Dining cause: Maine Restaurant Week Leverages Non-Profit Causes with Private Money

Diners visiting dozens of eateries for "Maine Restaurant Week" over the next two weeks may not realize the meal deals served up by Portland-local restaurants are taking initiative from of the nation’s hottest marketing trends – "cause marketing."

Broadly defined, "cause marketing" refers to a cooperative effort between for-profit and non-profit organizations for mutual benefit. Maine Restaurant Week has successfully funnelled resources into non-profit groups over the past six years – a potentially crucial boost in funds and morale at non-profits being affected by this long, chilled winter. Two of this years biggest beneficiaries: Preble Street Resource Center and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southern Maine, who will share 100 percent of Maine Restaurant Week net proceeds.

food_restweekbartender_022615The costs for restaurants to participate vary along a sliding scale from $200-$500. More than 80 restaurants have joined up, offering specially priced menus and creative menu items, many of which will help us get a gustatory grip on the weather.

Jim Britt, a partner at gBritt PR, has worked to infuse several Maine restaurants with energy and a financial boost each winter since 2008.

"We were aware of other Restaurant Weeks around the country, and it sounded like it would be a boost – not just for our clients, but many other restaurants as well."

This year’s two-week feast features the kick-off event – the "Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off" – at Sea Dog Brewing Company in SoPo on Friday. Competitors like Congdon’s Doughnuts and Family Restaurant in Wells will mix it up with Marcy’s Diner in Portland for bragging rights for "Maine’s Best Breakfast Dish;" Captain and Celeste from WBLM’s morning show will broadcast live and crown the champ.

"It’s longer than usual," Britt said, "more meaningful than in years past. We need to care for restaurants all year round, not just when it’s warm."

The ever-popular cocktail competition on Sunday at Prime Mercedes-Benz in Scarborough is to be re-imagined this year, when the traditional dessert contest will be replaced by offerings served up by pairing local bartenders with chefs to create complementary drinks and dishes.

"The challenge is to create drinks and dishes that play to each others strengths and deliver a unique cocktail and food tasting experience," according to Maine Restaurant Week’s website.

40 Paper in Camden will look to defend their cocktail crown from last year against previous winners: including their cross-town rival, Natalie’s, Academe in Kennebunk, and Portland’s David’s and Sonny’s restaurants, respectively. Tickets include all cocktail and food pairings, plus hors d’oeuvres and food stations.

Maine Restaurant Week didn’t want to lose local bakers when dropping the dessert competition that used to pair with the cocktail contest, so organizers invented a new event this year: "The Great Coffee Pairing Event" at Coffee By Design at East Bayside on Sunday.

Sweet treats are provided by Dean’s Sweets, Frisky Whisk, and Two Fat Cats.

"I’m really excited," Britt said. "I don’t think Portland has seen anything like this before."

Bayside Bowl will host the Chef-Am bowling tournament on Sunday – it’s a fundraiser for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Louis Simms, events manager at Bayside Bowl, said the kitchen crew is prepared to offer up their sweet-and-spicy take on Thai street food, Bhang Bhang chicken wings. For the tournament, teams of four will be expected add a fifth guest bowler: a Portland restaurant professional. Even if not a ringer on the lanes, this local chef will at least be able to offer some good recipes between tosses.

A team of four costs $140 and gets four folks a couple hours of bowling, buffet and, of course, those fabulous shoes.

Then, there’s Macs Grill in Auburn, which owners Mike Peters said has participated in Maine Restaurant Week each of the three years they’ve been in business.

"The owners before us also participated," he said. "It’s a brilliant idea, putting it all together. You have so many restaurants involved, each with its own menu and prices."

Macs Grill is heating up for the breakfast cook-off with options like steak and eggs, lobster salad with celery root, onion and bell pepper served over crostini, or Macs Grill Wings, to be served with a signature "Restaurant Week" sauce (and that’s just the first course).

Sarra Maddocks, bartender at Buck’s Naked BBQ and Steakhouse, said Maine Restaurant Week is good for everyone. "People feel good about eating and drinking for a good cause."

Maddocks has been at Buck’s since they opened on Wharf Street in November of 2012. The prix fixe concept used by restaurants during the foodfest allows for accessibility, she said. "It allows patrons to take a risk on creativity and makes them more likely to try something new. It’s a nice side effect that restaurants get extra business out of it."