“It’s about our customers,” says Sam Christie, co-owner of Longrain, Cho Cho San and The Apollo, discussing the restaurants’ long-time participation in the DineSmart initiative, which works to reduce homelessness. “It brings a sense of community and awareness to the problem.”
DineSmart has been going since 2003. This year, between November 24 and December 24, diners will see an additional $1 per person added to their bill at participating restaurants. This is a slight development from previous years, when the donation was a total of $2 per table.
Christie and his restaurants have been DineSmart partners since 2008 – so long he barely remembers CEO and founder, Adam Robinson, approaching him in the first place.
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Robinson remembers. “The first couple of years we were [establishing DineSmart] up in Sydney, he offered to drive me around and introduced me to all of his mates in the industry that he wanted to get involved,” he says.
Any venue can partner with DineSmart, says Robinson. But passion and people are what’s made it so successful. Christie echoes this sentiment: “It’s great that they [his staff] get behind it – seeing them take pride in the process is the biggest thing for me.”
Christie has a personal connection to the homeless community through a late friend. Soon after he finished high school, one of his best mates began to struggle with mental illness. “That started when he was only 19 or 20,” says Christie, “and he was on the streets for 27 years.”
The experience made Christie realise it can happen to anyone. His restaurants contribute to other small charities when they can, but he finds DineSmart a particularly easy and effective approach.
“Leading up to Christmas, people are out celebrating and want to give something to people who are in a difficult place,” he says. StreetSmart equips all participating restaurants with heaps of collateral, including little information cards as takeaways for the customers.
“The money goes to support shelters that are near the restaurants, and every year, only a few months later, we already know exactly where the money is being used,” Christie says.
The ability to track the impact gives customers a stronger sense of what they’re actually supporting, and alleviates any uncertainty about where their money goes.
Christie says some of his favourite memories from the campaign have been the dinners held to round out each season. “All of the people that run the shelters and projects come along,” he says. “And often, people who have been homeless in the past and have directly benefitted from these donations. It’s absolutely amazing to hear their stories.”
DineSmart 2017 runs from November 24 to December 24. Restaurants can sign up here.
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