Guide to Restaurant Outreach
“No longer reserved for the hip in Hollywood, going vegan is being embraced as a viable health alternative. Even professional athletes like Venus Williams and Arian Foster, whose bodies are their livelihood, have made the switch…Look for herbivore-accomodating menus at restaurants on both coasts to start migrating to mid-America in 2013.”
—National Consumer Research Institute, “Top Five Health Trends for 2013″ December 2012
Gone are the days when steamed vegetable plates and plain salads were the only vegetarian options on restaurant menus. Today, more and more eateries—from fast-food to high-end—are answering the growing demand for delicious, compassionate, vegetarian meals. What was once noted as a trend has become a fact: Vegetarian eating is becoming mainstream.
COK’s restaurant outreach campaign focuses on a single goal: making vegetarian eating as easy as possible by encouraging restaurants to provide even more vegetarian options.
Each year, nearly 54 billion meals are eaten in restaurants and cafeterias, as reported by the National Restaurant Association. By working with restaurants to add a greater number of vegetarian choices to their menus, animal advocates can influence nearly everyone, because who among us never dines out? At the same time, seeing animal-friendly appetizers, entrées, and desserts listed on menus at our favorite restaurants further impresses upon those dining that vegetarianism is becoming mainstream.
One of the best aspects of restaurant outreach campaigns is that a single person can make an immediate and lasting difference for animals.
Which Restaurant to Approach
When choosing a restaurant, consider which establishments may be more open to changes in their menus. In COK’s experience, we’ve found that family-owned or independent restaurants are more apt to take customers’ suggestions than are national chains. As independent restaurants are generally free of the red tape associated with national chains, they can not only make decisions more rapidly, but can also implement the new offerings immediately, keeping them at the cutting edge of the burgeoning vegetarian market.
After Choosing a Restaurant, What’s Next?
Face-to-face meetings are key to the campaign, so schedule a brief appointment with the owner. As running a restaurant typically involves very long hours, assure the owner you won’t take up much time but would like to discuss the establishment offering more vegetarian options. Bring free food samples to taste. If you’re representing a nonprofit organization, be sure to mention that, too, or simply say that you’re speaking on behalf of members of the community.
What to Take to the Meeting
- COK’s restaurant manager cards highlight the growing demand for healthier and more humane foods and will help you encourage the restaurant to expand its menu and marketability with even more vegan meals.
- Not all restaurant owners are familiar with the concepts of vegetarianism or veganism. So be sure to have materials to help them understand why increasing numbers of people are opting for animal-free foods. Taking along literature such as COK’s Vegetarian Starter Guide will help them with their decision to include more compassionate fare.
- Supplying owners and chefs with free recipes is not only much appreciated, it makes adding vegetarian items to their menu that much easier. Our three favorite and most well-received collections are COK’s Easy Vegan Recipes (free by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-891-2458), Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman, and How It All Vegan by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer.
While additions of pasta dishes and portabella sandwiches to menus are wonderful, how great would it be if every listed item were offered in a cruelty-free version? Encouraging establishments to offer mock meats, non-dairy cheeses, and other vegetarian options is a good place to start. As many restaurant owners may not be familiar with vegan foods, providing them with their first mock animal products is a must.
A quick trip to the local natural food store should supply you with enough of a variety to excite the owner. Be sure to look over the restaurant’s menu before you go shopping for samples so you know which types of mock meats and non-dairy products to take to best duplicate its current menu. For instance, if you’re working with an Italian restaurant, mock “meatballs” are more appropriate than veggie hot dogs.
It’s Meeting Time!
Below are some tips to help make your meeting run smoothly and effectively:
- Dress professionally. First impressions are extremely important, especially when you are presenting an unfamiliar concept to someone. Dressing as you would at a job interview helps boost your credibility enormously. Remember, you are not just endorsing vegetarian products; you are also representing the vegetarian movement.
- Be organized. Having all of your literature and food samples ready to be displayed furthers your professional approach.
- Be appreciative and friendly. As soon as you meet the owner, introduce yourself and thank her or him for allowing you the opportunity to meet. And throughout the course of the meeting, don’t forget to smile!
- Start at the beginning. Before offering the food samples, show the literature you brought so the owner has some background information on vegetarian eating.
- Appeal to the owner’s taste buds. Following up with the food samples, attractively laid out, brings home the appeal of adding more animal-friendly fare to answer customer demand.
- Be honest. Chances are, the owner will have a string of questions (see below). Answer truthfully. If you aren’t sure of a response, simply tell the owner you will research the question and provide an answer within a specified time period.
- Explain the appeal of vegan items. For many people, there is no difference between “vegetarian” and “vegan” fare. Explain that vegans opt not to consume any animal products, including whey and casein, and that adding completely animal-free items to menus will appeal to vegetarians, those with lactose-intolerance or health concerns, as well as vegans, whereas dishes with eggs or dairy products won’t.
- Be helpful. Even if the restaurant owner is enthusiastic about adding more animal-friendly menu items, the next step in actually doing so may be daunting. Offering your help in any capacity—from developing menu ideas to taste testing to promoting its new vegetarian options—shows your commitment to the campaign and your follow-through proves your professionalism.
- Be appreciative. At the meeting’s end, thank the owner again for taking the time in a busy day to meet with you.
- Schedule a follow-up date. Giving the restaurant owner time to mull over ideas and talk with the chef is helpful, so suggest that you’ll check back in—via phone or a meeting—to see if you can do anything to help with the process.
In general, try to keep your conversation and any responses to questions focused on the growing popularity and appeal of vegetarian eating, rather than the ethical reasons you are vegetarian or vegan. You’re there to encourage a restaurant owner to offer more animal-friendly items, not to explain your philosophical beliefs. If the owner feels judged or lectured to, chances are good the meeting will not be productive and, of course, not in the animals’ best interest.
Some frequently asked questions and possible responses:
Q. Why are you doing this?
A. For a variety of reasons, more and more people are choosing to eat vegetarian foods than ever before. I’m just helping to make it more convenient for them.
Q. Why are you vegetarian?
A. Like so many people, I chose to be vegetarian for many reasons: to improve my health, to avoid supporting cruelty to animals, and to help the environment.
Q. I offer salads and vegetable sandwiches. Isn’t that enough?
A. The majority of people who are now vegetarian didn’t give up meat and other animal products because they didn’t like the taste. They gave them up because of health, ethical, or ecological reasons. And many people who do eat meat are interested in cholesterol-free foods, which all vegan fare is, or lighter dishes that are commonly found in vegetarian options. So, offering pure vegetarian items—or going even further with mock meat and mock dairy items—will definitely diversify your menu while attracting new customers.
You Can Do It!
Once you’ve had success with one restaurant owner, ask for recommendations of other establishments that would be interested in creating or expanding their vegetarian options. Many times, owners associate with others in the restaurant business, and their connections and suggestions can be valuable to your outreach efforts.
Remember, all it takes is one person to make a major difference in changing everyday restaurants into vegetarian-friendly palaces. Start today and good luck!
Ever dine out at a restaurant and want to leave a friendly note about the growing demand for more vegan options? Now you easily can with COK’s new restaurant manager cards! These free folding business cards highlight the growing demand for healthier and more humane foods and encourage the eatery to expand its menu and marketability with even more vegan meals.
Keep Your Eye Out for Window and Door “Veg-Friendly” Decals
How can you tell if a restaurant is going out of its way to attract and cater to vegetarian customers? Just look in the front window! More than 125 restaurants and bakeries proudly display our “Proud to Serve Vegetarian & Vegan Meals” window and door decals!