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Bite-Sized Benefits: The Pitfalls of Restaurant Fundraisers

December 7, 2023

The latest craze in the hands-off, third-party fundraiser movement is Dine for Dollars (or Dine to Donate) nights. 

Restaurant fundraisers feel like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to eat out for a good cause? No one has to sell anything, no one has to make anything, all you have to do is order off the menu on the right night of the week and you’re golden!

As attractive as these and other third-party fundraisers seem, the rewards just don’t add up. It’s important to remember that third-party fundraisers are just that—third party. They don’t have your organization’s interests at heart. What they want is for their business to benefit, and if they have to toss some extra change your way to attract additional business, it’s a win for them.

Here are four reasons you might want to think twice before launching yet another Dine for Dollars event.

It’s On You to Draw a Crowd

It’s a night out at a restaurant—it’s already built. The people will come… right?

No, Ray, the people won’t come. (Field of Dreams, anyone?)

Most, if not all, restaurant fundraisers rely on you to do the marketing. Some restaurants will only grant a portion of the proceeds to your organization if the customer mentions the fundraiser (more on that “portion” later). 

You still need to organize the night, attract customers, make flyers, post to social media, nag your neighbors, and send out yet another reminder email to convince people to eat out at a particular restaurant on a particular night of the week.

Rain, Snow, Competing Events… Too Much Is Out of Your Control

What if I don’t like chicken wings? What if I just ate at that restaurant last night? What if it snows? What if you didn’t see that the basketball team has a big game out of town and the whole city will be traveling to watch during your fundraiser?

It doesn’t matter how many flyers you sent home, a one-night-only event is going to have a conflict for someone

And if the turnout that particular night is low or the restaurant has a slow night, your fundraiser is going to be a disappointment.

It Seems Easy, Until It Isn’t

One of the biggest draws to the third-party fundraiser is its simplicity.

“Just” show up! They say. It’s easy! 

But since it’s up to you to make sure people show up in order to benefit from the fundraiser, you’re likely going to invest the same amount of time and effort into a third-party fundraiser as you would for any other… but with paltry results.

And that’s the real kicker.

It Says “Dine for Dollars” but It Means “Pig Out for Pennies”

Restaurants promise a portion of their profits, ranging from 20% of pre-tax sales to  as much as 50%, depending on the chain. 

This sounds great, until you do the math. Let’s say you are able to attract 100 customers to Chipotle for your (50% of net sales) fundraising night. The average check per person is around $11. Your efforts will earn your organization $550.

The same fundraiser at Panera (20% of pre-tax sales) with the same turnout at $15 per person will only earn your organization $300.

To earn that kind of money, you had to convince 25 families of four to eat out at one particular restaurant on one particular night.

The bottom line is that some third-party fundraisers require you to work really hard only to raise a little bit of money.

Or to host multiple events in order to meet your fundraising goals for the year.

We don’t want to see you “pig out for pennies” anymore.


Stoller Fundraising specializes in goal-crushing fundraisers, fundraisers you only need to do once in order to meet or beat your fundraising objectives with the same—or less—promotional work, time, or competing efforts.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. We’ve gathered the averages of our customers by group so you can see what your organization is capable of doing. And we’ve also shared our heavy hitters—the Stollar Stellar Sellers—so you can see what happens when your organization really dreams big.

View the results of our partners’ average fundraising efforts now, and then find out how we work with you using a simple fundraising model to help your organization get the results you need.

Say farewell to operating as your local chain restaurant’s free advertising campaigners. Let’s work together to earn more money and take back more time for your cause’s real concerns.

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