Doing good for the community helps restaurants engage team members, too.

Sponsored by Make-A-Wish.

It’s no secret that partnering with charities and nonprofit organizations can be a big win for restaurants on the public relations front. But it also offers another big benefit: creating organic and meaningful engagement among employees.

Take Make-A-Wish, a respected and beloved organization, which frequently works with restaurants. The premise: donors, volunteers, and supporters team up to grant life-changing wishes to children diagnosed with critical illnesses. On average, a wish is granted every 34 minutes, and research shows a wish can help a child build the physical and emotional strength needed to fight a critical illness. The experience also lifts morale—not only for the wish child, but for their family, community, and everyone involved in helping make the wish possible.

Maggiano’s Little Italy is in its 15th year of partnering with Make-A-Wish, often hosting wish reveals and send-off dinners, where children celebrate their wish-come-true. Though the brand partners with Make-A-Wish on the corporate level for these events, as well as fund raisers, it’s the restaurant-level teammates who are some of the biggest proponents of this fruitful partnership. Over the years, these gatherings have grown to be much-anticipated events among the team.

“The wish reveals and send-off parties are definitely special, and teammates go above and beyond for the kids,” says Mary Machul, senior director of marketing. “If the child’s wish is to be a princess, we’ve had teammates rent costumes. We also have a general manager at one of our restaurants who is a concert-level pianist, and he does concerts to benefit Make-A-Wish.” Each restaurant has its own way of raising funds for the organization. Some locations even have full galas in large banquet spaces, silent auctions, and other events that can raise as much as $5,000 in one night.

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Maggiano’s operators strive to choose activities that excite their teams. Not only does this help ensure fundraising drives are successful, but it also helps brands keep employees engaged in their work.

For example, while the focus is always on the kids, it doesn’t hurt to offer a little competitive incentive among staff. In addition to their annual two-month “Eat-A-Dish for Make-A-Wish” campaign where one dollar from every dish goes to the charity, Maggiano’s offers “star cards” where servers ask tables at the end of the meal if they want to donate to Make-A-Wish. Guests can donate any dollar amount they choose, and names go on stars that are posted around the restaurant. “Teammates love it, and we make it fun for them with extra incentives where they can earn prizes for helping raise money,” Machul says.

Dave & Buster’s has also developed a mutually beneficial relationship with Make-A-Wish over the years. Each year, the chain participates in an annual competition to see which store can raise the most money for the charity. Employees can win prizes for helping raise money, and the friendly competition among staff is a fun way to boost enthusiasm during the summer months.

Send-off parties are also a major part of the partnership for this restaurant, especially for a location in a high-profile city tied to many children’s wishes. At one event, a young girl named Penny requested the full-blown paparazzi treatment—being in the epicenter of star-studded L.A., employees at the Hollywood location took the theme and ran.

“Our staff and guests brought pictures up to her, asked for her autograph, and had her sign them like she was a celebrity,” says senior corporate sales manager Candice Mercado. “It was nice to get the staff engaged, because they know about Make-A-Wish and the company-wide contest—it’s one thing to promote it, but to show them how the donations are used and the impact they have on wish kids adds a whole other element of engagement.” Knowing a few dollars can make such a big difference in a child’s life can be a big motivator to ask for guest donations.

Many employees also want to do good themselves, especially those who are parents. “One of our staff members is very driven working on all the Make-A-Wish events because she is the mom of a four-year-old son,” says Mauro Almazan, special events consultant at the Hollywood Dave & Buster’s location. “She always wants to work the Make-A-Wish events—even if it means she isn’t making tips—because she feels like it’s a way she can give back and do a good deed.”

Creating buzz and staff engagement around these events is a wonderful way for restaurants to boost employee morale. Not only that, but it helps employees feel like the restaurant is an important part of the community. Mercado sums it up nicely: “We’re not just hosting an event, we’re impacting lives.”

Learn how to become a Make-A-Wish sponsor here.

By Davina van Buren

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