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A Restaurant Loyalty Program With A Do-Gooder Twist

The Spring–from the founder of Carrotmob–is a new app that provides a small cash incentive for people to eat at restaurants that donate to local community projects. The big question is whether food joints will buy in.

A Restaurant Loyalty Program With A Do-Gooder Twist
[Image via Shutterstock]

Say you’re looking for a place to eat dinner and you’re not in a picky mood. Do you pick the one with a Groupon discount, or perhaps the place that promises 3% cash back and 3% of your bill donated to community projects? A new startup called The Spring, created by the team behind Carrotmob, thinks enough people will choose the latter that it can create a viable business.

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Brent Schulkin is a big believer in the power of money to create incentives for positive social change. For years, he’s been leading the charge at Carrotmob, a nonprofit that supports “buycotts,” in which large groups of people patronize businesses that have agreed to take socially responsible actions, like becoming more energy efficient.

But while Carrotmob has held over 250 buycotts since its launch about five years ago, it can only scale up so much when events are only held, say, every six months in a given city. The Spring, says Schulkin, “is like what Carrotmob would be if it was just easy for everybody.”

On the customer side, it’s a no-brainer. Enter in your credit card information on The Spring’s website, download the accompanying app, patronize the listed restaurants, and receive email updates about the community projects you have supported via the platform. Not much behavior change is required.


For businesses, it’s not so simple. They are asked to pony up a 9% fee for every transaction through The Spring–3% cash back to the customer, 3% for community projects, and 3% to The Spring. “This is a super challenging sales environment,” admits Schulkin. Think about all the consumer apps that restaurants in cities must use today, such as GrubHub, Seamless, and OpenTable. All of those services take a cut of profits, too, and now The Spring is asking for a little bit more. In exchange, however, restaurants get a pain-free way to donate to worthy causes. (One of the first is an elementary school garden in San Francisco, where many of the first 13 partner restaurants are located).

Just as Carrotmob attracted throngs of people to do-gooder businesses, Schulkin is hopeful that restaurants using The Spring will get similar sales bumps. “There are tons of apps out there, tons of way to find restaurants, to save money while finding restaurants. We’re making you feel good because you’re saving money, and we’re also giving dynamic content and a new story to tell,” he says. Now he just needs to convince a critical mass of restaurants that the platform makes sense for them–no small feat.

Carrotmob won’t disappear, but Schulkin and his team don’t plan to work on it day-to-day. “There is an end game in my mind on how these two things can eventually merge,” he says.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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