The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries in the country employing more minority managers than any other industry. It is also one of the most charitable industries in the United States. Currently, nine out of ten restaurants are actively involved in charitable activities on a daily basis. To help celebrate these industry stars making a difference each and every day, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) has teamed up with American Express, PepsiCo Foodservice and Ecolab to honor individuals with the annual Restaurant Neighbor Award, Faces of Diversity American Dream Award and Ambassador of Hospitality Award.

But while nine in 10 restaurants are reportedly active in their communities, consumers are largely unaware of their work. To that end, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) teamed up with American Express 16 years ago to start the Restaurant Neighbor Awards, annual accolades meant to educate the public and inspire other restaurants to similarly serve their communities.

Different companies have different strategies driving their philanthropic initiatives. For some, fighting hunger is a natural fit, whether through donating meals or raising funds. Others give away their time and their money to causes like multiple sclerosis research or literacy promotion.

The Restaurant Neighbor Awards have four categories: Large Business, for sales of more than $100 million; Mid-Size Business, for sales between $10 million and $100 million; Small Business, for $10 million and below; and a Cornerstone Humanitarian Award, which honors an individual for his or her long-term charitable commitment. After winners are selected at the state level, judges review those restaurants for the national awards. In making their selections, judges look at factors including impact (such as dollars raised or people fed), and staff involvement.

These can be anything: the creativity of the program, a personal story or inside knowledge a judge has about the company, or if it is a replicable model for others.

A 2018 study found that when companies supported social and environmental issues, 94 percent of global consumers had a more positive image of the company, 95 percent were more likely to trust the company, and 91 percent would show more loyalty to them. In addition, given comparable price and quality among competitors, 93 percent would switch to brands associated with a good cause.

“Restaurants are gathering places, and they know the people in their community and know what they need,” says Katherine Jacobi, President-Nevada Restaurant Association. “They’re the first ones to respond in times of need.”

There is a balancing act that companies must walk in order to expose their consumers to their worthy endeavors without crossing the line into public relations overdrive, experts say. Syncing up the message with the medium is also important. For example, selling desserts to raise money for juvenile diabetes might not be the best way to go.

Today consumers are not only expecting restaurants to support a cause and to stand for something good, but nine out of 10 of them also look to their purchase power as a way to get involved themselves. 

One example is family-owned Panda Restaurant Group, parent company of Panda Express, which won a Restaurant Neighbor Award in 2014 for the work done through its Panda Cares program, which was founded 16 years ago. The company has donated more than $48 million to a variety of programs since 1999, including to Children’s Miracle Network, the American Red Cross, and a program called The Leader in Me, which is a school-based program focused on building character that Panda administers with a partner.

Face of Diversity American Dream Award – The American Dream Award honors individuals from a diverse background who, through hard work and determination, have realized their American dream. Three winners are honored each year with this award and three $2,500 scholarships are awarded to ProStart students in the names of the winners. This award is sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice.

Restaurant Neighbor Award – The Restaurant Neighbor Award recognizes restaurants for outstanding community service and philanthropy. National winners are chosen from a pool of state winners to win $10,000 to support their favorite charity or non-profit. This award is sponsored by American Express. 

Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award – The Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award honors an individual who has shown extraordinary achievement and exemplary leadership in the restaurant and hospitality industry. This award is sponsored by Ecolab.

To apply, contact the Nevada Restaurant Association at 702-878-2313 or visit