Back to School: 8 Ways Your Restaurant Can Engage

With the new school year around the corner, now’s the time to study up on ways to support students—and their families and educators. Get involved with these back-to-school ideas.

1. Sponsor a school-supply drive. Each summer, the Phoenix-area franchise of Famous Dave’s hosts a school-supply drive for kids in need. Partnering with the nonprofit Southwest Human Development, the barbecue joint invites the community to drop off crayons, glue sticks, pencils and other supplies at its four locations. As an incentive, anyone donating a new backpack receives a voucher for a free Georgia Chopped Pork Sandwich. “It’s awesome seeing the community working together to help those in need,” says Assistant Manager Anant VanOrdt, who usually finds four or five new donations per shift, from repeat customers and new faces.

2. Tap into media — traditional and social. Jamba Juice franchisee Vitaligent used social media postings and email blasts to spread the word about school-supply drives at its 79 Northern California locations. The Mountain View, Calif., location also hosted a daylong community event that raised more than $8,000 in school supplies, partnering with the local NBC affiliate, local radio stations and the nonprofit Family Giving Tree.

“We’re always looking for ways we can give back to the community,” says Tasha Prybyla, Vitaligent director of employee success. Having grown up in a family where cash was tight, Prybyla knows firsthand the importance of school-supply donations. Now, in a position to pay it forward, she spearheaded the effort to bring the school-supply drive to all the Northern California locations.

Adding a modern twist to the school-supply drive, 30 Jamba Juice locations are running a “check-in and donate” campaign. From July through October 2, Vitaligent will donate a student notebook each time someone checks in to one of these Northern California locations’ Facebook pages.

3. Support industry education. More than 100,000 high school juniors and seniors at about 1,800 high schools participate in the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation ProStart program, which offers culinary and restaurant-management training. Contact your state restaurant association to find a ProStart school near you, and get ideas to support local ProStart students. You could serve as a mentor, help students prepare for competitions, or donate equipment.

4. Pair with the PTA.  Invite neighborhood schools to host a fundraising night at your restaurant. California Pizza Kitchen teams with schools and other nonprofit organizations, donating 20 percent of sales from the fundraiser — totaling millions of dollars over the past 20 years. Provide schools with fliers to promote the event. Don’t forget to send a digital copy the school can post on its website and publicize through social media.

Jamba Juice also focuses on supporting PTAs as its Washington state locationsare soaring to success through a new partnership with the Seattle Seahawk mascot and local PTAs. The Seahawk mascot visits events that promote healthful­ eating, featuring Jamba Juice smoothie giveaways. The events also launch the sale of PTA fundraising cards with “buy-one, get-one-free” offers from Jamba Juice. The schools keep 50 percent of the proceeds from the card sales.

5. Offer family-friendly deals. Help families stretch their back-to-school budget by offering a discount in August for receipts that show school supply purchases. Partner with a local school-supply retailer to cross-promote the deal. Or consider offering free kids’ meals on weeknights throughout September.

6. Become the teacher’s pet. Treat teachers and staff to brownies or bagels during teacher professional days preceding the school year. Deliver the goodies to nearby schools along with promotional materials and coupons. Become a part of their busy morning routine by offering teachers free coffee with any breakfast sandwich throughout September.

7. Ace high school. Reach out to your local high school about catering for its sports teams, marching band, and cheer squad. The seven Which Wich sandwich shops owned by the S.M.A.R.T. Restaurant Group franchisee in Texas serve a lot of game-day meals. The deliveries are after the lunch rush, usually 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., so it works well, says company president TJ Schier.

8. Get on campus. Welcome students to nearby colleges by sponsoring freshman orientation or participating in a back-to-school fair. Consider a giveaway like a cup stamped with your restaurant’s name and logo that students can bring in for a free drink with each meal purchase.

This content is brought to you by Fishbowl Marketing, a data, marketing & analytics solution provider serving restaurants.