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Restaurant Fundraisers: Dishing Out Profits for Your PTO

Restaurant nights are a great way to make some money for your school without a lot of work.

by Poornima Apte


Takeout. Dine-in. Drive-through. Who doesn’t enjoy the chance to grab a family meal and skip the cooking? Even more appetizing: Your PTO or PTA might be able to slice a little profit off the top.

Restaurant fundraisers usually don’t generate big income, but they can be a source of extra funds without a lot of work. While the execution might vary a little, the basic idea boils down to a simple concept: A participating restaurant will pay your parent group a cut from every qualified customer’s food bill.

Diner Details

The process involves contacting a local restaurant, deciding on a mutually agreed-upon date and percentage, and spreading the word about the event. You can make a restaurant event a big night out or just a quick opportunity to grab a pizza on a rushed school night. And at their core, restaurant fundraisers require minimal volunteer commitment. Download a free copy the Restaurant Fundraiser Planning Kit for a comprehensive planning timeline, tips for success, and promotional tools.

Picking a restaurant might come down to just how much of a cut your organization gets. Make sure to check; some restaurants will donate 5 percent of sales while others will go as high as 25 percent—sometimes depending on the number of customers you bring in. Some will pay just based on the food bill, while others will consider the entire tab.

Many local, regional, and national chains offer fundraising opportunities and often have streamlined paperwork in place. Another option: Pick a hyperlocal restaurant. You win extra points if the restaurant owner has kids at your school since those owners are usually more invested in the program, says Stacy Hansen, president of the McGaheysville (Va.) Elementary PTO. The PTO has an arrangement with a local restaurant that donates 10 percent of qualified proceeds every Wednesday. Participants need to mention that they’re with the school. While this fundraiser is not a huge moneymaker, it generates $20 to $60 every week with minimal work involved.

Learn the benefits, risks, and costs of credit card processing for your fundraiser

One of the most successful fundraisers organized by the Johnson Elementary PTO in Natick, Mass., was held at a chain restaurant, says Kate Neville, who cochairs the group’s restaurant fundraisers. The restaurant donated 20 percent of all proceeds from customers who mentioned the school fundraiser. Alcohol purchases were factored in as well as food sales, which really added to totals.

Remember to spice it up. Cater to different tastes (and price points). Just as you wouldn’t want to eat pasta every night, successful restaurant fundraisers incorporate a good variety of fare. Ana de Campos, the PTO recording secretary at Ben Franklin Elementary in Lawrenceville, N.J., says that one of its most popular restaurant fundraisers is with a local Indian restaurant. The PTO’s mix includes Italian and other fare, as well.

Choosing a Date

Once you’ve decided on a restaurant to work with, it’s time to pick a date and a frequency. Most restaurants offer dates on weekdays when business is slower. A Wednesday evening is typical. One strategy that PTOs use successfully is to schedule restaurant fundraisers on early release days. A lunchtime event at a pizza restaurant on a half-day, for example, can be very successful.

Some PTOs schedule restaurant fundraisers with high school games, giving families the chance to swing by a nearby fast-food place to grab a meal to go. Neville scheduled a fundraiser a casual dining place at the local mall. The restaurant donated a percentage of proceeds over an entire week during the holiday shopping season. Nicole Kudarauskas, president of the Myron Francis Elementary PTO in Rumford, R.I., suggests choosing a night where takeout from a local restaurant will be popular. It’s the reason the PTO chose the Monday before Thanksgiving. “Nobody wants to cook then,” she points out.

The North Elementary PTO in Colonial Heights, Va., plans its monthly fundraisers on the first Wednesday of every month at a local pizzeria. “They have a balloon artist on Wednesdays so the students love to see what balloons he is going to make them,” says Christy Palmer Archileti, PTO president.

In addition to monthly restaurant fundraisers, the Ben Franklin PTO hosts a large annual flapjack fundraiser in early spring at a local chain restaurant. The function of the two kinds of fundraisers is very different and each is promoted accordingly, de Campos says. For example, the primary hook for the monthly fundraisers is that parents don’t have to cook—it’s an easy school night solution. The flapjack event, on the other hand, is promoted as a community-building event. Since the restaurant allows the PTO to use the entire restaurant during that specific time frame, every child in the early elementary school wants to be there, de Campos says. The restaurant is staffed by PTO volunteers during the event, so advance tickets are sold to estimate head count and the number of helpers needed.

Word of Mouth

Even the best laid plans go to waste without publicity. Use every outlet to spread the word about the restaurant fundraiser. PTO members use social media tools such as Facebook and send home flyers. These might be especially important in cases where a restaurant requires a flyer from supporters for a sale to qualify. Groups can post printable flyers on the school website and in email newsletters so parents can easily print them at home. Ana de Campos also recommends using free online news sites to get the word out about the events.

As many PTOs have shown, a successful restaurant fundraiser requires minimal ingredients, but the rewards can be satisfying and delicious.

Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly.

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