Local Restaurant
Credit: Pixabay-Unsplash

Local restaurants like the one pictured here are perfect for fundraisers because they are easy to get to and love the publicity.

"What are these magical 'dinner nights'?" you ask skeptically. Well, in truth, they're not magic but they will help your group raise money in an efficient and fun way. Maybe your usual and occasional car wash/ bake sale isn't cutting it and you just want a way to revamp your monthly fundraiser. A dinner night is basically a fundraiser where an organization or club (such as PTA, Charity club, etc...) hosts a "dinner night" at a local restaurant. The club supplies customers while the restaurant returns the favor with a percentage of their sales for the night. It's an easy way to make a couple hundred dollars in just a few hours. But, how? It's simple, just follow these three steps to make your first dinner night:

The Planning

(Parts A,B, and C)

A. Location, location, location. This step is the most important so naturally it comes first.
Tell me. Where would you (or your participants rather)  prefer eat? The local diner with friendly service and a lively band or the hamburger stand across town where the grunting fry cook and the buzz of flies are the only entertainment? Pick some place that has good food and that you will actually enjoy being there for a few hours. Another thing to consider when picking your location is how much percentage of their sales they will give you. For a first time fundraiser, 20% is ideal. Anything less than that (unless you expect an amazing turnout) would not really be worth your time. Some places will give you more than that if they are a big chain. Also, if you are targeting a younger generation, try to pick a place that is easy to drive to/ doesn't require people to leave tips. Places without waiters or drive ups  are usually a good place to start.

B. For this kind of fundraiser, you typically have to speak to a manager. Sometimes, though, there might be several managers and only one who deals with fundraisers like these. So, to save yourself the hassle, call ahead and say something along the lines of: "Hi, my name is *insert your name, organization, and position here*. I would like to speak with a manager in order to set up a fundraiser." At this point, they will either put you on hold until the manager becomes available or they will tell you that he or she will not be in until such and such date and to call back at that time. It is always better to call ahead than to end up like me - park in a twenty-minute parking space, wait nearly forty minutes for the cashier to tell that, no, the manger is not able to speak with you today, have to rush back to your car just as the meter maid comes around the block, and then have to do the whole process all over again (true story.) So, just call ahead and save yourself the stress.

C. Next in the planning process, be sure to have a date and time picked out, several in fact. Some places will not do certain days because they already give discounts on that day (i.e. Veteran's day, Thanksgiving, certain random "blackout days",  as I like to call them, when a restaurant will not let you have a fundraiser there for some unknown reason.) At my school, we typically avoid Mondays, Fridays, and weekends. You are free to do these dates but your turnout will probably be lower that expected. Also, time-wise, three to four hours is good. Some places will allow you to get a percentage of their sales all day and I would encourage you to do this if they allow it ( unless they say this deal comes with a percentage decrease on your part.)

The Advertising

So you've done all the planning, the calling and the scheduling. However, it isn't enough to just plan the event. While you may have several loyal volunteers and participants, this is the type of fundraiser that requires you to reach out to your local people. To do this you have to have some form of advertising. When you go into the restaurant, after you have your date and time set up, the manager will typically give or email you a restaurant approved flyer with your club's name, the date of the event, and the time.
When I work on these types of fundraisers, I post these flyers up all around town and make copies to hand out to people. (I hand out the flyers mostly because sometimes the restaurants require customers to have the flyer to give that money to you. For this, they keep the receipts from everyone who brings in a flyer, add those  totals up, and take whatever percentage from that specific amount.) I always advertise on social media and state the purpose for the fundraiser. Also at the fundraiser, I take down names and emails so that I can send them a reminder when the next dinner night comes up.

The Incentives (Optional):Now you are there, at the restaurant, waiting for the cash to flow in. But wait what's this?  There are the usual people, club members, alumni, etc. but not the amount of people you were expecting. To give your dinner night a bit more flavor, sometimes it is helpful to give out incentives to draw more people in. The incentives range from entering a customer in a raffle, giving them coupon for a later date based on how much they spend, and giving small giveaways based on how much they spend (buttons, stickers). These are just a nice little way to say thanks for coming and we hope you participate  again soon. I stress that these are optional because you will be able to have a successful dinner night without them, but the occasional, small gift encourages the customer to return again.

The Check

Last but certainly not least is your check. One of the things I have found to be true is that restaurants typically have you fill out the financial paperwork (a F9 form or others depending on the restaurant) after your fundraiser. They ask for your name, the organization name, address, email, phone number, and the most important item on this list: your Tax ID Number. You must have this to receive your check. If your organization makes taxable money, you have one. Ask your group leader, auditor, or the personal who controls the finances in your group for it so that you have it. After you have filled out the  paperwork and return it, you're done! You will typically receive the check two weeks after your dinner night. Now all that's left to do is think how your group is going to spend the extra money.

Tips and Tricks

  1. When you get a hold of the manager, be sure to leave callback information and an email just in case they need anything more.
  2. A few weeks before the fundraiser, be sure to call the restaurant and confirm your date and time with them. You want to make sure that all your hard work doesn't go to waste due to miscommunication!
  3. Have dinner nights every month because they are easy to set up and don't need a lot of time. Also, people around town will start expecting a monthly dinner night  to go to.