Around the modern-day fire: the role of restaurants as community hubs
Gathering together to eat has been a fundamental part of what it means to be human since our earliest days. While we shared handfuls of foraged nuts and berries while sheltering from the rain or hunkered together around a fire, savouring the aroma of roasting meat, we were forming and strengthening the complex social bonds that would come to define our species.
Since the advent of the nuclear family and a cultural shift away from these more communal, extended social systems, our public spaces have played an important role in facilitating these interactions and maintaining our wider social bonds.
Food spaces are often the biggest focal point for this social behaviour. Restaurants provide a modern-day substitute for that tribal fire where people from different households and families can come together to share meals, socialise, meet new people, catch up with old friends, explore burgeoning romances, gather for celebrations and even mourn our dead. As a key part of our social environment, it matters how restaurants and other food spaces interact with their communities. No restaurant is an island.
American sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term "third places" – those spaces that are neither home nor place of work, such as restaurants. Oldenburg argues that these third places are crucial to the maintenance of the community and the enhancement of social capital, helping to shape how we see ourselves and our place in the wider world. This can be seen in traditional third places like the Irish pub and the American diner, both of which have played integral roles in nurturing social interaction and shaping local cultural identity.
In this article, we’ll look at the important social role of restaurants in their localities. We’ll examine why forging strong connections with your community must play a key role in any sustainability strategy, and how this can be of benefit to your local area and your business.
Why social sustainability matters
The term ‘social sustainability’ means taking into consideration the ways in which your business interacts with people in its environment, including customers, staff, suppliers and the wider community. Social sustainability features heavily across the UN Sustainable Development Goals; SDGs under this heading include No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education and Gender Equality. This is why, in assessing the sustainability of restaurants through our Food Made Good Standard, ‘Support the Community’ forms one of 10 key focus areas.
Because restaurants form an integral part of the social and economic fabric of a community, operators have both an opportunity and a responsibility to have a positive impact. This can include everything from charitable donations to hosting local events; from ensuring your procurement policies support local producers to simply ensuring your restaurant is accessible for every customer.
By nurturing strong connections to your community, you’ll open your business up to new opportunities, while also having a positive impact on the surrounding area. Read on for some of the ways in which conscious, deliberate social sustainability policies can have a positive impact on both your community and your business.
Benefits to the community
Here are just some of the ways in which restaurants can play an important role in bolstering their local communities.
Become a community hub: As mentioned above, restaurants and other food businesses have the ability to become important social spaces with local communities, providing the third spaces these communities need in order to thrive.
Boost the local economy: When customers spend money in a local restaurant – their preferred third space – the money circulates in the local economy, resulting in increased economic benefits for the community. Businesses that work closely with local organisations and charities can multiply this effect.
Provide local jobs: Recruitment is an almost constant feature across the hospitality industry. In addition to providing long-term roles for many adults, local restaurants are where many young people find those invaluable first jobs and begin building their CVs.
Preserve local heritage: Restaurants can help to protect and preserve regional food culture by choosing locally-grown foods and making use of heritage recipes.
Support local agriculture: Restaurants have the ability to support regional agriculture, buying locally-grown, seasonal ingredients and keeping small-scale farms in business.
Benefits to your business
Being actively involved in the community isn’t a one-way street: there are numerous ways in which it can benefit your business.
Become a local hang-out: Once your business is rooted in the community, it becomes a gathering point – somewhere people feel at home and choose to come together. Your restaurant will inspire loyalty, find its ‘regulars’ and attract more business overall.
Get noticed: Rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in the community is a valuable way to increase your visibility and stand out from the competition. Any events you’re involved in and/or donations you give to charity help to get your name out there.
Build trust: One of the best ways to build customer trust is to show your customers that you care about more than just making a sale. Working for the good of your community in ways that don't directly result in your own profit is a fantastic way to foster a strong relationship with customers.
Enjoy support in return: Making positive contributions to your community doesn’t go unnoticed. People see and appreciate your efforts and feel more connected to your restaurant – making them more likely to choose your establishment for that special evening out.
Loop in other businesses: There are potential advantages to be reaped from forming positive, friendly relationships with other small businesses in your area. Being involved in the community gives you a chance to meet business owners and find inspiration for collaborations and partnerships that can benefit both parties.
Attract better staff: Recruitment is a real and ongoing challenge for the hospitality industry – and community involvement can help you find better employees when you need them. Not only does it drive more visibility for your restaurant, but it also boosts your reputation and makes it clear that social sustainability is a priority – including fostering a positive work environment for your team.
Ready to get started? Read '9 ways your business can build a strong relations with your community'.
Our #PowerOfFood campaign focuses on showcasing the incredible work of influential chefs and socially-driven hospitality businesses, as they connect with the world through food.
This August, we’re highlighting global chef-led initiatives that contribute to building strong bonds within local communities. Get ready to explore impactful stories from restaurants and chefs around the world who are making a tangible difference through community food initiatives, supporting those in need.
We will also delve into how the simple act of sharing a meal can be truly transformative, strengthening communities and individuals, and creating a welcoming space to foster connections that transcend differences.
We invite YOU to be a part of the #PowerOfFood campaign! Share your inspiring stories using the hashtag for a chance to be featured on our feed. Let's celebrate the profound Power of Food and its ability to bring people together.
Powered by HSBC – big thanks for empowering us to make a real impact in the world of food and hospitality! With HSBC's support, we're driving positive change through sustainability and reaching a wider audience with our message.
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