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Hang up that apron; forget about what's in the fridge. Don't cook dinner Tuesday -- plan to eat out instead.

As long as it's at one of 54 restaurants participating in the third annual Dining Out for Life, a fund-raiser for local AIDS organizations. Dining Out for Life benefits AIDS Community Services of Western New York and AIDS Family Services.

The restaurant you choose will donate at least 25 percent of your check to these organizations. (They split the bounty between them.) And it may be pretty difficult to make up your mind, what with the number of participants increasing every year.

Only 21 restaurants were on the list when Dining Out came to Western New York three years ago.

There's good reason for the enthusiasm.

"It's a win-win situation, so I really felt I could support it," says Dorothy Johnston, who with Jospeh Boyler is chef-owner of Cafe in the Square on Main Street in Snyder, one of the charter members of the event when Dining Out for Life debuted in 2003.

"Tuesday is a quiet night here, as it is in most places, so I figured if it worked out well, at least our restaurant would be filled."

"Cafe in the Square was full from the inception and tables turned over, too," Johnston continues.

And not only does the customer get a great meal, but at the same time help out organizations providing critical services to the community.

Christopher Voltz, marketing director of AIDS Community Services, says proceeds support nutrition programs at his organization.

"In 2003, with 21 restaurants, we made about $20,000. In 2004, there were over 42 restaurant participating and we made $42,000," he explains. "That's about $1,000 a restaurant. So we're hoping to make over $55,000 this year.

But money, says Voltz, is only part of the story. "There's fund-raising and there's awareness-raising." Dining Out for Life is particularly big in the awareness part of the equation, Voltz says.

And that is vital, Voltz says, because he's actually met people who don't even think AIDS/HIV exists in Western New York.

He describes how the "awareness-raising" is accomplished. "At every restaurant there is an ambassador who welcomes the customers to the restaurant whether they've made a reservation ahead of time or just happened in. The ambassadors answer any questions patrons may have, but they are very careful to take just a few minutes of time.

"And every table gets an envelope that can be used to add an additional donation if desired. But, even if the patrons don't put anything else in the envelope, they're entered in a raffle for four grand prizes, one of which is a trip to Florida.

"It's our way of saying thank you," Voltz says.

The Dining for Life campaign is well-organized. Maureen Burden, director of operations for the Park Lane, says that this is the first time the restaurant is participating, and she is especially pleased with the informational materials provided to her.

"We've got posters on the wall and table tents around the candles everywhere. And when the check is presented, there's a little bookmark card that comes right with it." Once patrons saw this during the last week or so, Burden says, reservations started to come in.

Dining Out for Life originated in Philadelphia in 1991 and now happens in 42 U.S. cities and in Toronto -- there are more than 2,500 restaurants involved, raising more than $2 million a year. With the exception of a small licensing fee, all the money collected stays in the community.

The participating restaurants are listed on the Web site

Though the restaurant benefits, "it's not about the publicity at all," Burden says. "It's about helping the community and AIDS research. I think it's a great thing."


Decisions, decisions

"If you're dining out next week I think you should go out on Tuesday," says Maureen Burden of the Park Lane. And that's not too hard to do. Check the list of participants. It features both moderately priced and upscale restaurants. (Reservations, by the way, might be a good idea.)
Apple Granny's, 433 Center St., Lewiston

ECC City Campus, E.M. Statler Dining Room. 121 Ellicott St. (donating 100 percent, lunch only.)

Cafe in the Square, 4476 Main St., Snyder (donating 50 percent)

Cecilia's Ristorante, 716 Elmwood Ave. (donating 50 percent)

Oliver's, 2095 Delaware Ave. (donating 50 percent)

Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant, 56 W. Chippewa St.

Bellini's, 445 Delaware Ave.

Betty's, 370 Virginia St.

Bijou Grille, 643 Main St.

Bing's Restaurant, 1952 Kensington Ave., Amherst

Brennan's Bowery bar, 4401 Transit Road, Williamsville

Brinks, 51 W. Chippewa St.

Brodo, 765 Elmwood Ave.

Buca di Beppo, 3755 Union Road, Cheektowaga

Cafe GarAngelo's, 1197 Hertel Ave.

Campus House Club, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

Chef's, 291 Seneca St.

City Grill, 268 Main St.

Cole's, 1104 Elmwood Ave.

Colter Bay Grill, 561 Delaware Ave.

Creekview, 5629 Main St., Williamsville

Curly's, 647 Ridge Road, Lackawanna

Falletta's, 8255 Clarence Center Road, East Amherst

Fanny's, 3500 Sheridan Drive, Amherst

Fiddle Heads, 62 Allen St.

Hutch's, 1375 Delaware Ave.

Ilio DiPaolo's, 3785 South Park, Blasdell

LaMarina Seafood Market & Grille, 1503 Hertel Ave.

Lebro's 330 Campbell Blvd., Getzville

Left Bank, 511 Rhode Island St.

Le Metro, 520 Elmwood Ave.

Marinaccio's, 5877 Main St., Williamsville

Mr. Bill's, 1500 Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga

Nektar's, 451 Elmwood Ave.

Off the Wall, 534 Elmwood Ave.

Pano's, 1081 Elmwood Ave.

Park Lane, 33 Gates Circle

Pizza Plant Italian Pub, 8020 Transit Road, Williamsville

Pizza Plant-Walker Center, 5110 Main St., Williamsville

Quaker Bonnet Eatery, 175 Allen St.

Ristorante Lombardo, 1198 Hertel Ave.

Romanello's Roseland, 490 Rhode Island St.

San Marco, 2082 Kensington Ave., Snyder

Shango Bistro & Wine Bar, 3260 Main St.

Siena, 4516 Main St., Snyder

Sonoma Grille, 5050 Main St., Snyder

Tempo, 581 Delaware Ave.

The Gourmet Store, 300 Pearl St. (breakfast and lunch)

The Old Orchard Inn, 2095 Blakeley Road, East Aurora

Towne, 186 Allen St.

Tsunami, 1141 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore (Tsunami will be donating funds from its Thursday night's receipts -- so dine out somewhere else Tuesday and then hit Tsunami on Thursday.)

Water Street Landing, 115 S. Water St., Lewiston