Brand Values: Tips and Insights for Restaurants

Posted in Millennials on July 11, 2023

brooke-cagle-WfV4KscvvBQ-unsplashOperators’ stance on key social issues can affect whether customers opt to eat at a restaurant; 71% of consumers say their personal values influence their food choices.¹

As a result, a growing number of eateries are expressing opinions about inequality, climate change and other concerns—and physically supporting causes through endeavors such as donating menu proceeds and providing culinary services at fundraising events.

While independent restaurants may be able to easily identify key issues in their community, finding causes that will resonate with audiences in multiple markets can be challenging for large chains—so a number gravitate toward initiatives involving general food-related subject matter like farming, says Andrew Freeman, founder of restaurant marketing firm af&co and co-founder of Carbonate, a hospitality brand communications agency.

“It really comes down to the risk-taking nature of the group,” Freeman says. “Some restaurants are very vocal about causes that are important to them, even if it means they might change their customer demographic a bit. Every now and then, you’re going to have a restaurant say, ‘We don’t care; we’re taking a stand on this because we believe in it.’”

The practice can potentially pay off. Approximately 49% of operators say voicing an opinion about key issues helps create a sense of community between employees and customers; according to 27%, it increases customer loyalty—and 20% of operators have found clarifying their values impacts both business and their bottom line.²

To maximize the effect a restaurant’s philanthropic support ultimately has, operators may want to take the following considerations into account. 

Consumer and Other Expectations

Embracing a philanthropic approach seems to be somewhat of a natural instinct for restaurant operators; more than two-thirds (72%) say empathy and tolerance for others impact how they make decisions and run their establishment.³

For some organizations, this means running relevant promotions for a good cause. Noodles & Company’s rainbow-hued Pride Crispy treats, for example, which raised money last June for an LGBTQIA+ workplace equality advocacy organization. 

This June at Shake Shack, guests can customize any shake or frozen custard by adding sprinkles for 50 cents. All sprinkle proceeds with directly support PFLAG National. In addition, guests can also add sprinkles to two new Summer Shakes that launch on June 1st—OREO® Cookie Funnel Cake and Triple Chocolate Brownie.

Entities such as Wendy’s and Chipotle are reportedly considering shareholder resolutions involving animal welfare, workforce diversity and other issues.4

Officially backing social movements could impress young patrons, in particular. Approximately 70% of Gen Z members and 68% of millennials feel food brands and restaurants should take a stance on public issues such as hunger and food insecurity—one of the top 10 concerns Gen Z, millennial, Gen X and boomer generation members feel restaurants should share an opinion about.1,2

Taking steps to alleviate the problem could possibly earn eateries additional favor. Approximately 61% of consumers say they’d be more likely to dine at a restaurant that donates unsold food to those in need.¹

In Panera’s Day-End Dough-Nation program, for example, unsold bread, bagels and baked goods are donated to local nonprofits at the end of the night.

The way foodservice employers treat workers is also important to consumers. Nearly half—49%—say paying workers more than the minimum wage would increase the chance they’d choose a particular restaurant.¹

Concentrating on Consumer Values

To determine which specific causes to support, operators may try to get a sense of what issues matter to community members via customer surveys, Freeman says. Regardless of the method restaurants use to narrow their options down, he advises exercising ample due diligence.

“Whether it’s your PR or marketing firm, or just somebody in-house who does a little research on the charity to make sure you’re not setting yourselves up [to say], ‘I had no idea there was this controversy around this,’ you have to make sure your values are aligned,” Freeman says. 

Clarifying the parameters of your involvement is also important.

“My clients, or I, have a very open conversation with the group about this [being] a partnership,” Freeman says. “If we’re going to be promoting [and] raising money for your cause, are you going to put our logo on your website as one of your supporters? Are we going to [host] an event, so it [provides] exposure to the restaurant?”

With a number of operators still dealing with labor constraints, potentially slammed with orders and understaffed, asking the organization you plan to work with to supply some guidance can help position restaurants to make an effective contribution.

“Sometimes I say, ‘Can you help with providing the collateral we’re going to need to use?’” Freeman says. “We always say, ‘Is there a social media toolkit to promote this?’ Because we’re happy to participate and promote it, but we don't have the time to put it together ourselves.”

To ultimately be successful, operators’ endorsement of specific causes needs to be authentic, involving tangible actions—and rooted in reality. 

Environmental issues, for example, are currently a popular focus, according to Freeman; however, before pledging their support, restaurants should examine just how much assistance they can offer without negatively impacting their operations.

“Can you become completely sustainable and recyclable if your business model is 100% takeout all the time?” Freeman says. “You have to do what’s right for your restaurant.”

Operators may not be able to advocate for every cause customers think should be a priority; however, the emphasis consumers are increasingly placing on frequenting businesses that take a stance on issues can have far-reaching implications for the restaurant industry.

In addition to raising eateries’ profile in the community, supporting social causes can also potentially provide numerous other benefits, ranging from increased retention—44% of operators say it inspires employees to take more pride in their work—to advantages that include heightened sales; an expanded customer base and the ability to build even stronger bonds with restaurants’ current clientele.³

Mondelēz International has undertaken a number of environmental, social and governance initiatives. To find out more about our sustainability and other efforts, view the most recent Snacking Made Right report.



1 You Are What You Eat Webinar, Datassential, May 3, 2023
2 Foodbytes, Uncover Why Food Values Matter, Datassential, 2022
3 New Food Values Keynote Report, Datassential, 2021
4 “How Activist Shareholders are Seeking Change at Some of the Largest Restaurant Chains,” Nation’s Restaurant News, May 6, 2022

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