The Most Charitable Chain Restaurants In America

Many of today's restaurant chains have some sort of charity or, at the very least, make donations to special causes. And hey, the restaurant industry in the United States really rakes it in — per Statista, it made $283 billion in 2020 — so, it's a no-brainer that there's plenty of money to spare. And, let's face it: It helps that being charitable usually results in excellent press coverage for each company that decides to go the donation route.

One of the more recent ways that restaurants have helped their local communities is through hosting fundraisers for schools and other nonprofit organizations. GroupRaise lists Papa John's, Applebee's, and On the Border as a few chains that donate up to 40% of sales to their partnered organization.

While we appreciate every cent that restaurant chains help distribute to people and organizations in need, we also love recognizing the restaurants that go above and beyond to help their communities. Let's look at some of the most giving restaurant chains in America.

McDonald's helps families of kids with medical needs

You don't have to be a frequent customer of McDonald's to know all about its iconic mascot Ronald McDonald and the company's decades-old charity, the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC). The first Ronald McDonald House opened in 1974 in Philadelphia for families of medically needy children to stay near their loved ones as they completed treatments or hospital stays. RMHC gives families more than one million overnight stays every year and has launched a mobile service that offers basic dental and medical care.

The popular fast food chain is also charitable outside of RMHC. For instance, the McDonald's HACER National Scholarship awards Hispanic students with up to $100,000 toward their college tuition and has paid more than $5 million to students. There's also the McDonald's Black and Positively Golden Scholarship Program, which gifted $500,000 in scholarship funds to students attending HBCUs in 2021.

Jersey Mike's raised $20 million in one day

Compared to other national restaurant chains, Jersey Mike's is on the somewhat smaller end in terms of locations and revenue. To illustrate, Jersey Mike's earned $255.4 million in revenue in 2020, according to the Franchise Times; per Macrotrends, McDonald's earned $19.20 billion the same year. Despite its smaller earnings and fewer locations, Jersey Mike's holds its own as a charitable organization. One of its most well-known programs is its Day of Giving, which it holds annually on the last Wednesday of March. The Day of Giving is when 100% of the company's sales go straight to nonprofits. In 2022, the company raised $20 million for the Special Olympics USA Games just from its one-day charity event.

The New Jersey-based restaurant chain doesn't stop with its Day of Giving, from which it's raised more than $47 million since its start in 2011. Jersey Mike's also partners with Wreaths Across America, an organization that raises funds to place wreaths on all Arlington National Cemetery gravesites. When Jersey Mike's customers donate to the charity, the company matches up to $500,000 of donations.

LongHorn Steakhouse fights hunger in communities

One of the best ways for a restaurant to help out its local communities is to donate excess food. LongHorn Steakhouse has done just that with all of its locations across the United States. Each restaurant gives food to nonprofit organizations and the company, as a whole, partners with Feeding America and the Darden Foundation. According to LongHorn Steakhouse, the Darden Foundation has secured 15 trucks that deliver food to food banks, such as Forgotten Harvest in Detroit, Michigan, and Feeding the Gulf Coast in Theodore, Alabama.

The Tribune reported in 2019 that in Houston alone, LongHorn Steakhouse donated over 230,000 pounds of food. On a weekly basis, one of the Houston locations preps leftover food to donate to the Light of the World Christian Fellowship. The chain also participates in several other charitable endeavors, including donating to the Salvation Army, per News 5 Cleveland. And in April 2022, the restaurant raised money for the families of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, police officers following a shooting, according to LebTown.

Chipotle makes its mark on food sustainability

Chipotle's vision says it all: "We believe that food has the power to change the world." The food chain sticks by its values by crafting Mexican-inspired quick meals with real ingredients and organic produce. It even makes sure its materials are as good for the planet as its ingredients are for your body by reducing plastic waste and recycling. Its Chipotle Cultivate Foundation focuses on improving food sustainability through innovative processes and donations to family farms, research, education, and other efforts that target sustainability.

The company continues to change the world through not just its food and sustainability efforts, but also its philanthropy. One way it does that is by hosting events with local organizations, such as schools and sports teams, and donating a portion of its event revenue to the organizations. According to Chipotle, the company gives back a whopping 33% of event sales and has hosted more than 303,000 community events as of April 2022.

Pizza Hut rewards kids for reading

You might know Pizza Hut for its super cheesy pizza and stuffed-crust pies, but behind the scenes, the popular pizza chain is also very charitable. Back in 1992, the company became the first of its kind to start a food donation program using surplus ingredients and items that its stores didn't need. Over the years, the program has resulted in over 94 million pounds of donated food to charities across the United States.

Pizza Hut also has a strong connection to students of all ages. As reported by QSR, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the company offered $500,000 in grants to educators to use for resources for their classrooms, including books. The company also launched The Literacy Project and created BOOK IT!, a program that gives kids pizza for reading. Throughout 2022, Pizza Hut committed to donating $1 from every sale of a BOOK IT!-themed meal to First Book, a nonprofit that gets books and school supplies to kids.

Ruby Tuesday continuously supports good causes

Ruby Tuesday was founded in 1972, and it's had several charitable moments through the years, despite also being the subject of several scandals. In 2011, a Michigan Ruby Tuesday gave 20% of its profits from several Sundays to the local Habitat for Humanity. According to a Business Wire press release, in 2012, the company donated a total of $80,000 to the Red Cross to aid with superstorm Sandy's relief efforts. And year after year, Ruby Tuesday celebrates National Lemonade Day by not only selling their lemonades at a discounted price, but by giving money to No Kid Hungry. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, FSR reported the restaurant chain expanded its do-good efforts by matching all donations to provide meals for first responders and healthcare providers. They also collected donations from diners.

Ruby Tuesday's diverse giving profile grew even larger in 2021, when it signed on to support Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which donates close to two million books monthly to kids, per Business Wire. Through the holiday season, Ruby Tuesday customers received a Dolly-approved keepsake book when they donated to the organization. 

Panera Bread gives baked goods and money

As of the end of 2021, Baking Business reported Panera Bread was approaching the $100 million mark of donations of its baked goods. Each night, the company sent off baked items, like pastries and bagels, that went unsold throughout the day to homeless shelters, food pantries, and other organizations that could use the food to feed people in need. It's one of its most charitable efforts, and it happens through its program aptly titled the Day-End Dough-Nation program.

That's hardly where Panera Bread's giving spirit ends. This company is devoted to serving underserved children through its charity, the Panera Bread Foundation. The organization partners with youth-focused programs, like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs, to improve financial literacy and reading comprehension, spread diversity, and build leadership skills. To support the nonprofit, guests can choose to round up their order total to the nearest dollar, and Panera Bread will donate the excess to the foundation. The funds help support several efforts, including a grant program that makes education and career training more accessible to all children and youth.

Burger King supports education in and outside of the U.S.

Many of Burger King's locations are owned by franchisees, which allows each location some wiggle room as to how they'd like to host charity events or support their local communities through donations. Still, the company as a whole works to improve communities across the nation through relief efforts and educational support through The Burger King Foundation. The nonprofit gifts scholarships to eligible students and employees, donates funds to improve literacy, and provides monetary and hands-on support to libraries in India.

BK Benefit Nights also occur across the U.S. on various nights through the year to support organizations in local communities. The events give partnered organizations 20% of their sales.

Interestingly enough, the king-of-burgers chain even helped McDonald's with its charitable efforts, despite being long-term fast food competitors. In 2021, Burger King restaurants in Poland helped McDonald's boost funds for its Ronald McDonald House Charities by offering a free burger to any customer who bought fries from McDonald's. The point was to increase sales at McDonald's, which gave one Polish Zloty to the foundation for every fry order sold, per The Drum.

Little Caesars brings pizza to your neighborhood for free

Your favorite affordable pizza chain, known for its $5 cheesy pizzas, is also one of the most charitable of its kind. In fact, Little Caesars has an easy-to-find contact form right on its website for organizations to request donations from their local restaurants.

But it also has plenty of ways it continues to donate without being asked. One of its most unique efforts is Love Kitchen, which consists of a fleet of traveling restaurants that visits places in need. Per a press release, the list of stops includes cities impacted by natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. 

In 2020, Little Caesars gave back to those working tireless hours to assist others throughout the pandemic through its Pie It Forward program. The company donated one million of its pizzas to first responders and healthcare workers and encouraged customers to join in by donating to its fund. Together, another 125,000 pizza donations were made possible, per PR Newswire.

Boston Market is all about helping families

Boston Market has made it clear over the years that its prime mission in terms of charity is to help children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. It's through long-term work with Give Kids the World, a nonprofit organization that treats these families to free experiences that they can remember forever, that Boston Market continues to make a difference. The restaurant chain became a sponsor of the nonprofit in 2008 and remains one of nine today, joining the ranks of Walt Disney World Resort and SeaWorld Orlando.

In March 2011, Fast Casual reported that when Boston Market made over $800,000 selling coupon books, that cash went right to the organization. On the company website, Boston Market promises at least $500,000 each year to Give Kids the World.

That's in addition to the other ways the chain helps its communities. Boston Market offers a few different ways for communities and organizations to fundraise, such as requesting catered dinners or hosting a restaurant night.

YUM! Brands breathes charitability into its brands

We lumped the family of YUM! Brands restaurants into its parent company for this one because YUM! Brands itself has been extremely charitable over the years. YUM! Brands includes chain favorites KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and The Habit Burger Grill. Because of its giving spirit, the company has encouraged its child brands to give to worthy causes, too.

Let's start with the YUM! Brands Foundation, which primarily focuses on providing food to the needy through weekend backpack lunch programs, senior meal donations, and after-school meals. It also has partnered with World Food Program USA since 2007 to raise more than $100 million for the organization.

In addition to Pizza Hut's many literacy endeavors that we mentioned, KFC and Taco Bell each have their own charities, too. The Kentucky Fried Chicken Foundation provides scholarships to kids planning to pursue a secondary education. And the Taco Bell Foundation encourages students to showcase their leadership potential by awarding more than $110 million in scholarships to nonprofits that provide educational programming, events, and training.

The Cheesecake Factory launched a foundation

The Cheesecake Factory started as a family-operated cheesecake shop, and eventually grew into a popular restaurant chain with a seemingly never-ending menu. One of the ways The Cheesecake Factory thanks local communities for turning the eatery into the famous dining spot it is today is by giving back. The Cheesecake Factory Oscar & Evelyn Overton Charitable Foundation was founded in 2001 to help a number of efforts, donating millions of dollars to causes like hunger relief and cancer research.

As reported in 2020, to celebrate National Cheesecake Day that year (it's July 30, mark your calendar accordingly), The Cheesecake Factory gave a dollar to Feeding America for every piece of cheesecake sold. To sweeten its gift, it continued donating $0.25 per slice for a year. The eatery also created the Nourish Program to donate unsold food to food banks and other organizations.

Bob Evans supports the nation's veterans

Bob Evans is known for its farm-fresh breakfasts, but this popular restaurant is so much more than bacon and eggs. Bob Evans — the original creator of the restaurant and its namesake — had a charitable spirit that continues to shape the company. Today, the chain partners with local organizations to make sure families can share a warm Thanksgiving meal each year and supports young farmers with the National FFA Organization. The company also gifted $15,000 to Ohio's farming community in creator Bob Evans' name.

Perhaps its most charitable effort to date is Our Farm Salutes, a program benefiting the country's incredible veterans and their families. The program, founded in 2016, donates funds to organizations that support veterans' mental health, offers business grants to veterans who want to start a business, and gifts unique opportunities to kids of military members. In 2022, Bob Evans launched Purple Heroes and dropped $60,000 to send the kids of military members to summer camp. Veterans can also enjoy a free hot breakfast at Bob Evans on Veterans' Day.

Starbucks supports global social causes

Starbucks has made its presence known through its support of social causes over the years, such hiring refugees in the wake of Donald Trump's travel ban. Starbucks is also big on charity, which it makes possible via The Starbucks Foundation, an organization that was founded in 1997. The foundation makes a global impact on social issues through its grants and other programs. For instance, its Neighborhood Grants program gifts up to $10,000 in grants to local organizations nominated by their communities. And the company has committed to investing in at least 250,000 women by 2025 by partnering with the Malala Fund to support education for young women.

Starbucks also dove head-first into relief efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, teaming up with Direct Relief to give coffee and $500,000 to frontline workers. In April 2020, Starbucks also donated more than $3 million to support charities like the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and Give2Asia. The company also gifted United Way Worldwide with $250,000 for its pandemic fund to help people in need receive financial and social services.

Wendy's founder promoted philanthropy

Per QSR, in April 2022, fast food chain Wendy's promised $185,000 in donations to various organizations across the United States and Canada. A food bank, crisis hotline, and a community action agency were among the recipients. Wendy's also contributed $125,000 to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization that supports students in or planning to attend HBCUs.

That $185,000 may seem like a small chunk of change for such a large chain restaurant, and to be fair, it is. However, that's only one of the company's many charitable efforts. In fact, founder Dave Thomas was a giver, and as his business grew, he encouraged it to give back to organizations that aided foster care, fueled strong and vibrant communities, and worked toward hunger relief.

In 2017, the company began WeCare, a fund that offers emergency assistance to full-time and part-time Wendy's employees. It also launched Wendy's Community Giving Program in 2020, which commits to supporting multiple organizations throughout each year. The fast food chain also seeks to get its employees in on the action by encouraging them to volunteer with local organizations that its restaurants can support through food drives and other events.

Chili's has raised millions for St. Jude

Chili's — known for its affordable meals and casual atmosphere — has had a long-standing relationship with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Since 2002, the restaurant has made its partnership well-known through its charitable donations and fundraisers in each of its restaurants. As of 2022, the company has helped raise more than $77 million for the hospital. Of course, Chili's has donated its fair share, too, such as a pledge of $30 million over six years beginning in 2016 to support the St. Jude School Program, per Philanthropy News Digest.

Although the St. Jude partnership is Chili's primary focus, the company also accepts donation requests for local organizations and offers all-day fundraisers, with 15% of sales going straight to the hosting organization. In addition, the Golden Pepper Program is a meal voucher situation that partners with schools and doctors offices to encourage kids' attendance, per Quality Dining, Inc. What's more, Chili's supports veterans through free Veterans' Day meals and programs like Wreaths Across America and Feed our Vets, and women leaders through its Women Take the Lead program.