Food photos capture GiftAMeal for Chicago food pantry clients

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

The cover of the menu for Nick’s Pizza & Pub has a GiftAMeal sticker in the bottom left corner, encouraging patrons to be part of the program. When customers at Nick’s take a photo of their meal with the GiftAMeal filter, a meal donation is made to Chicago’s Lakeview Food Pantry. (Photo by Nick Sarillo)

That social media picture of your pizza or fish tacos may not just make your followers envious, it may also feed a struggling neighbor.

The GiftAMeal is already in 15 Chicago area restaurants and providing meals to clients of the Lakeview Food Pantry in Chicago.

By using the GiftAMeal mobile app, Chicago area diners at participating restaurants are helping others. The GiftAMeal filter around the photo of an individual’s meal means cash for the Lakeview Pantry.

“Each time a person takes a photo of their food at a partner restaurant, we make a donation to a local food bank,” said Andrew Glantz, CEO of GiftAMeal.

The app is free to download and restaurants pay the company to be a part of the program.

Along with the Chicago area, the GiftAMeal program, started in 2015, is also in St. Louis and Detroit.

Glantz wants to expand the program across the country.

“There are 600,000 restaurants in the United States. We want to be nationwide,” Glantz said. “We can go from being in a couple hundred restaurants to 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 restaurants. We can cover the nation and help restaurants invest in others.”

Kellie O’Connell, CEO of the Lakeview Pantry, said the GiftAMeal program has been a huge benefit to the food provider.

“It’s through innovative partnerships like this one that allows Lakeview Pantry to distribute over 1.4 million meals to our neighbors every year,” O’Connell said. “Most people don’t know that one-in-nine people on the North Side of Chicago suffer from hunger and struggle with poverty.

“The people we serve are constantly faced with the choice between buying food and paying for other basic necessities like rent or medication. We are very grateful to GiftAMeal for aiding in the fight to end hunger and helping to feed Chicago’s most vulnerable residents.”

Restaurants pay a flat monthly fee with subscriptions running from $49 to $149 per month. Glantz said the restaurants do not just get a marketing tool with GiftAMeal, they get a socially conscious avenue for their customers.

Glantz said a case study showed that diners who participate in the GiftAMeal program spend 24 percent more per check and dine at participating restaurants 45 percent more frequently.

Users of the app can look at a list of participating restaurants, helping to drive customers to the door.

“Once in the door, customers can use GiftAMeal. It makes customers more valuable to the restaurant,” Glantz said. “It’s a positive public relations boost because people share photos of their food a lot.”

Andrew Glantz (Study Breaks Magazine photo)

He said GiftAMeal, a for-profit marketing company, is not aimed at supplanting all of a company’s marketing efforts, but to be just one tool in its toolbox.

Glantz, who has a background with nonprofits, got the idea for the marketing firm when he was at a restaurant with really good food but not a lot of customers. The owner told Glantz that coupons had not been effective and Glantz knew that more individuals than ever are looking to make purchases of value.

He looked for ways to apply those values.

“I was looking at how to engage customers, their social responsibility and independent restaurants, and I came up with GiftAMeal,” Glantz said.

With 125 participating restaurants in the St. Louis area, a handful in Detroit and 15 in Chicago, GiftAMeal gives 12½ cents per meal pictured to local food pantries. Those pictures have added up to more than 207,000 meals being donated to local pantries.

Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, is glad to be a part of GiftAMeal.

“It is a great program,” said Sarillo, who has restaurants in Crystal Lake and Elgin. “I did not get into it as a marketing tool. I thought it would be a big help to people. I am an entrepreneur and do a lot of volunteer work. (Glantz) came to with me with an idea of a way to give back, to help the homeless and Lakeview Food Pantry.”

For Sarillo, born and raised in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, hearing that the benefactor of the GiftAMeal program for Chicago was the pantry from his old neighborhood was icing on the cake.

Sarillo said the fact that his restaurants get some marketing benefit every time a customer posts a photo of his or her meal with the GiftAMeal program is a nice plus.

“In this day and age, a small business like mine has a hard time competing in marketing. We can’t afford billboards,” Sarillo said. “People authentically sharing photos of their meal is the best kind of marketing.”

Sarillo said he hasn’t gotten any complaints from his suburban customers about funds benefiting a Chicago pantry.

“Our guests are really connected to Chicago,” Sarillo said. “Plus, the Lakeview Pantry is really well run. It has a lot of recognition. People are familiar with it. There is not a disconnect there.”