The theme of the official 2019 effort, he said, is “Dine Out. Give Back.”
According to the event’s website, the mission is to raise money for community-based organizations that serve people living with or who are impacted by HIV.
In 2018, more than 50 organizations in the United States and Canada partnered with over 3,000 restaurants to raise $4.1 million. All funds raised through a city or region stay in that geographic area. To find participating Tampa Bay area restaurants, visit diningoutforlife.com.
“By far, Gulfport is the city in Pinellas County with the most participating restaurants,” said Ray, who also serves as an ambassador at Pia’s Trattoria in Gulfport, 3054 Beach Boulevard. The county contains 24 cities. “We always blow everybody away by sheer numbers.”
At least one ambassador is stationed at each participating restaurant to help explain to patrons what the special day is all about. They also give people envelopes and encourage them donate further to the cause.
“When people come in and sit down at tables in Pia’s, I start to give them my spiel and they typically say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ then they hand me a check,” said Ray. “They tell me, ‘This is the whole reason we are out tonight.’ People donate money in addition to a percentage of their check going toward Dining Out for Life. It really shows Gulfport is a community. We always rise to the occasion and go above and beyond.”
As of Tuesday morning, April 2, 10 restaurants in Gulfport were registered committing to donations ranging from 25 to 35 percent for breakfast, lunch or dinner. At least a dozen will participate, said Ray.
In the area, the Frog Pond in St. Pete Beach has pledged 50 percent of their profits for breakfast and lunch, while their companion location in Redington Beach has committed to a 100 percent donation for both meals.
For next year, Ray hopes to get 100 percent participation from Gulfport restaurants and he also hopes that locations in South Pasadena will join the effort.