What is the purpose of your restaurant?

If you are anything like La-La Alston, you may answer that with more than just, “to make money.” Alston operates a sandwich shop in August, GA and she is offering $50 and a large steak & cheese sub to anyone that will trade in an illegal gun. Ms. Alston’s initiative is a great example of a new concept in business missions, called the Purpose Economy. It’s underlying ideas is that making your operation about more than just profit may just be a key to long term success and a real improvement in your community.

Infographic from The Purpose Economy

It all started when Alston’s local police offered a firearm turn-in program. Having lost family members to gun violence and being a former gang member herself, Alston felt compelled to do her part in facilitating more weapons leaving the streets. It was her personal mission and her restaurant gave her a platform to pursue this laudable goal. She calls it the Brown Bag Program, where any person that requests a brown bag and fills it with a gun will receive $50 in cash and the foot long sandwich.

In the book, The Purpose Economy, author Aaron Hurst defines purpose as more than a cause. Purpose is what we gain through relationships, personal growth and doing something greater than ourselves. The key here is to not just take up a cause and hope that someone listens, but to take a stand and make it a part of your lifestyle. All restaurants are local and there are no shortage of local issues that could use a purpose-driven approach to solving them. Picking the right issue should be no more difficult than searching your own conscience.

Finding your purpose

Our industry is a grind; worse, it’s a repetitive grind. By choosing a ‘purpose’ to wrap your business around you can keep things novel. Your purpose should inform all aspects of your operation and you will see how quickly you have an impact on your community. 

Let’s take a chef like Jamie Oliver who has made his purpose to improve the food served to children in schools. He has made this a major factor in his overall approach to both his public persona and his business operations. In Britain, his efforts have actually changed national policy and improved the lives of thousands of school-aged children.

This is not to suggest that you can have that impact, but you can make a real difference and build your business simultaneously. So often our marketing is focused on special deals or important events, but those can only go so far. By asserting your purpose as a part of your mission, you expand that conversation to the goals you have set.

Are you at a loss for ideas? Well here are a couple that come to mind that you can use, modify or riff from at your own discretion

  1. If there is high youth unemployment, start an internship program. Train young kids on aspects of your business so they can get some real world experience in the restaurant industry.
  2. Is there a foodbank in your community? These programs are always in need of patrons. Make it your purpose to improve their stock levels using your restaurant as a place to gather community support.
  3. Veterans Affairs facilities are always in need of support. Veterans in general are forgotten souls that could us any resources you can offer.

There is also the ancillary benefit that Millennials are the ones driving this new purpose economy. Many of them are trading in conventional career paths to launch tech start-ups, start small businesses that are rooted in local communities or freelance their expertise. Your team being made up mostly of Millennials will happily get behind whatever you choose. Better yet, let them help you choose your purpose. This will unite your team and have an incredible affect on your overall moral. Teams that have a shared goal that also feels like they are growing and giving back will be even more focused on the success of you’re the business that employs them.

Give it a try. Get involved with more than just your bottom line. It will feel great, you will unite your team and you might just grow your business, but no matter what, you will have a purpose.

Does your restaurant have a purpose? Let us know!