restaurants) that are socially responsible.

On the cost side… As a matter of principle I’ve never asked a single purveyor I do business with at The Elephant Walk in Waltham to discount their goods or services since we became a Benefit Restaurant®. However, as the number of Benefit Restaurants grows, I can certainly imagine vendors OFFERING discounts to Benefit restaurants in order to win the business of a large number of potential customers. The Elephant Walk in Waltham has already enjoyed contributions from suppliers inspired by our firm commitment to giving.

On the financing side, I will work hard to establish a stable of impact investors committed to helping fund the growth and development of Benefit Restaurants. The availability of friendly capital to restaurateurs who choose to join an association of Benefit Restaurants will be a compelling incentive to join the movement.

Lastly, growing a large family of like-minded social entrepreneurs from a single industry creates a vast funds of knowledge in concentrations including culinary, beverage, service, human resources, marketing, accounting, legal, and business management best practices that each member might draw from as needed.

As for the immediate future of The Benefit Restaurant® Project? Presently the lion’s share of my time and attention is devoted to the immediate needs of my restaurant, which will be expanding this year from 85 to 150 seats. I have, however, begun developing my “pitch” to my fellow independent restaurateurs to encourage them to join me on this path that I have learned strengthens one’s business while strengthening nonprofits. I will begin my formal outreach later this year.

In the meantime, I encourage any independent restaurateur in any restaurant market segment interested in joining – or in simply learning more about The Benefit Restaurant® Project to reach out to me via email – bob at benefitrestaurants dot org. I look forward to working with you on growing the pool of funding for nonprofits while strengthening your restaurant in the process!

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