Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Hop, You Hop, We All Hop to IHOP!

A big thank you is due to IHOP (International House of Pancakes) for their charitable sponsorship today of Pancake Day. Every IHOP nationwide participated in this today, and 17 of them in Virginia selected LLS as their charity. Any customer who comes in can get a free short stack (three pancakes). In exchange, they are asked to donate to the charity in any amount, although the cost of the free pancakes is the suggestion. Where else can you eat pancakes and help to cure blood cancers at the same time?

LLS and IHOP has found that if there are LLS volunteers in each restaurant reminding customers of this day of eating pancakes for charity, and talking about the mission of LLS, that donations go up 400%. So as many of us as possible volunteered for one of the three five hour shifts at the various restaurants today. The donations at that restaurant will be credited equally to each person who worked a shift there. For example, if $1,000 in donations were received at restaurant A, and five volunteers worked the three shifts, then we would each get $200 credited towards our fundraising.

My shift was the 7AM to noon time slot at the Fredericksburg IHOP, which is an hour away. So I left home at 5:45 to get there early in case anything needed to be set up. But the restaurant staff was totally on top of things. They had hung the banners, put up the donation box, and had a card on every table reminding customers of the concept. I totally recommend this restaurant if you are in the area. The food was good, the service very fast, and the staff was friendly and on top of things.

I pinned on my volunteer button, taking care not to do an inadvertent nipple piercing in the dark, and started my shift. Melissa from Fredericksburg worked with me, and she had the most perfect “pitch.” We would have done fine if I had kept my mouth shut and let her do all of the talking, but that would hardly be fair, so I learned from her and tried to copy her approach. We repeated our pitch probably a couple of hundred times in the five hours. I also took advantage of the free pancakes, paid for a juice and sausage, left a generous tip for the full value of the meal, and made a $5.00 donation to LLS. I guess many people were not tipping, which is totally unfair to the hard-working wait staff. If you are getting a deal, always tip based on the full price of the meal.

Most people were friendly and interested in the concept of pancakes for charity. A few chatted at length about our mission, and talked of people they know with lymphoma or leukemia. One man quizzed me for nearly 10 minutes about my experience with lymphoma, and one woman told us of surviving lymphoma herself 12 years ago. Two parties told us of young children they know suffering from leukemia, five year old Cade from Mississippi and eight year old Matthew from Fredericksburg. So I wrote their names down and said that I will add them to my Seattle race shirt.

A minority of customers was plainly not interested and blew us off or just walked past, ignoring us. But many people stuffed everything from a buck to 20 dollars in the box as they left, and a goodly number made credit card donations. The volume of people coming in was constant with occasional bursts of six to a dozen people waiting at a time for a table. Most of them knew about Pancake Day and had come for the free pancakes. There were a few funny groups, like the ones who said “we don’t like pancakes” when we approached them with our pitch – as if liking pancakes was a prerequisite for donating to a great cause. The weirdest case was a group of about five people that turned and left immediately when told that the free pancakes were not all you could eat. Go figure! They didn’t want to each get three free pancakes, but would have stayed if the free flapjacks kept coming! Pretty weird, I have to say.

I was tired from talking a lot and being on my feet for five hours, but this was a great fundraising event. I am hoping to make $200 for LLS for my share of this, but we will see how it ends up. In any event, I very much appreciate the generosity of IHOP in doing this for our charity, and for their hospitality towards us volunteers.

Here are Melissa and I talking to a customer:

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