No man is an island, as a well sourced British poet once said. Well, no restaurant is either. A successful restaurant is a key cog in the centre of a thriving community.
Community engagement can take many forms and across the UK there are myriad examples of restaurants working closely with people, both locally and nationally. As well as the obvious benefit of showing locals that you care, a good community engagement programme can have a really positive effect on staff morale.
Whether raising money for national charities like Action Against Hunger or StreetSmart, or offering employment opportunities to socially disadvantaged people, restaurants can make a genuine difference. And the more a restaurant supports a community the more the community will support the restaurant.
Increasing numbers of restaurants are linking up with local schools to inspire children about healthy eating and food provenance, passing on their sustainable knowledge to the next generation.
One restaurant that has really grasped the concept is Friska in Bristol. This healthy fast-food restaurant set up the Good Food Network scheme in the city. It is a schools programme educating and inspiring children about the benefits of a healthy diet and supporting local suppliers and producers. So far the Good Food Network has visited more than 24 schools in Bristol and has had great feedback.
Co-founder Griff Holland says: "Starting a business has been a lot of hard work and great fun. Part of this sense of achievement and I believe our success so far, has been down to the idea that we do more than just sell food. Friska is a socially aware business and we strive to have a positive impact on those we come into contact with on a daily basis as well as good causes we are in a position to support and help."
Friska's community outreach has also seen it support a number of local fundraising initiatives and work closely with the South Bristol Skills Academy and the University of Bristol, offering support and advice to budding entrepreneurs. This year there are plans to improve engagement with customers with events like "the art of coffee making" where customers will step behind the bar and learn how to make a perfect cappuccino.
In January, Friska's community engagement was recognised by the Sustainable Restaurant Association with the SRA Society Award 2012.
Holland adds: "Winning the SRA Society Award has certainly brought a great deal of press attention and congratulatory words from our customers. But at the end of the day it is just an award and the real benefits we derive come from staying true to our ‘feel good' ethos.
"The idea of a feel-good company has resulted in us having great staff retention and professional development, we are also well know within the local community for supporting good causes and get involved wherever possible. As we grow, so too will our ability to have a greater positive impact in wider communities and potentially throughout the world."
five ways to engage with the community
1 Get your community to work for you Hire local, socially disadvantaged people.
2 Support a local grow-your-own scheme Reduce food miles, increase available fresh produce.
3 Team up with a charity Engage staff and customers in raising money for a good cause - local or national.
4 Inspire and educate Team up with local schools and pass on your expertise to the customers of the future. Many restaurants are involved in the Academy of Culinary Arts' chefs adopt a school scheme, educating children about the pleasures and provenance of eating (www.academyofculinaryarts.org.uk/chefs-adopt-a-school.html)..)
5 Donate and reduce waste Link with a local centre that provides meals tothe homeless.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit organisation helping restaurants become more sustainable. www.thesra.org