When it comes to raising money for good causes, restaurants are pretty good about doing the gala dinners or golf tournaments.
But those events only come around once or twice a year, and, these days, it’s not easy to get attendees to pay $200-plus per head for a seat at a table—no matter how great the food or important the cause.
So Harald Herrmann, chief executive of Irvine, Calif.-based Yard House Restaurants, has come up with a plan for “everyday giving.”
He’s calling it Round it Up America, a simple program in which customers who pay by credit card are able to round up their dinner checks to the nearest dollar with the change donated to local charities.
It may seem like small change, but pennies can have a lot of power, Herrmann says.
The program is now in place at 23 of Yard House’s 25 restaurants. Together they are averaging about $1,000 per day for Round it Up America. Herrmann anticipates raising about $360,000 in the first year.
The program is administered by the Orange County Community Foundation, which helps connect the individual restaurants with local charities.
In Yard House’s case, the money raised in Orange County locations will benefit three charities: Share Our Selves, which offers services such as food, clothing and medical care to low-income residents; Mercy House, which targets the homeless; and the Council On Aging, which helps older adults.
In addition, Yard House will donate funds to the National Restaurant Association Scholarship Fund and ProStart to support kids interested in foodservice careers.
Herrmann envisions Round it Up America becoming a national program. Two other restaurant chains in Southern California—Maria’s Italian Kitchen and Marmalade Café—have already signed up, and Herrmann plans to pitch the idea to the California Restaurant Association board, of which he is vice chairman.
All operators need to begin is the free software to apply to their payment systems. Minimal server training is necessary, and 95 percent of the money goes to the selected charity, Herrmann said.
He does, however, ask participants to earmark at least 10 percent to an educational cause or one that serves national needs, such as Operation Home Front, which helps veterans and their families, or one of the organizations that feed the hungry.
“The economic downturn has impacted non-profit organizations that depend on charitable donations,” Herrmann said. “Round it Up America empowers individuals of all ages and income levels to donate nominal change and be part of a larger, more collective sum.”
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