Young and Hungry

Killing With Kindness (And Comment Cards): A New Campaign for More Meatless Options in D.C. Restaurants

For those vegetarians who favor passive-aggressive tactics in restaurant communications, the Takoma Park, Md.-based organization Compassion Over Killing (COK) has just the thing for you. The meatless advocacy group has created some new "restaurant manager cards," providing a quick, easy and non-verbal way to tell a restaurant  that you want to see more vegan options on the menu.

COK instructs diners to sit the notice atop the paid bill. The tented cards then direct the server to give the note to the manager. The card quotes articles and stats about the growing meatless population and explains the benefits of providing vegetarian and vegan dishes. It also directs the restaurant to contact the COK team for additional guidance.

Then, presumably, the card ends up in the trash. But perhaps a few will make an impact.

The card is friendly, and frankly, pretty cute. It doesn't feature horrific images of mutilated animals in cages; it travels the "killing with kindness" paradigm. But will these cards, offered and shipped for free, actually change menus?

It's hard to imagine a busy server remembering to pass this card along to a manager. And if that does happen, would a manager dare tell the almighty kitchen what types of dishes to serve?

If you were a manager, how would you handle this unsolicited comment card?

Photos by Stefanie Gans

  • hawkeye

    So, restaurants are suppose to change their menu to cater to the less than 7.5% of the population that eat a vegetarian-inclined diet?
    Should I go around leaving cards at vegan establishments suggesting that they could boost business and maximize profit by serving meat to the over 280 million Americans who enjoy it?

  • Stefanie Gans

    @hawkeye - but would adding one meatless dish really disrupt the flow of the kitchen?

  • hawkeye

    "providing a quick, easy and non-verbal way to tell a restaurant that you want to see more vegan options on the menu."
    If you are looking for more options than they already have at least one meatless dish. How many vegan options should every restaurant provide to keep the relatively rare vegan diner happy?

  • Swamp Thing

    What would a vegan be doing at such a restaurant if they didn't already have vegan/vegetarian options on the menu? What a bunch of co(c)ks. I'd make sure to try my best to throw the card away while they were still within eyesight, possibly while eating a chicken drumstick and laughing my ass off.

  • mrejr8234

    Vegetarians are the biggest reason everyone isn't a vegetarian.

  • Steve McQueen

    "providing a quick, easy and non-verbal way to tell a restaurant that you want to see more vegan options on the menu". Non-verbal? If you are that afraid of confrontation, you should probably not take up some wack-o crusade against what other people eat. I don't care what people eat, so I don't go around to restaurants and suggest that they go out of their way to cater to me, but even if I did care, I'd totally have the balls to say it myself, not send a note.

  • Alejandro

    These people are pretty naive if they think these comment cards and recipe suggestions will be taken well.

    NEWSFLASH: If you go to a meat-serving restaurant and you order a vegetarian/vegan dish or ask for them to prepare you one off menu, odds are it will be cooked in animal fat or in non-vegan ways anyway. Chef HATE when people order off-menu and especially when those people are vegans or vegetarians and will not hesitate to trick them into eating animal products to spite you.

    If you're a vegan or vegetarian, you're better off going to a specialty restaurant that caters to your needs or not going out at all. That may seem unfair, but your diet decisions are a choice, as is your choice of restaurant. If you go to a place that primarily serves animal products and are mad that they won't bend over backwards to accommodate you, it's you that's being an a-hole, not the other way around.

    For a more detailed (and entertaining) view on this, I direct everyone to this episode of Kitchen Confidential http://www.hulu.com/watch/124/kitchen-confidential-rabbit-test

  • Alejandro
  • aaron rhodes

    in reply to the people who asked what a vegetarian or vegan would be doing at a restaurant that doesn't already have veg options . . . it actually happens a lot (to me anyway). friends' birthdays, family dinners, etc. just being social, i've ended up at many places where the only thing is a salad, which would be fine, but a lot of places don't even have a salad without meat. same thing with sides. it would be nice to go to a few places where there's *something* without meat.

  • Alejandro

    @Aaron Once again, since being a vegetarian/vegan is a choice, you should really prepare accordingly. You can't expect restaurants to bend over backwards to serve such a small portion of their customer base and, even if they did cook you something vegetarian, they'll still probably prep it with meat/animal products.

    Why not check to see where your friend's b-day or family dinner will be and, if it doesn't have a good veggie menu, eat beforehand so you don't have to worry about starving through dinner? Or if you're already out with friends and they drag you to a place with no veggie options on a whim, well why are you friends with people that have no regard for your personal life decisions or don't respect you enough to consider what you'd like to eat when picking a restaurant?

    Again, this all seems unfair, but vegetarianism/veganism isn't a food allergy or something you're born with, it's a CHOICE. I live in New Orleans and know plenty of vegans down here who understand that the restaurant market does not cater to them and they adjust accordingly without resorting to passive-aggressive campaigns that will only result in a backlash (it wouldn't surprise me if chefs start cooking salads in duck fat after getting one of these comment cards).

  • Captain Ron

    I will say this - I don't mind Vegans doing this, so long as they don't get pissed when us meat eaters go into vegan restaurants and demand they serve meat.

    Deal?

  • Matt R

    I think the point that @aaron and others are making here - is they are not asking them to make them food just because they say so - they are trying to make the case for it. The whole point of the note is that it says why to make the food (environment, health, etc) and shows that there is some level of financial incentive as well. Its not bending over backwards by any means either - we are not talking about something so extreme. This campaign is seeking to draw managers' attention to the fact that vegan/veggie customers are out there, and if you offer them more options, they will come to your restaurant more too.

    Same to @hawkeye's comment - they are not trying to force change, they are trying to make a case for change, and if the restaurant agrees with them, maybe they'll take steps to change, maybe not. Either way, its just awareness of the customer. Would you be so taken back if the card said 'I want chocolate cake! Its great and you should put it on your menu!'

    Adding a meatless dish is not difficult at all, and most restaurants offer something even if just a weak salad. In the do or die competitive restaurant industry - appealing to niche customers could mean a lot to a business, and others could care less and that is good for them.

    Now, all that being said, as a bartender, I would probably show it to a manager just for the novelty of the whole thing. A lil' bit of 'huh, that's interesting'. Upon handing it over though, I would expect absolutely no action from the management except for maybe a 'huh, that's different'. This is a visibility campaign, and for that it will probably be effective. It got an article in CP already and we're all talking about it...

  • Sean C

    This is wise, because though estimates put the vegetarian population at under 10%, because people often dine out in groups and I believe the industry estimate is that 1 in 4 dining parties will base their restaurant choice on availability of food options for animal-free diets.

    No wise restaurant owner would want to automatically be disregarded by nearly a quarter of dining parties because their menu doesn't include creative and appetizing animal-free fare, right? Especially in this economy, where you can't afford to scare off a single customer...

  • Salena

    "Vegetarians are the biggest reason everyone isn't a vegetarian."

    I know this is supposed to be funny but it is just dumb. It is just an excuse for omnivores to be like haha all veg*ns are crazy and that's why I continue to eat meat! (which makes no sense) I'm 19 years old and have been vegetarian for around 5-6 years (and I support veganism when I can). I don't push my personal choices on anyone else or make a giant fuss when there isn't a lot for me to choose from to eat. No one else in my family is vegetarian even my boyfriend is only an omnivore. Most people who meet me wouldn't even know that I'm vegetarian. If anything it is the omnivores that when the eventually find out I'm vegetarian freak out and ask me millions of questions because for some reason they have never heard of all the foods that aren't meat. I mean their is even vegetarian and vegan alternatives for meat and the other things we choose not to eat. I'm sure there are many other veg*ns who are like me. Maybe I should be the one saying:

    "Omnivores are the reason I'm not an omnivore" which actually makes more sense haha

  • Salena

    Now that I'm on this I want to reply to a few more comments.

    "I don't care what people eat, so I don't go around to restaurants and suggest that they go out of their way to cater to me..."

    If you don't care what other people eat then why do you care if a veg*n option is added they aren't telling them to get rid of all meat options they are asking them to add to there menu. You also don't do that because basically all restaurants cater to you already.

    "Should I go around leaving cards at vegan establishments suggesting that they could boost business and maximize profit by serving meat to the over 280 million Americans who enjoy it?"

    This could actually hurt their business because people who choose to go to a completely vegan restaurant might not then support them for adding meat. It also probably wouldn't last long on the menu as meat is expensive and no one would be ordering it. Also if most omnivores actually try vegan food and alternatives(no not just a salad)you would see how good it is.

    "What a bunch of co(c)ks. I'd make sure to try my best to throw the card away while they were still within eyesight, possibly while eating a chicken drumstick and laughing my ass off."

    Cool story bro. Have you ever watched videos of what happens on factory farms?

    "vegetarianism/veganism isn't a food allergy or something you're born with"

    Neither is being fat but restaurants cater to them now.

    "I don't mind Vegans doing this, so long as they don't get pissed when us meat eaters go into vegan restaurants and demand they serve meat."

    No one is demanding anything. Go ahead and try to get meat options in a vegan restaurant I promise I won't get mad. It probably won't work but still maybe if you go to a vegan restaurant you can try some of their options first (since that is what the veg*ns are doing in omnivore restaurants)and mostly likely you'll find something you like. If the omnivore restaurants choose to even just try putting more vegan options on the menu they can always take them off if they don't do well.

  • charlotte

    I think restaurant owners are interested in how to get more business. They can make a small change to a couple of dishes and enjoy more customers. They don't have to "bend over backwards." They don't HAVE TO do anything. Vegans and vegetarians will just go to the places that have options for them. I think the restaurant owners are the ones who should chime in and answer the question - do you want some input on what would make your menu more attractive to more people? no? ok. no worries, we can go somewhere else. We already do.

  • heidi

    Even most meat eaters would welcome meat-free options.Even when I ate meat,it wasn't at EVERY meal... some people are actually concerned about their health. Meat eaters I know often choose meat-free optiond from a menu. Restaurants include some meat items on most salads (?!), I believe, simply because they can cjarge more for those items.

    If I were a restaurant owner, I would want to do soemthign that may boost my business. I know for myself, some restaurants are so meat-centric, that I would never take my business there. Why not offer more options for not only vegetariand and vegans, but for those who are lookign for a lighter, more health conscious meal occasionally? Thast seems to me just plain common sense and smart business practice.

    oh, and Selena, for someone so wise, you are very smart and well-spoken...

  • Marcos

    I've only gone 2 days without eating meat in the last 8 years. I've seen factory farms, and I don't care. In fact, I've done some slaughtering and butchering of my own. The warm blood running over your arms, the sound of a saw buzzing through bones, the smell of burnt pig hair.... good times.

    However, I DO think it is very wise for restaurants to have some vegetarian choices. Not only does it allow them to accommodate more parties, but vegetarian dishes are HUGE profit machines. You can charge $15 for a vegetarian entree that has $4 of ingredients and takes 10 minutes to make, versus $20 for a meat entree that has $12 of ingredients and requires substantially more skill and time to prepare. Vegetarians are a captive audience, so the pricing power is on the side of the seller. And since most vegetarians I know have dysfunctional taste buds, they won't even care if it's borderline shit, just so long as they're convinced they're not putting animal flesh in their mouths.

  • tomaj

    there's nothing like defending yourself for something that you don't eat.

    vegetarian - can you add one (more) vegan dish to your menu?
    carnivore - you can't just demand special treatment!

    vegetarian - it's not a demand, just asking, making a case, for an addition.
    carnivore - you can't expect every restaurant to bend over backwards for you!

    vegetarian - 7.5% of the population is vegetarian. there's a market out there.
    carnivore - we have 280 million. we win. you can't expect us to cater to you.

    vegetarian - not asking to replace anything, just to add something.
    carnivore - there must already be one veggie dish on the menu. how many more do you need?

    vegetarian - i'm leaving a card to not be intrusive
    carnivore - i'll throw away the card while eating a drumstick to show my distain.

    vegetarian - i'm not telling other people what to eat.
    carnivore - you have a wack-o crusade against what other people eat.

    vegetarian - it would be nice to go to a few places where there's *something* without meat.
    carnivore - that's your fault because it's your choice not to eat something that you consider mean/hurtful/wasteful/environmentally-unsound. you should eat it anyway. you can't expect a restaurant to bend over backwards.

    vegetarian - i'm not trying to force change, but rather make a case for it.
    carnivore - i'm going to go to a veggie restaurant and demand meat.

  • Keely

    haha, Marcos! Well said. Although I do disagree with the idea that "they won't even care if it's borderline shit"; but if that's all that's available and we're eating out with friends who eat meat, you're right, we are a captive audience and will pay the price.

  • brittsy

    You can really tell who the veg*ns are in this feed because they are much more educated about food, it's affect on our bodies, planet and society. The messed up world of modern day mass farming of fruits, veggies, grains and meat impacts us all. A little step towards healthy additions is so minor, it's really funny how it creates an uproar. Put a card on the table that suggests a 3000 calorie sundae and there wouldn't be 1 negative post on here.

  • Salena

    "oh, and Selena, for someone so wise, you are very smart and well-spoken..."

    haha Thank you. I figured I would get people yelling at me since I mentioned my age and they would be like "you are still young you don't know what you are talking about blah blah blah".

    @Marcos

    Even though I find it disturbing that you found slaughtering animals to be "good times" I'm glad you agree that adding options is a good idea. (Also understand that I give more props to people who hunt, fish and/or raise and slaughter their own animals for food instead of just buying from the store or restaurants.) It would be cheaper I mean look at Taco Bell they have been using like fake filler mixed in with there meat for years because it is cheaper than meat and they can sell it for larger profits (this also proves that most omnivores don't have the taste buds of a food critic either).

    Also "they won't even care if it's borderline shit" is rather ironic as omnivores literally consume more feces (urine, pus etc.) than veg*ns. People like you who eat even more meat than the average omnivore and likely don't always cook it all the way consume even more! I also don't think you realize how bland meat really is the taste has more to do with the way its being cooked and what its being cooked with. As long as you get the right texture of something it is easy to make alternatives that taste exactly like the real thing.

    Also I rarely eat out but say I go to McDonald's for breakfast I like to order two cheese and egg biscuits without meat (they still are charging me the same price as with the meat but I don't care because I love the egg and cheese biscuits. [Ick I tried to do that a Wendy's once and there was meat pieces all over my egg I just tried to pick most of them off and then I ate it anyways.]

  • A DC Chef

    A word to all the vegans/vegetarians out there: We seriously don't hate you. Well, not all of us.

    Here's the thing when it comes to people talking about statistics and how many people dine out -- they're only statistics. Anyone in the restaurant industry will tell you that our experiences with vegans/veggies are few and far between because we either A) are shielded by the front of house from their complaints or B) they choose not to come to our restaurant/not to complain when they do. While it's true that you want to be able to serve as many people as possible, many chefs will tell you it's better to shoot for a certain type of eater (usually critics and other chefs) and make the best dish possible for them because they represent the majority of the market.

    As an executive chef, you have to take this into account. Surely, there will be a marginal advantage to adding vegan and vegetarian meals in that it will make the menu friendlier and more accessible to a small customer base, but that would entail drastic changes in how a kitchen operates and preps its dishes that would outweigh the benefits. This is not "bending over backwards" per se, but it's not as easy as throwing a few vegetables on a plate and calling it a day.

    For good or bad, most restaurants open and construct their menus under the presumption that meat will be the centerpiece to most of their entrees. The best chefs see to it that the dishes on their menus all work together and around a central theme. Again, chefs are predisposed to include meat because chefs are trained to cook with all the ingredients available. This means that there's a prep process involving sous chefs and someliers that makes sure we have the right food ready for the courses we expect to serve.

    Now take an established restaurant with a set menu and practices. While it may not seem like a big deal to just add a vegetarian option, what you're actually doing is changing how the kitchen operates when it comes to its valuable prep work. You do not prep and cook veggie/vegan meals the same way you do meat and, with many vegans choosing not to consume any animal products, it requires us to change what kind of food we order and, if we want to go purist, establishing an all vegan station that is separate from the parts of the kitchen that handle, prep and cook meat (not a great option when kitchens are much smaller than you could imagine).

    Now, as I said, the chefs are trained to be able to cook with any ingredient available and the best ones should have at least three vegetarian/vegan options on the menu (two small plates and an entree, maybe a dessert). But as a restaurant goer, you need to understand that a lot of these dishes are throwaways because chefs don't see the incentive. The thing is, while vegans/veggies can get upset or suggest that restaurants add more veggie options, it doesn't stop them from coming to restaurants with their meat-eating friends. One way or another, you're paying for our food whether it's a Caesar Salad or butternut squash ravioli (which, if served to a vegan, we'd have to start stocking a butter substitute in which we would usually cook this dish).

    In the end, the best solution is to call in advance and see if a restaurant is vegan/vegetarian friendly and to plan accordingly. If you're out with friends, let them know about your food preferences and try to reach a compromise on where you want to eat. If you can't do that, I suggest you find better friends.

    Oh, and definitely don't ask a place that has no veggie option to create one for you. It will be like that dish I described above (just a bunch of sides thrown together) and it may or may not be cooked in bacon fat, depending on how much of a jerk the chef is.

    I hope this helps.

  • Thatguy

    How is adding options for the 30 million vegetarians-or-inclined bending over backwards? If anything it would be ridiculous to isolate such a market especially when consumers these days favor environmentally friendly/fair trade/organic etc products where possible.
    Most foods humans eat AREN'T meat based & it really isn't hard for a chef to isolate a portion of food before the rest is added to meat based dinners.
    I'd expect a resturant to cater to jews/muslims dietary rules which is far less than 30 million, Even at that all the vegetarians are doing is encouraging the resturant to add a handful of vegetarian options. Not picketing outside the resturants throwing salads & lentils at people, or whatever crazy stereotypes you have of us.

  • Sam

    "Passive-aggressive" is a vague and overused term, but to the extent it means anything, the writer is misusing it here. ("For those vegetarians who favor passive-aggressive tactics in restaurant communications ...") A perfectly direct verbal communication, like this card, is about as far from "passive-aggressive" as you can get.

    Why do I care? Hard to say. Maybe I am just annoyed at the post itself, which is a transparent effort to generate page views by stirring up predictable anti-vegan rants.

  • L

    "You can really tell who the veg*ns are in this feed because they are much more educated about food, it's affect on our bodies, planet and society."

    Before you try to claim a side is more educated on any matter, it might be a good idea to go back to second grade and learn the difference between "it's" and "its." If you really want to impress an audience, consider learning more advanced lessons from later in elementary school such as the difference between "affect" and "effect."

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