Advice on Creating a Local Dining Guide
Distributing printed guides
To find places near you to distribute printed guides, go to Google Maps and enter, for example, “Yoga Studios in Watkins Glen, NY.” Remember, we’ve had success with places like health food stores, yoga studios, coffee shops, music stores, libraries, bookstores, and veg-friendly restaurants. Copy down the names and phone numbers of however many places you’re willing to reach out to. Then call each one, say you’re a volunteer with a nonprofit, and ask if they’ll let you leave a small stack of the guides at their business. Many will say yes! Plan a nice route to hit all the places you’ll be leaving guides, then put out or refill the stacks at least once a month. For a handy route planner tool, click here. We recommend leaving a stack of about 25 guides in most locations — if you put too many out, they may get thrown away. You can also bring some vegetarian literature to leave at the same time to double your impact.
Don’t be picky
Keep in mind that the purpose of the guide is to make vegan eating easy. Include restaurants that offer a couple good vegan options, not just the ones that are all-vegan or all-vegetarian, and list a few of the options available. Also list any chain restaurants in your city that have good vegan options, such as Johnny Rockets, Chili’s, Chipotle, P.F. Chang’s, and Red Robin. Avoid focusing on minor ingredients in a guide (such as whether the bun for a restaurant’s veggie burger has a miniscule amount of whey) because it can undercut our main message to non-veg readers: vegan eating is fun and easy. Current vegans who worry about minor ingredients know to ask anyway, and if you’re really concerned for them, you can always put a small disclaimer in the guide noting that minor ingredients in products have not been examined.
Make mouths water
If space permits, describe a dish or two for each restaurant in your guide. Rather than say “Has Thai vegan noodle dishes and soups that taste really good,” write “Vegan dishes include a lemongrass basil pad thai and a creamy coconut soup with root vegetables.” We know vegan food is delicious, but the public might not. So make sure that everything sounds as mouthwatering as possible!
Not just for vegetarians
Local guides are great tools for keeping current vegans and vegetarians happy about their dietary choices and excited at finding new restaurants. They’re also great for the many non-vegetarians who are interested in cutting back on meat or who are just curious about what a vegetarian meal tastes like. So don’t just leave printed guides at vegetarian restaurants — you’re preaching to the choir. Put them anywhere that you can get permission to leave them. You’ll be surprised at how many meat eaters are excited to pick up a local vegan eating guide and try a few healthy plant-based meals.
Acknowledge ethnic dishes
A great way to emphasize how easy it is to eat vegan is to note in the guide that most ethnic restaurants have dishes that are or can be made vegan, such as Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern fare. Make your readers aware of this and suddenly the world becomes a much more vegan-friendly place. Every corner Chinese restaurant that offers tofu and broccoli and every burrito joint with bean and rice burritos is now an option to go to for tasty vegan food.
Eating out is great, but average Americans get most of their food from the grocery store. Be sure to include in your guide a list of the vegan-friendly grocers in the area — chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, natural foods stores, and any mainstream grocery chains that do a good job of including vegan items. Many of the country’s largest grocery chains, such as Kroger, Safeway, Publix, Giant Eagle, and Wegmans, now offer a good selection of vegan products either in dedicated natural foods or vegetarian aisles or throughout the store. Even Target and Walmart stores in some areas are offering vegetarian meats and soy milk.
Aside from reminding readers of all the standard grocery products that are vegan (grains, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, cereals, etc.), be sure to also note some of the very best vegan specialty products that can be found in many grocery stores. A list might include Silk soymilk; Boca vegan burgers and Chick’n patties; Gardein vegetarian meat products; MorningStar frozen meats (Vegan Veggie Burgers, Hickory BBQ Riblets, Chik’n Strips, Sesame Chik’n, and Sweet & Sour Chik’n are all vegan); Lightlife Gimme Lean Ground Beef, Sausage, or Smart Ground Crumbles; and Clif Bars.
Leverage your guide
Restaurants thrive off publicity and word-of-mouth recommendations, so restaurant owners will want to be listed in a guide like this. You can use the guide (either in print or online form) as a tool to convince restaurants to add a few good vegan options. Let them know that the guide will be seen by thousands of people and that you’d love to include them in there — which you can do if they just add a few vegan dishes.