Looking for ways to connect to your customers? Here’s another idea: Olive Garden has been running a students’ writing contest for the past 16 years as their manner of supporting America’s education and at the same time a way to keep their patrons engaged.
In its 16th Annual Pasta Tales Essay Writing Contest, Olive Garden shows their concern towards North American education by allowing students in 1st through 12th grade to share their ideas on how to support education in their community. The contest started last November 21 and runs through January 29, where they ask students across the U.S.A. and Canada to compose a 50 to 250-words essay in reply to the question: “How would you use the amount of $5,000 to support your community’s local education, and why?”
The contest is aligned with Olive Garden’s Recipe for Success initiative which hopes to enable and empower today’s youth in achieving their goals through education. With help from its parent company Darden Restaurants, the chain provides students throughout North America an outlet to artistically express the experiences, influences and stories that have formed their present lives and will shape their futures. The contest helps the youth build their path to success and allows them to achieve their dreams through educational and thought-provoking exercises like essay-writing, aside from being able to break financial barriers by making scholarships available to students.
A winner for every grade category will be announced, with each winner receiving a $500 savings bond and an Olive Garden family dinner. The selected grand winner of the 16th Annual Pasta Tales Essay Writing Contest receives a trip to New York City for three days (which includes an elaborate dinner, to be served by able servers in elegant restaurant aprons at Olive Garden in Times Square), a $2,500 savings bond and a $5,000 grant that will support the winner’s local education community, bringing his (or her) essay to life.
The essay will be evaluated according to creativity, organization, adherence to the theme, punctuation, grammar and spelling. Judging will be done by the University of Iowa’s Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications, and the winners will be selected by the management of Olive Garden Restaurant.
Last June, the chain also recognized thirteen young writers in the same contest, with winning essays that were selected among 28,000 entries submitted from across North America. The question was, “describe how further education beyond high school aids you in realizing your dreams.” All copies of the winning entries are made available to anyone who requests for it.
This kind of promotion allows restaurants, both independents and chains, to explore ideas on how to promote their restaurants to their respective communities—simple contests that would engage key people in their local society and at the same time bring diners over to their restaurants to sample their food and be served by their able servers in outstanding restaurant aprons.