One of the best ways to get your restaurant involved in a cause is by leveraging the power of your local communities. Local causes are meaningful and relevant to customers, and a restaurant’s involvement in them showcases that it cares about the community it serves. This can help a business build loyalty among customers, and spread positive awareness in its community. However, delivering a consistent, actionable message to your local community can be challenging when your restaurant locations are spread across the country.

As VP of Marketing at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, a 130-plus location brand, I searched for innovative and convenient ways to rally the brand around a singular effort that would complement existing community-engagement efforts by our franchisees.

We are fortunate to have amazing franchisees that constantly balance all that it takes to run a successful restaurant, from sales to operations to staffing, so I wanted to make sure that any program I added on wouldn’t create extra effort for them or their teams.

From the marketing perspective, I wanted to focus on reaching and engaging a younger demographic of customers to help position Lee’s for the future. Millennial and Gen Z customers have a collective mindset and truly care about their community as a whole, so I wanted to ensure they felt heard with our social responsibility. Focusing on a national initiative may not have the ‘feel-good’ trickle down to those customers at the local level, leaving them thinking of us as purely a national chain and not a part of their community.

In 2022, I learned about a program called GiftAMeal where customers simply take a photo of their food or drink to help provide a meal to a local family in need.

The donations triggered by the photos are made to local food banks to cover their distribution costs of getting healthy groceries to neighborhood pantries where those in need can access it. 

I found a solution to capture the hometown draw of our restaurants’ crowds locally, but on a national scale across our whole brand. The program is free for customers to participate in, funded by us, and franchisees have loved it as an easy added on layer to our social responsibility that actually helps their communities. Over 50,000 meals have already been provided due to our customers taking photos at Lee’s.

Ultimately, as restaurant operators, we are community partners. To give back locally is to build trust and loyalty with our customers so they keep coming back to support our operators, our staff, and our

Dan Sokolik, food industry veteran, is the Vice President of Marketing for Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken brand. Sokolik has 20 years of quick-service restaurant marketing experience at the corporate, ad agency and franchisee levels. His work includes over 10 years with Subway in both corporate field marketing and agency account director roles. He also led an agency team for McDonald’s and was director of marketing for a multi-unit Domino’s Pizza franchise. Sokolik is also on the Advisory Board of GiftAMeal.

Business Advice, Charitable Giving, Fast Food, Growth, Marketing & Promotions, Operations, Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story, Lee's Famous Recipe