Meatless Mondays Go Mainstream

Vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles are celebrating the recent resolution passed by the city council to stand behind Meatless Mondays, a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Meatless Monday campaign has swept across the country, with meat-centric restaurants getting behind the message as well.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Astara Calas, co-owner of Elf Café on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, says of LA becoming the latest and largest city to endorse Meatless Mondays. “We opened Elf Café six years ago because at the time there were no meatless restaurants on the eastside.”

Although Elf Cafe is actually closed on Mondays, the “meatless” message reinforces healthy eating every day, and M Café, a vegetarian, macrobiotic eatery with two locations in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, hopes the resolution will excite consumers and entice them to dine there on Mondays.

“When we opened in 2005, we certainly felt as though we were swimming against the tide,” says M Café’s consulting chef Lee Gross. “Education has always played a key role in building our clientele. It is incredibly rewarding to see that the mainstream currents have shifted in our direction.”

Los Angeles joins other cities including San Francisco, Washington, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Surprisingly, even meat-centric restaurants are supportive of the resolution, whether they run Meatless Monday specials or not. Despite its name and the fact that it offers whole-hog barbecue, The Pig, in Raleigh, North Carolina, also serves up tempeh and tofu. Owner Sam Suchoff used to be a vegetarian himself.

“Anything that gets people to sit down and think about their food choices, I’m all for,” Suchoff says, adding that The Pig treats meat with the same philosophy as the vegetables it serves, sourcing from local farms and opting for hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. “We’ve always had a fair amount of vegan and vegetarian options, but there are maybe a few more vegetarian options now,” he says. “And more vegetarians are coming in, but not necessarily on Mondays specifically.”

Even when cities have not officially embraced a Meatless Monday resolution, restaurants are creating special offers. For instance, in Oakland, California, Bocanova, a Pan-American grill, supports Meat-less Mondays. Past promotions included a vegetarian prix fixe special.

“For several months we offered a Meatless Monday special,” says Rick Hackett, chef and owner of Bocanova. “However, it didn’t necessarily drive business. Our regular customers ordered them, but we didn’t see an increase in business for Mondays.”

Although a healthy concept, Meatless Mondays may not affect consumer dining habits. “When consumers dine out, they frequently toss eating conventions out the window since dining out is often linked to some form of celebration or seen as a treat,” explains David Wright, senior associate for the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Washington. “If consumers want steak, [meatless] resolutions are unlikely to influence the tendency to indulge since ‘cutting back’—whether on calories, sugar, fat, even meat—is less likely a goal in eating-out occasions.”

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