Diana Hovey, senior vice president of marketing for Corner Bakery Cafe, participated as a panel member in an education session at the 2010 National Restaurant Association Show that discussed the benefits and strategies of Share Our Strength and its Great American Dine Out.

Share Our Strength is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to end childhood hunger in America. The Great American Dine Out is its week of charitable events at restaurants that supports the cause.

Corner Bakery Cafe participated in the Great American Dine Out last year, raising $50,000 by selling bounce-back coupons to guests for the chain’s Whoopee Pies. The company will participate in the event again this year, which takes place September 19-25.

Hovey sat down with QSR‘s Sam Oches after the education session to discuss Corner Bakery’s role with the Great American Dine Out and what it means for the quick-service industry.

Why did you want to get involved with Share Our Strength?

A couple of years ago I went on a Hinges of Hope tour in New Orleans, and it completely changed my life. There’s nothing to compare to seeing first-hand kids that their lives are changing because of the programs.

Sometimes you just see the challenges—you see hungry kids, you see problems. I certainly saw that, but I saw programs that were making an impact. I saw kids that were skipping down halls.

Were you confident Corner Bakery consumers would care as much about this initiative as you did?

I think everybody relates to ending childhood hunger. The whole mission of “no kid hungry” resonates with everybody. I think what people don’t realize is that hunger is not isolated; it’s not just in some urban market, it’s not just in some neighborhood. It’s in every neighborhood.

I didn’t see that as any big challenge, telling people this was an issue.

What will Corner Bakery’s participation look like this year?

We are taking a step further. We were very excited last year when we doubled our goal. We thought we were going to raise $25,000, we raised $50,000. This year we set our sights on $100,000. We’re doing something different for the Great American Dine Out, on September 19-25, we’re actually starting a little bit early, and building up to a crescendo of that week. We’ve found that our … guests wanted it to last longer. For most of the month of September we’ll be focused on building up to that. So you will have a similar bounce-back program in place, and extended further.

Is it challenging for quick serves to get customers to donate, since ticket averages are lower?

It’s making sure that you know your guest and what’s important to them and you communicate it in such a way. I think the biggest thing is making sure your guests know what their contribution is going toward. So, if you’re communicating in a [quick-service] brand, being able to articulate that your mission is to end childhood hunger, that’s why you’re participating, and then to make sure whatever level of involvement that you’re hoping your guest will participate in is relevant to them. I don’t think it will be a hurdle for them. It’s entirely possible. [Quick service] has such a breadth of appeal from every income level, I think that truthfully they all recognize the same issue.

With the economy in poor shape, is it hard to get people to spend on initiatives like the Great American Dine Out?

Actually, conversely. It’s easier because it’s so top-of-mind, the issue. And I think that it’s really the whole consumer mindset has changed over the last 18 months, moving away from, What can I do for myself? What can I accumulate for myself? to what I can I give back? How can I personally make a difference? They’re anxious to give back, and you’re providing a way for them to get involved.

Is it difficult for Coner Bakery to commit resources to something like this in a down economy?

On the brand side, I can tell you that it is a challenge. I think the beauty of the Dine Out is that it makes it so easy to participate, and being able to introduce something like a bounce-back strategy, because you could not only provide a mechanism for your guest to participate, but you’re actually driving traffic back into the cafes. I think that was the turning point for so many brands, understanding that it could further their business goals, but also give back.

The other thing that’s important during that time, we’re asking so much of our employees every day. They’re facing the same challenges in the economy, and being able to show that as a brand you’re coming together, it actually was a very big positive during the time that people could be feeling pressure.

Corner Bakery is bigger than a lot of other Great American Dine Out participants. Is it hard to get a whole chain on the same page with something like this?

It’s very important that you communicate, not just, “Here’s the program you’re doing for a week,” but, “Here’s who it’s impacting.” One of the great things about the Great American Dine Out and the Share Our Strength organization is they’ll tell you what organizations in each of the markets is benefitting from the dollars raised. So to be able to go back to a franchise partner, to be able to go back to … a group of employees in a market and say, “It’s this specific group, this food bank, and this market that’s receiving the benefit,” it’s great. [Employees are] very prideful, they’re prideful to be able to share that information with their guest, so I think that’s one of the big benefits.

How important are the employees in building excitement for Great American Dine Out?

The employees are the ones that have that contact, that moment of truth with the guests, and they have to believe in it in order to get the guest to believe in it. I think that’s extremely important. The profile of most [quick-service] or fast-casual employees is that whole millennial group and yet you look at that group and one of the biggest things they want to do is believe in the brand that they’re working for, and know that the brand they’re working for is truly giving back. That’s incredibly important to that generation.

Charitable Giving, Menu Innovations, News, Corner Bakery Cafe, NRA Show 2010