Ben Clark, co-owner of Top Paddock, Kettle Black and Higher Ground, didn’t start his career in hospitality until 2010. Before opening his first cafe, Three Bags Full, Clark was teaching primary school classes in some of Melbourne’s less-affluent neighbourhoods.

“I worked closely with at-risk families, or those who’d recently come out of being homeless,” he says.

Clark’s wife, Sunny Oliver-Bennetts, has a similar history - she spent years working with The Big Issue. So when Adam Robinson, founder and CEO of StreetSmart, approached Clark about his CafeSmart initiative, he jumped at the chance.

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Robinson runs CafeSmart and DineSmart, two annual drives to reduce homelessness. This year Dinesmart runs from November 24 to December 24 , and sees $1 per diner added to the bill at participating restaurants. That money goes to local support services.

Clark and his team are entering their eighth year working with StreetSmart on the two initiatives. “I’d seen it [the initiatives] in other venues,” he says. “It really struck a personal chord with me about how we could make an immediate impact with our business.”

Two of the cafes Clark helps run are located in Richmond and the CBD, areas known for homelessness. “It’s in your face,” he says. “My staff are very aware. They could choose to work anywhere, but they choose here.”

Clark and his team encourage their customers to take part. This year, they want to take their annual involvement one step further.

In the past, much of the money raised at Clark’s venues has gone to FareShare, a charity which collects surplus food and cooks more than 500 meals a week for those in need. Rather than just passing the donations to FareShare this year, Clark is sending his team to help in the kitchen throughout the holiday season.

“I want to get them even more engaged and involved with what StreetSmart are doing,” he says.

He hopes having his people to experience the work of FareShare firsthand will deepen their understanding of what they’re raising funds for, allow them to tell the charity’s story with passion, and get customers excited about the difference their contributions are making.

“The overall goal is to get our staff talking to the customers right away when they arrive,” he says. “That link between the staff and the actual program will have a profound impact. Businesses have so many opportunities to get involved with different groups, but we want to be more focused so we can make a larger impact.”

See all the Melbourne venues taking part this year.

DineSmart 2017 runs from November 24 to December 24. Restaurants can sign up here.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Dinesmart.