Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.
Web Exclusive
Serving Up Support
Chains and franchisees help servicemen and -women over the holidays and beyond.
Fast food restaurants help boost military morale.

The holidays are a time to give back, and this year, many quick serves have chosen a worthy cause: the military men and women serving our country abroad.

More than 500,000 service members will be away from their families over Christmas, according to LTC Jonathan Withington, a press officer with the U.S. Department of Defense. To recognize their sacrifices, quick-service chains and franchisees alike are finding creative ways to help them celebrate the holiday while away from home.

Dunkin’ Donuts is partnering with Soldiers’ Angels, a volunteer-based non-profit that aims to provide comfort to deployed military personnel and their families. In keeping with the organization’s motto, “May no soldier go unloved,” Soldiers’ Angels includes a personalized holiday card with each care package sent to a serviceperson. Dunkin’ has helped out by sending holiday cards to franchisees, allowing each store to get involved and have customers help sign the cards.

“To date, we have signed more than 5,000 cards,” says Margie Myers, senior vice president of global communication for Dunkin’ Brands. “The drive will continue through the month of December.”

The company kicked off its support with the Gingerbread Express event held at New York Waterways. Celebrity spokeswoman Rachel Ray unveiled and announced a one-ton donation of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to Soldiers’ Angels, and New York city shoppers were invited to sign holiday cards. Donations can also be made via www.ServingHeroes.com, an online effort from Dunkin’ Donuts and the Dunkin’ Brands Community Foundation to recognize individuals who have helped emergency response organizations to better serve their communities.

Other quick-serves are also ramping up efforts this season. Wingstop shipped enough of the chain’s Hickory Smoked BBQ sauce to Iraq to cover several platoon parties around Thanksgiving. The idea came after the chain received a request from an army platoon leader there.

“Due to deployments getting longer and soldiers being forced to give much more time away from their families, morale has drastically dropped,” wrote Second Lieutenant William Lincoln Henjum in an e-mail to the Wingstop web comments box. “A BBQ with a little taste of home would raise soldiers’ spirits.”

Wingstop, says Lisa Spooner-Whyte, field-marketing manager, was more than happy to contribute.

“We are so very thankful for all our troops are doing and the sacrifices that each man and woman in Iraq is making in service to our country,” she says. “We’re honored by this request.”

Additional efforts by the industry include Moe’s Southwest Grill’s pre-holiday dinners for troops leaving for Iraq and Afghanistan who will miss the occasions with their families, and Carl’s Jr.’s support at a run in San Diego to benefit the United Service Organizations (USO), which provides morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to men and women in uniform.

But while the holidays are a great time to support those in the military, it’s also important to remember them throughout the rest of the year, says Laura Shepherd, a Smoothie King franchisee and wife of an Iraq war veteran.

People do a great job around the holidays, sending things to the soldiers. But it’s really important not just over the holidays but all year that we remember the soldiers. We need to support our troops.”

Earlier this year, when her husband, Sergeant Major Steve Shepherd, was deployed with the Army’s 2nd Squadron, 107th Calvary Division, she constantly sent him care packages with letters, magazines, and other goodies. When she was looking for a way to give him and the rest of his squadron a taste of home over Memorial Day, Smoothie King products seemed like just the thing.

“It was an experiment at first,” she says.

It took four days and lots of dry ice, but in the end, 100 soldiers were able to enjoy 20-oz. smoothies, shipped frozen in Rubbermaid pouring pitchers. Her store has also helped a regular customer treat his son, who was in Baghdad with the army over the 4th of July.

Quick-serves, she says, are in a unique position to provide not just individual care packages for service members, but large-scale support for groups of troops.

“It’s just the access that we have to goods and products in such a large quantity,” she says. “We’re able to serve it to more people.”

Shepherd is holding off sending support over Christmas, in part because she knows how much service members get at that time and how long it can often take when shipping gets backed up. Instead, she’s waiting until the first of the year to start planning for another shipment.

“People do a great job around the holidays, sending things to the soldiers,” she says. “But I think it’s really important not just over the holidays but all year that we remember the soldiers. We need to support our troops.”