How Restaurants Can Help & Show Support in Response to the War in Ukraine

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, more than 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country in search of safety. Many others remain in place, vowing to defend their home as the war rages on. As soon as the humanitarian crisis emerged, numerous relief organizations mobilized to help. And restaurants are joining in, raising money to help feed those impacted by the violence, as well as carrying out other small tokens of support. 

If you’re looking for ways to show your own restaurant stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, here are a few ideas, all examples from others responding across the country.

Raise money for organizations like World Central Kitchen

Countless restaurants are partaking in fundraising efforts. And there are plenty of ways to join in, along with organizations to which you can donate. One of the most prominent food relief organizations is Chef Jose Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK), a nonprofit that’s been serving meals since the very start of the Russian invasion. WCK currently provides hot meals to centers in Poland, Romania, Moldova, and other locations supporting refugees and is partnering with restaurants inside of Ukraine. 

“Cooking is a way to stand up. It's to say, you are not going to let my people go hungry,” said Andrés’ to CNN. You’ll find numerous restaurants donating to WCK, whether through menu specials, pop-up events, or dedicated days where a percentage of profits is pledged. 

There are numerous other nonprofits to support, too, as well as examples of how to do it. Chicago’s Wherewithall, operated by Ukrainian-American chef Johnny Clark and spouse Beverly Kim, for example, plans to raise money for Razom for Ukraine through serving a Ukrainian menu. “The Russian government would like to erase the Ukrainian culture and identity altogether. That’s not going to happen,” writes Clark on Instagram. “So to raise awareness of the unique culture and food of we will serve an entirely Ukrainian menu next week.”

Boston’s Haley Henry gave all of its proceeds from its weekly hot dog special to Ukrainian Crisis Relief Fund by GlobeGiving. Cleveland’s Market Garden Brewery is donating a portion of its Pierogi Week festival proceeds to International Rescue Committee. Benicia, California’s One House Bakery is offering a daily Ukraine-inspired special, with 100-percent of the proceeds going to Save the Children Ukrainian Crisis Relief Fund. And the list goes on, with other relief organizations including Sunflower of Peace, Polish Humanitarian Action, and UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency

There’s also a global bake sale movement, Bakers Against Racism, banding together bakers and pastry chefs worldwide to raise money. Use hashtags #bakeforukraine and #bakersagainstracism on social media, and the organizers will help spread the word about any baking-related fundraising efforts you’re already promoting.

Moscow Mule → Kyiv Mule: Make name changes as a small token of support 

Total Wine & More has dropped all Russian-made products from its stores. A restaurant in Austin formerly known as Russian House has dropped the “Russian” from its name. And some bars and restaurants are pouring out their Stoli vodka supply. (The Stoli company itself is also going through a rebrand.)

While these acts by no means have the power to change a war, they’re meant to show support for the Ukrainian people. Likewise, many places are renaming the Moscow mule.. (Some restaurants are also using Ukrainian-distilled vodka, like Prime.) Kyiv Mule, Ukrainian Mule, and Peace Mule are all among the name variations currently surfacing as a small token of support.

“Our heart just goes out to the Ukrainian people. Me and my business partner, we just wanted to make a stand and make our guests feel more comfortable, while spreading a little more joy,” says Ralph Lonow, co-owner of Asheville, North Carolina’s Avenue M, now using the name ‘Peace Mule’. “The funny thing is, the first night we changed the name, we sold more Moscow mules than we have all year – I think everyone just needs a little bit more of that, of peace, in their mind right now.”

Lonow notes that places are also renaming the White Russian. “I think there should be an effort to rename it to ‘The Dude,” he says, giving a lighthearted nod to the drink’s role in The Big Lebowski.

Use social media to stand in solidarity with Ukrainians

In times like this, it can feel challenging, and often uncomfortable, to remain silent as if nothing is going on, while continuing to post flashy photos of food and drinks to social media. While it’s reasonable to keep posting marketing photos that support your business’s success, it’s not unreasonable to use your social media accounts to also show support. 

You’ll see restaurants around the world writing statements that make their stand public. If you’re struggling on what to write, a simple, “We stand with Ukraine 🇺🇦”, can signify that you care, and is being echoed by restaurants nationwide. 

Create QR code flyers that direct customers to donation groups

By now you’re well aware of the QR code menu, and the versatility that the concept can bring to operators. And we’re seeing at least one restaurant using that to their advantage for purposes well beyond ordering food.

Walk into Veselka, a decades-old New York City restaurant that serves traditional Ukrainian food, and you’re given a card with two QR codes. The codes take you not to a menu, but places to donate in support of Ukraine. (The first links to Razom for Ukraine, a nonprofit that’s been helping Ukrainians push for a democratic society since first established in 2014. The second links directly to the National Bank of Ukraine, which has set up an account for people to donate in support of the country’s armed forces.)

If the idea piques your interest, there are plenty of free QR code generators. Alternatively, if you’re already using a QR code for your menu, you could add suggested links to the top or bottom that direct customers to organizations supporting Ukraine. We’ve listed a bunch of vetted organizations above. (See “Raise money for organizations like World Central Kitchen”.) The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also offers a list of accredited charities. Just make sure that you’re suggesting a legitimate charity or donation site – the BBB warns, scammers are likely to create fake donation websites. You can refer to the BBB’s tips for donors here.

[Photo by Katie Godowski from Pexels]