Tips to Restaurant Owners
Don’t let vegetarians, vegans, and their dining companions pass you by! Read these guidelines to increase your veggie magnetism. BVS was invited to write this article for Yankee Food Service newspaper, the leading publication for the restaurant and hospitality trade in The Northeast. According to their web site, it is “read by virtually everyone in the industry.”
No one loves good food and dining out more than vegetarians! Restaurants that keep vegetarians in mind gain more than just our business and good will. National Restaurant Association surveys show that a substantial percentage of non-vegetarians want the option of a veggie meal when dining out. And, one vegetarian in a group of meat-eaters is enough to keep the whole group from dining at a place that offers nothing interesting to the herbivore.
So what's a restaurant to do? Start by training your menu planners, servers, and kitchen staff in the meaning of “vegetarian” and “vegan.” If it has eyes and is not a potato, it's not vegetarian. Fish, clams, and other sea creatures are not vegetarian and should not be listed under vegetarian headings on the menu.
Chicken or meat stock, fish or lobster sauce, and gelatin are not vegetarian. These often “hidden ingredients” can nix a dish that is otherwise vegetarian. Train your staff to know if rice, soup, or sauces have been cooked with hidden animal ingredients, and make it as important as knowing if dishes contain peanuts or other allergens. “I’ll ask the chef” is the right response rather than taking a guess. Best of all is to omit these hidden ingredients, which can be an easy way to add more veggie items to your menu!
Vegans are vegetarians who do not eat dairy and eggs, and are a growing segment of the veggie population. It may seem limiting to cook without butter, cream, and cheese, but just think international for inspiration. Asian, Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines offer lots of vegan dishes!
If you offer only one or two veggie entrees, make them vegan or easily adaptable to vegan so they will appeal to all veg guests. Some diners feel awkward asking for special treatment—so have something vegan right on the menu! This will also serve the lactose intolerant and those looking for heart-healthy meals. But who wants only one choice when dining out? To rank as “vegetarian friendly,” offer three or more veggie entrees, and make them vegan or easily adaptable for widest appeal. If you are “veg friendly,” include it in your advertising! We are looking for you!
It is helpful to have symbols, a little V or a leaf, next to the vegetarian and vegan menu items (in all categories), and another symbol for items that are easily adaptable. If you don't offer symbols, then wait staff should know what your veggie/vegan/adaptable offerings are. Shop for a veggie cookbook that features the mighty bean and luscious lentil, and have fun with grain and vegetable dishes. Explore hundreds of recipes at www.BostonVeg.org/go_veggie.html#recipes.
Why loose out when vegetarians/vegans and their dining companions pass you by? A little effort to offer some creative choices will bring its rewards!
Salad bars are great for vegetarians but it can be hard to tell what is what! It is helpful if items containing animal ingredients are placed in one section of the bar, and plant food items are in another. This also keeps meat, tuna, etc. from accidentally falling into the veggie compartments as diners serve themselves from the bar. A reminder to take a clean plate for seconds is a sanitary procedure appreciated by all!
Help is available, and it is free!
Veg Advantage is a nonprofit group of chefs who help other chefs and food-service professionals add vegetarian dining options to their menus. They work with a range of new products, including a new line of vegetarian foods distributed by Sysco, and help food-service operators reach out to customers they may be missing.
Whether you need menu suggestions, tips on working with new vegetarian foods, or sources for meat analogs and other vegetarian products, consulting services are available to you free of charge. Contact the VegAdvantage Culinary Advisory Team at 800-760-8570 or email Info@vegadvantage.com. Visit them at www.vegadvantage.com.