Brewing Goodness: How Breweries and Restaurants Can Drive Traffic Through Volunteerism

In the competitive landscape of dining and drink establishments, standing out is more important than ever. But, so is standing up. While attracting and retaining loyal patrons is an evergreen challenge, one less-often explored avenue is promoting good works to grow foot traffic. By turning compassion into a catalyst for business, breweries and restaurants not only give back to the community, they also stand to draw in a crowd. These businesses can be community cornerstones, so pursuing this kind of promotion just makes sense.

Volunteer and sip a beer

The idea is simple and effective: Your customers volunteer for a cause and get a drink at your establishment. This concept has seen a lot of traction in beachside eateries and drink hubs where patrons can exchange a bucket of picked-up trash for a free drink. But why limit it to the shores? Breweries, bars, cafes, and restaurants of all types can adopt this foot-traffic driving initiative: Roadside and park cleanups can occur in just about every locale. Whether the promotion offers a sizable espresso drink, a pint of premium craft beer, or a refreshing seasonal cocktail or mocktail, rewarding community service with a sip is a memory-creating win-win-win: Customers get memories and freebies, the community is improved, and you keep your business high in the minds of those who participate.

espresso drink, a pint of premium craft beer, or a refreshing cocktail or mocktailespresso drink, a pint of premium craft beer, or a refreshing cocktail or mocktail
canning, cleaning, and labeling partiescanning, cleaning, and labeling parties

Everyone loves a party

Breweries have some of the tightest margins, and labor is a big cost. And, as we all know, a local brewery better be all about community, or it probably won’t make it. That’s why, in this corner of the beverage industry, the practice of hosting canning, cleaning, and labeling “parties” has been a popular way for establishments to gather free help in exchange for drinks.

However, the potential to direct this energy towards outward community involvement is vast. While in-house promotions are beneficial for the business, turning the spotlight onto volunteering creates a ripple effect. A rising tide lifts all boats. A brewery or other establishment that looks outside of itself and grows community might have a greater pool of volunteers to call on when its own need arises.

We’ll get to outside-the-establishment ideas below, but, for now, if you want to keep a partnership event on site, consider these suggestions:

  • Bars and restaurants often all have one major asset in common: space. And, a charity may need said space to host their fundraiser or other event. Event space is costly, so donating your floor can produce a great write-off and generate some sales … and buzz.
  • Riffing on that event-space idea: If you want to keep your place humming as usual but still want to do some good, consider a “percent of sales” night. You donate a percentage to the charity on a given date, and the charity will likely urge patrons your way to get those sales up. Everyone wins.
  • Finally, to play on the brewery party idea: Maybe a charity’s volunteers help the brewery bottle, label, and pack in exchange for a beverage or two. In turn, the brewery makes a donation to the charity. The donation could come in below the cost of regular labor, and everyone comes out ahead. 

In the end, no matter which cause you choose or how you choose to help out: It's about aiding the community in general. And, in turn, it’s about creating a loyal customer base that values and respects your establishment's commitments.

Specific in-the-community volunteering concepts to consider

Cleaning up the common ground

As discussed above: Whether it's a beach, river, or lake — or park, roadside, city block, etc. — establishments can engage patrons to help clean vital areas. Businesses can also up the ante by showing up in person to aid in the cleanup. Make sure you document the before, during, and after on social! (This content would also be great for newsletters…)

Get into the green with eco-friendly bags

If you really want to next-level that local clean-up, you could have volunteers use branded recyclable or reusable bags. A local, eco-focused nonprofit is the perfect candidate to sell the bags. Volunteers fill the bags, empty them at a collection site, and show them at your establishment for a beverage or other reward. Your restaurant or bar could offer a discount, a free drink, an app — there are a lot of ways to structure this kind of promo. Again: Include the outcomes on social.

recyclable or reusable bagsrecyclable or reusable bags

Don’t underestimate a classic donation drive

Partnering with charitable-drive-sponsoring organizations can boost an establishment's image and impact. Restaurants and breweries can run campaigns to collect:

  • Food items for the hungry. Four cans of veggies for a free app or discounted main!
  • Winter clothing drives during the colder months. Give a coat and warm up with a rich seasonal beer!
  • Toy collections during festive seasons. Give a tot a toy and collect some custom merch! Donated toys could be added up to earn cooler and cooler items.
  • Collaborate with animal shelters to gather pet food and toys. You could go so far as to brand a dog toy/stuffy for the participants who gather the most.
  • And, don’t forget blood drives. There’s always a need. Give a pint and get a pint is a classic tagline, but … uh … maybe make it a 16 ounce mocha latte instead!
wooden nickelwooden nickel

Tokens: Volunteering made tangible

A “wooden nickel” initiative is a great way for participants — and the partner charity — to track activity. Every time someone volunteers or completes a desired good deed with an external organization, they earn a wooden nickel. These nickels can then be exchanged for a beer or any other reward the establishment offers (reminder: see above for ideas!). Nickels not only gamify the volunteering experience but also drive repeat business as a recipient could store them up for later (depending on the terms of your promotion).

Let the nickels pile up: Do good on the reg

All the ideas above are fine as one-offs, but breweries and restaurants that invest in these kinds of efforts and turn them into a part of their brand identity can really see a return in the number of loyal followers they can attract. The Network for Business Sustainability has a great article on Medium that looks thoughtfully at how impactful regular brewery volunteering events can be for the brewery, patrons, and community. To summarize: Customers associate the positive emotions generated by volunteering with the brewery — a very special outcome, and one that is very hard for businesses to achieve just through regular marketing. In other words: Genuine investment in community brings real returns.

Other ongoing causes and ideas to consider:

  • Support or launch a community garden in partnership with a food-security-focused nonprofit. One great money-saving tip: Divert your food and brewing wastes to the garden for compost.
  • A never-ending book drive. Bring a book and get a beer or app. Books go to schools and nonprofits. 
  • The book drive idea, but for school supplies. (Both ideas are sure to have parents bringing in their friends.)
  • Nonprofit meeting space. If you have a quiet room you save for larger parties but it sits empty some of the time, make it available to a local nonprofit as a workspace with the caveat that they mention your establishment on social. Chances are they’ll order food and beverages, too.

The establishments that last are all about community

Bridging the gap between business and community service might just be the golden ticket for establishments in the ever-evolving food and beverage industry. Not only can doing good increase foot traffic and brand loyalty, but it can carve out a unique space for a business in patrons' hearts. Think outside your establishment, do some good, and raise up yourself and your community.