Guest post by Ken Botts.
The market trends show that university students are aligning “themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum, from flexitarian to vegetarian to vegan…” So how can college students get their cafeterias to respond to this growing demand and add vegan options to the menu?
Here are five simple steps you can take:
- Know who the boss is. Go to your campus dining webpage and find out who is the director of dining services. The director of dining is the person who typically makes the decisions and is the person you will want to speak with. Always start at the top because you will accomplish your goal much faster. In most cases the director of dining will report to a higher authority within the university hierarchy like the vice president of auxiliary services. It is a good idea to know who that person is too, just in case the director isn’t as responsive as you’d like.
- Organize your voice. Odds are, you’re not the only one on campus who wants vegan options added to the menu. Find out if there is a vegan, animal protection or environmental club on campus. Attend the meetings of these campus groups and get to know others who are willing to add their voice to your cause. If there’s not a club on campus, now would be a good time to start one. If there are many students (especially meal plan holders) asking for vegan options, the administration is more likely to listen.
- Get Connected. Reach out to me directly and I’d be happy to chat with you and provide you the needed resources—I’m at email@example.com.
- Request a meeting. Send the director a polite email asking for a meeting or even better, walk into the dining office with a note asking for a meeting. Your email/note should be professional, respectful and to the point. It should include a brief introduction of who your group is, what you are asking for (more vegan options) and your request for a meeting on or before a certain date…within the week is usually realistic. Close the email/note with a sincere thank you and include your contact info. If you don’t hear back from the director by the date you requested then your group should visit his/her office or call him/her on the phone and follow up until the meeting is scheduled. Patience, yet persistence is key.
- Congratulations! You have your meeting scheduled. Have two or three students from your group go with you, select someone to be your spokesperson, dress professionally and show up 15 minutes early. Ensure that all parties meeting with the director know to stay on message with the main reason you’re there. Once you’re in the director’s office, introduce yourselves, thank him or her for meeting with you, tell him/her why you are there, and ask for the changes you want to see. Be reasonable in what you’re asking for. If your campus only has one dining hall, ask for more vegan options or a vegan station. If your campus has four or five dining halls, ask for all the halls to have more vegan options or ask if one entire dining hall can go vegan, similar to the one at the University of North Texas. Before you leave the office schedule a follow up meeting and thank the director again for taking time to meet with you.
If you get what you ask for on the first try make sure you thank the director in person, send a thank you card signed by everyone in your group and celebrate the change with your fellow students through social media. Of course, there’s a chance that you may not get all you ask for in the beginning, so be prepared to work with the director towards an acceptable solution. Be persistent, speak with the director frequently and don’t give up. Set a deadline and if you feel that you’re not getting anywhere, then you may need to schedule a meeting with the director’s boss, but most of the time that’s not necessary.
Ken Botts received national accolades for designing and developing the nation’s first all-vegan dining hall at the University of North Texas in 2009. His ideas and insights have appeared in media outlets including USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, Green Source DFW, ABC news, and Food Service Director Magazine. Ken uses his 35+ years of food service experience to help restaurants and food service organizations implement plant-based menus and concepts. He blogs for ecoveggy.com and recently was retained as a consultant at The Humane Society of the United States. His mission in life is to help make the world a better place one plate at a time.
Want more tips about being vegan in college? Check out our vegan college guide.