Modern Restaurant Brands Practice Socially Responsible Marketing

by Linda Duke5 Min Read

Socially Responsible Marketing is doing social good.  In recent years, restaurant brands were touting health benefits and lower calorie menu items; now socially responsible marketing is the big focus for restaurant operators and consumers alike.  What does Socially Responsible Marketing mean for your restaurant? 

A business vision may be necessary for business success, but it is no longer sufficient—having a 'social vision' is imperative today.

Socially Responsible Marketing calls for combining business vision with a “social vision.” A business vision may be necessary for business success, but it is no longer sufficient—having a “social vision” is imperative today.  A social vision is one that contributes to social and environmental sustainability, while producing profits for its business.  For example, many California restaurant operators, hit with the severe drought, are taking responsibility and steps to cut back on water. Their “social vision” is to reduce water waste.  One operator installed an air compressor to blow plates off instead of wasting water to rinse them off prior to going into the dishwasher.  His “social mission” was to save thousands of gallons of water and he did and made headline news besides! This is Socially Responsible Marketing.  Today, any guest who dines at any restaurant in the state of California has to ask for a glass of water. It is not automatically served.  California now has this as a mandatory law.

Socially Responsible Marketing instills a sense of faith and goodwill in customers and cause consumers not only to feel better about dining at the restaurant in the first place, but also feel better about dining there again. Socially responsible marketing makes sense as a business strategy because it not only broadens and expands your customer base, but increases the likelihood of developing customer loyalty and frequency.

The practice of socially responsible marketing has many distinct advantages for restaurant brand leaders who choose to embrace it.

In terms of financial advantages, the government has established a number of tax-cuts and other benefits for restaurant companies as incentives to be more socially responsible. For instance, companies that reduce their carbon emissions and pollution levels are often offered tax exemptions and other assets for their cooperation in the country's movement towards environmental awareness and responsibility.

Socially Responsible Marketing attracts millennial guests. This attractive demographic of young diners appreciate social responsibility and as a result, restaurant brands can gain their business and maintain it with more ease. For example, if a restaurant can certify certain menu items are "organic," they gain a certain degree of competitive advantage over competition.  Customers are willing to pay more than menu items that have not been certified as "organic," because they perceive the value to be higher.

Get Started with Socially Responsible Marketing  

Here’s how:

  • Perform a thorough analysis of all aspects of your business—an internal audit.  See list below.
  • List all areas of your business that could be changed to incorporate more social responsibility (i.e. light bulbs to energy efficient).
  • Get participation and input from all crew and staff.
  • Develop a plan to give your brand a “social and eco make-over”.
  • Present your ideas to change to your team and determine a Social Vision—what your brand stands for.
  • Develop  goals. (Who will you help?  What will you save? In terms of energy, food waste, water, etc.).  These goals become your Social Mission.
  • Create a timeline and costs/budget of implementing the changes. 
Socially Responsible Marketing Trends 

Menu Labeling:  Adding calories and ingredients to menu items on printed menus is becoming the norm.  Most restaurant chains, with over 10 units, are now required to post caloric and allergen information on their websites, as well as their printed and in-store menus, in the state of California.  Consumers want to know where their food is coming from and what’s in it!  Restaurant operators are training their staffs to understand menu allergens and certifying them.

Certification:  From Kosher, Fair-trade, organic and gluten-free:  global organizations are setting standards to identify legit customers.  Consumers are becoming more aware of the standards and guidelines. 

Superfoods:  Überhealthy and natural foods will continue to sprout up on menus including:  quinoa, goji berries, yerba mate, acai coconut and hemp milk.  These are considered “socially hot” with Millennials.

Reuseable/Biodegradable:  Packaging and beverages which offer recycling, and to-go bags and packaging produced using reusable materials and are biodegradable are expected.  Restaurant operators not offering biodegradable paper products or recycling in their restaurants are getting negative reviews on Yelp.  

Ingredients and Sizes:  New menu items geared towards lactose intolerant, gluten free, and sized for correct portion control, are increasingly offered as options.  Consumers seek these menu items out and become loyal and frequent diners.

Guests who are allergic to nuts, wheat, and dairy find it difficult to eat at many restaurants or get the ingredient information.  Brands providing these details, and numerous offerings, are winning new fans and repeat customers, due to this perceived “socially responsible” act.

Making Your Restaurant Socially Responsible
  • Cleanse your mailing lists and encourage recycling of menus, check presenters, point of purchase materials, fliers, brochures, and catalogs.
  • Create videos about your social mission and post on your Facebook page or Youtube channel.
  • Print on recycled and eco-friendly paper and inks.
  • Give consumers “virtual” offers online and allow them to sign up for them via mobile phones.
  • Focus on finding a partner or partners with a similar Social Vision.
  • Make a difference in the communities your brand serves.
  • Get your products, ingredients, staff and business certified.
  • Communicate changes and details to all staff.
  • Make sure you communicate with your guests about your efforts and get them involved.
Look Out For ...

The Hidden Trade-off: Markers claim one positive environmental trait while failing to mention any negatives (i.e. organic cotton t-shirt but shipped from half way around the world in a gas guzzling truck).

No Proof: making unsubstantiated claims.

Vagueness: apply a broad term with no explanation.

Irrelevance: Making a claim that has no baring on the product in question.

Fibbing: an outright overstatement or boast of an unearned certification.

Lesser of Two Evils: Makers of naturally polluting products make green claims.  (i.e. Lawn care chemicals—claiming a “green” product, but the use of lawn care chemicals is not a green practice.)

Knowing if  You're Socially Responsible

"The Golden Rule: Do unto others the way you would want others to do unto you.

The utilitarian principle:  Act in a way that results in the greatest good for the greatest number.

Kant's categorical imperative: Act in such a way that the action taken under the circumstances could be a universal law, or rule, of behavior.

The professional ethic: Take actions that would be viewed as proper by a disinterested panel of professional peers.

The TV test: Always ask, "Would I feel comfortable explaining to a national TV audience why I took this action?"

The legal test: Ask whether the proposed action or decision is legal. Established laws are generally considered minimum standards for ethics.

The four-way test: Ask whether you can answer "yes" to the following questions as they relate to the decision:

  1.  Is the decision truthful?
  2.  Is it fair to all concerned?
  3.  Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"
Audit Yourself

Paper:  What are all the paper items in your business?  Napkins, paper towel, bathroom, to-go packaging, food wrap, copier, fax, bags, menus, POP, etc.

Water:  Where is water used in your business? Sinks, bathrooms, guests, walk-in, freezer, coffee machine, decorative, and plumbing.

Fuel:  Oil, gas or propane, helium, stoves, ovens, delivery vans, trucks.  Frying oil.

Electricity:  light bulbs, indoor and outdoor lighting, appliances, office electronics, POS system, surveillance, freezer, walk-in, stereo, TV’s, alarm.

Insulation, ventilation and Sealing:  Windows, ceilings, crawl space, attic hoods.

Heating and Cooling:  water heater, air conditioner, space heaters, fans.

Cleaning supplies:  disinfectant, surface cleaners, dishwasher cleaner.

Uniforms and Linens:  Do they require too much washing?  What are they made of and from what resources were they made?

Cooking:  Ingredients. Quantity, temperatures and cooking times of all products.

Food & Beverage:  Know all your vendors products and where they come from. Although you may buy beef, fish and produce—who you buy it from can make a huge impact on the environment.  

Menu:  Is it printed on recycled paper?  Can you print your menu in a smaller size? 

Audit All Ingredients:

  • Produce
  • Condiments
  • Fish-Where it is from, how it is farmed or caught?
  • Beef/Poultry: where it is from and how it is raised, what it eats
  • Water: Is it purified?  From where?  How are you saving water?
  • Coffee-Is it fair trade? From where?
  • Oil: What is fried and what type of oil?  What is done with oil after?
  • Desserts- wrappers, Are calories posted
  • Imports and domestics-Know the difference

Last but not least, be sure your crew and entire staff know what your social vision and mission is and how they can get involved. 

Linda Duke

@dukemarketing | Website | Email

Linda Duke, CEO of Duke Marketing, has 25 years specializing with restaurant chains.

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