Taste of giving: charitable dining

A growing number of UK restaurants and dining clubs are serving up more than just food in the name of charity

Food and Drink 20 Dec 2017

Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella

Food unites people. It plays a central role in how we communicate and is synonymous with nourishment, support and comfort. So, it’s befitting that there is a growing number of charitable schemes in the UK that are combining food and philanthropy, allowing diners to satisfy more than just their appetites.

The beauty of many of these schemes is their simplicity. Homeless charity StreetSmart (streetsmart.org.uk), for example, has partnered with over 500 UK restaurants to add a £1 donation to every dining bill throughout November and December annually. It is a small, hassle-free gesture towards a huge social problem (homelessness in the UK has increased by 134 per cent since 2010). The fundraising campaign has raised over £8.2 million since 1998 and is supported by a host of critically acclaimed chefs and restaurants, including The River Café, Barrafina, Ottolenghi and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

While StreetSmart’s donation is optional, director Glenn Pougnet says that very few diners object. ‘We are indebted to all the restaurateurs who help implement the campaign, but also to the generosity and goodwill of their diners who, for 20 years, have been more than happy to give to a cause where the benefit is felt locally. Furthermore, as all our running costs are covered by our partner, Deutsche Bank, we can distribute every single pound raised to where help is needed.’

Action Against Hunger runs a similar initiative with their Love Food Give Food campaign, raising funds by adding £1 to bills at participating restaurants throughout September and October. All money raised provides vital healthcare for malnourished children in nearly 50 countries. More than £470,000 was raised last year, and for 2017, the UK government has pledged to match every pound donated.

Philanthropically led supper clubs have also flourished in recent years, ranging from golden ticket star-studded events, to the humble pop-up around a kitchen table

At the opposite end of the scale, restaurant-booking platform ChariTable Bookings raises funds for thousands of UK charities at absolutely no cost to the user. The booking service currently lists more than 8,500 restaurants, and for every booking made via their app or website, £1 per diner is donated to the user’s chosen charity. The organisation is the initiative of The Global Charity Trust, founded by philanthropists Lord Fink and David Johnson in 2011. ‘We hope to transform consumer habit so that ChariTable Bookings becomes the new way of giving back for free, while adding value to your life,’ says Johnson. ‘I see it becoming the ultimate philanthropic lifestyle app.’

Philanthropically led supper clubs have also flourished in recent years, ranging from golden ticket star-studded events, to the humble pop-up around a kitchen table. Since 2012, the Syrian Supper Club (syriansupperclub.com), run by the Hands Up Foundation (handsupfoundation.org), has raised over £100,000 for aid projects in Syria. Launched by London fund manager Johnnie Barnett and three friends, the club hosts monthly pop-up suppers as well as larger-scale events, including My Souk in the City, a two-sitting Syrian lunch-on-the- go for City workers. ‘The concept of Souk in the City, like our Syrian Supper Club, is simple,’ says Barnett. ‘It’s about giving people a tangible way of helping, while having a good time in the process. Everyone needs to eat, whether they’re engaged in the Syrian crisis or not, so we’re providing that but with the added bonus of knowing that the cost of your meal goes to a worthy cause.’

Who’s Cooking Dinner, an event that sees globally renowned chefs feed over 200 guests in aid of leukemia charity, Leuka, is another firm fixture on London’s culinary calendar. ‘We believe that we have found a winning formula to bring together food and philanthropy,’ says Leuka CEO, Olive Boles. The event rounds up 20 of the UK’s finest chefs – with previous line-ups including Angela Harnett, Mark Hix and Nuno Mendes – who then take over the kitchens of iconic hotels, such as Park Lane’s Four Seasons or The Rosewood, for one evening of feel-good gastronomy. As with all of these initiatives, the process is simple yet incredibly rewarding for both the diners involved and the charities that benefit. And the soaring ticket sales and bookings reflect this.

Indeed, the popularity of these initiatives highlights our love of grub and our increasing appetite for something more worthy than just food from the UK’s booming dining industry. Long may it last.