More than 100 Maryland restaurants have joined the national Dine For America campaign, agreeing to donate a portion of their Oct. 11 proceeds to benefit the victims of last month's terrorist attacks, organizers said yesterday.
The restaurants have agreed to give anywhere from 5 percent to 100 percent of the day's sales to the American Red Cross to be used to aid victims of the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as well as the jetliner downed in Pennsylvania.
"This is our way of giving back in this time of great national tragedy," says Richard Has- kell of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East, which will be donating all its receipts for that night. "It's a way to show support and raise funds for the victims and their families."
The Maryland participants join the estimated 6,000 restaurants nationwide that have signed up for the campaign. Organizers expect the one-day event to raise at least $20 million for the disaster relief fund.
Will Powers, a Dine For America spokesman in Seattle, says the campaign was made possible by unprecedented cooperation between competitors.
"It's been amazing how easy it's been for these CEOs of major corporations to set aside finances and cooperate. It's been a great feeling," Powers says.
Major corporate sponsors range from the owners of Friendly's and Chili's Grill & Bar to Outback Steakhouse and Macaroni Grill. But participants have also included small, independent restaurants such as the Taneytown Deli in Catonsville and the Wagon Wheel in Parkton.
Besides donating a portion of their proceeds, most are also allowing customers a chance to make an outright contribution to the cause.
"This is the thing to do, to try to help out," says Buddy Roberts, kitchen manager of the Old Wharf Inn in Chestertown, which is donating 10 percent of its sales. "Our staff has been very interested in doing something. We're already collecting donations."
The effort is also notable because most restaurants have suffered sharp declines in sales since Sept. 11. They have felt the effects not only of a worsening economy but also of a drop in tourism caused by the terrorist action.
At Little Italy's Da Mimmo, for instance, co-owner Mary Ann Cricchio estimates that sales are off by 25 percent since Sept 11 compared to a year ago. In the first 10 days of September, business had actually been up 10 percent from the year before.
"Just this past weekend have we seen Baltimoreans start to go out to dinner again," says Cricchio whose restaurant will donate 10 percent of sales. "When I don't order bread, the baker doesn't bake, and some farmer doesn't sell wheat. We can't let this thing snowball. We have to be able to go out and live."
Local organizers expect another 100 Maryland restaurants will likely sign up for the campaign before next Thursday. A list of local participants will be available beginning Friday through the Restaurant Association of Maryland at its Web site, www.marylandrestaurants.com or by calling the association at 800-874-1313.
"What's so wonderful about this industry is that they're facing real tough economic times, but here they're turning around and giving away money," says Marcia Harris, president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. "They want to be part of the solution."
Some restaurant owners say they felt a particular kinship to the more than 300 food service industry employees who perished at the World Trade Center, including workers at the famous Windows on the World, the upscale dining spot on the 107th floor.
One of the event's largest sponsors is Outback Steakhouse Inc., which plans to give 100 percent of sales from its more than 800 restaurants including its 710 Outbacks, 93 Carrabba's Italian Grills, 10 Fleming's Prime Steakhouses and 9 Roy's.
"This is just the way Outback does business," says Stephanie Amberg, a spokeswoman for the Tampa-based chain. "We wanted to be involved."