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April/May 2007
Restaurant Outreach: Spreading Compassion—One Menu at a Time
By Erica Meier


There was a time when waiters rolled their eyes at people who asked for vegetarian options, but now we purposely cater to those who are vegetarians for whatever reason. We want every menu to have vegetarian options on it. Vegetarianism is here to stay.—Rhys Lewis, Executive Chef at the American Club

It’s hard not to notice that more and more eateries across the U.S.—from fast food to four-star—are catering to the growing demand for healthier and more humane vegetarian fare. What was once considered a hippie trend is now becoming mainstream. According to the National Restaurant Association, approximately 54 billion meals are eaten in restaurants and cafeterias each year—and as many as 30 percent of restaurant-goers “want to eat vegetarian meals.”

By working with restaurants to add a greater number of meat-, egg- and dairy-free options to their menus, animal advocates can influence nearly everyone.

Feeding the Mind and Body
In 2003, Compassion Over Killing launched its Restaurant Outreach Campaign in the nation’s capital to promote compassionate eating habits by helping make vegetarian dining as easy as possible. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with more than a dozen establishments in creating or expanding veg menus as well as assisting with the promotion of these new animal-friendly options. This positive approach has been met with tremendous success, and similar efforts are sprouting up throughout the country.

One of the best aspects of restaurant outreach campaigns is that a single person can make an immediate and lasting difference for animals. Want to start a restaurant outreach campaign in your city or town? Here’s a quick how-to guide to get you started:

Approaching a Restaurant
When choosing a restaurant, consider which establishments may be more open to changes in their menus. Family-owned or independent restaurants are more apt to sincerely consider customers’ suggestions. Start with a local eatery you’re familiar with and that you and your friends or family would likely visit more often if there were more animal-free choices.

Set Up a Meeting
Face-to-face meetings play a vital role in conveying your message. Ask the owner if you may set up a time to briefly discuss the establishment offering more vegetarian options. Be sure to let the owner know you’ll be bringing along some free food samples to taste. If you’re representing a nonprofit organization, be sure to mention that or simply say you’re speaking on behalf of members of the community. Make sure they know you’re not selling anything and you charge nothing for the consultation.

What to Bring
• Not all restaurant owners are familiar with vegetarian eating, so be sure to have materials to help them understand why increasing numbers of people are opting for animal-free foods, and offer them simple ways they can cater to this growing demand.

• Take literature such as COK’s Vegetarian Starter Guide and Vegan Outreach’s Try Vegetarian to help them with their decision to include more compassionate fare.

• Take along copies of recent news articles demonstrating the growing interest in vegetarian foods.

• Provide them with free recipes to show them how easy it is to make their menu vegetarian-friendly.

• Bring food samples. After familiarizing yourself with the restaurant’s menu, stop by your local grocery store to pick up some meat-, egg- and dairy-free products that will enable the chef or owner to create cruelty-free versions of some of its most popular dishes.

What to Say
Restaurant owners and chefs typically have busy schedules, so be sure you are prepared with literature, food samples and your presentation. During the meeting, it’s essential that you impress upon the owner the advantages of catering to the growing popularity and appeal of vegetarian eating. Here are some quick meeting tips:

• After briefly offering background information on vegetarian eating, appeal to the owner’s taste buds by following up with the food samples, attractively laid out, to bring home the appeal of adding more animal-friendly fare.

• Answer questions truthfully. If you aren’t sure of a response, simply tell the owner you will find the answer and get back to them ASAP.

• Explain the appeal of vegetarian items. Let the owner know that by adding completely animal-free items to the menu, the restaurant will increase its marketability by appealing to vegetarians as well as those with allergies or health concerns. Adding new meat-, egg- and dairy-free items is also a great way to diversify the menu for current patrons.

• Offer more help. Even if the restaurant owner is enthusiastic about adding more veg items, the next step in actually doing so may take time. Offering your help in any capacity—from developing menu ideas to taste testing to promoting its new vegetarian options—shows your commitment and sincere interest in seeing this through to success.

• Be appreciative. At the meeting’s end, thank the owner again for taking the time in a busy day to meet with you, and ask when a good time to follow-up is.

• Don’t expect the new menu items to market themselves. When a restaurant adds a new vegetarian menu or items, make sure to promote it to all your friends, family, members of your organization and so on. It’s imperative that restaurants be rewarded for good behavior!

You Can Do It!
Once you’ve had success with one restaurant owner, ask for recommendations of other establishments that might be interested in creating or expanding their vegetarian options. It’s not uncommon for restaurant owners to associate with others in the 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!

Erica Meier is the executive director of Compassion Over Killing (



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