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Operating a Temporary Restaurant to Raise Funds and Awareness

In the spring of 2009, five students from Utrecht, the Netherlands, operated a temporary, volunteer run restaurant, The Cultural Cookery, to raise money for three selected development projects. Using their own time and effort to create PR, attain donations for foods, other sponsorships, and gain access to free space, these students raised EUR 8,000 in just two weeks time.

Raising charitable funds can be a tricky dilemma. The effort of these students could have gone towards meeting with corporate executives, and they most likely would have raised considerably more money with much less effort. On the other hand, this would not have been socially engaging, and the problems addressed would have remained unspoken. Instead, the students wanted to engage everyday citizens, people who would speak of the experience to friends and family and spread the word. To get hundreds of people to donate, the students thought it would be smart to offer a meal in return, thereby shifting the fundraising burden from the patrons to the organizers.

The first essential step was to put together their public relations ‘identity’. They chose which development projects they would be supporting, selected the dates when the restaurant would be open (being specific but flexible), what the mood of the restaurant would be (music, speakers, engaging volunteers, etc), and a house style was created for a website, posters, flyers, etc.

After this had been developed, businesses were approached for two requests, a location and the donation of food products. The team was able to find a charitable café that was willing to lend its space for free, but this was unexpected, rental costs were initially budgeted for in the planning process. Additionally, nearly half of the food products used were donated by local organic and fair-trade grocers and wholesale food providers.

Finally, press releases were sent to local newspapers and entertainment guides, through the internet and email chains. Posters were hung in the local university and in community centers and grocery stores. In addition, the students distributed flyers in the surrounding neighborhood. The goal was to have every night booked before the evening began using an online reservation form on their website to best predict the amount of food needed per day. In the weeks preceding the event, musicians, dancers, and speakers were contacted and offered a free meal in exchange for performances, and there were at least two activities every night. As a result, nearly every night was booked, with a few spaces left over for "walk-in" guests.

After two weeks, the restaurant had earned EUR 4,000 (USD5,700). This amount was doubled due to previously arranged sponsorship agreements. The NGO’s who were operating the development projects receiving the funds agreed to double our proceeds, making EUR 8,000 (approximately USD11,400) in total. Many of the donors, musicians and speakers asked for the outcome of the project and promised to return the next year.

The many legal considerations for both operating a restaurant without licensed chefs, and operating a charitable fundraising project are unique to every country and need to be addressed from the outset. In this case, operating under the Dutch ‘Stichting’ (NPO) Happy Gift solved many of the legal considerations encountered. Additional considerations for those wishing to undertake such an endeavor, this was a time consuming project in which most of the profits come from time invested before the restaurant begins (Public Relations, sponsorships, donations from food suppliers, etc.), and it is thus important to begin with a core group of individuals who are willing to spend time coordinating efforts for the months preceding the project. Lastly, make sure there are individuals interested in following up the project the next year to provide continuity and to keep donators engaged for another opportunity.