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, at that time the leading publication for the restaurant and hospitality trade in the Northeast. According to their website, it was “read by virtually everyone in the industry.”
No one loves good food and dining out more than vegetarians! Restaurants that keep vegetarians and vegans 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 plant-based 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?
What Is Vegetarian?
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 fully plant-based items to your menu.
Vegetarian vs. Vegan
Vegans are vegetarians who eat entirely from plant sources, so no dairy or eggs or honey. Vegans 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, Greek, and Middle Eastern cuisines offer lots of vegan dishes. Also, in today’s marketplace, there are vegan versions of all kinds of dairy and egg products that can replace animal products in recipes.
If you offer only a few meat-free entrees, make them vegan so they will appeal to all veg guests. Some diners feel awkward asking for special treatment—so have vegan options right on the menu. This will also serve the lactose intolerant and those looking for heart-healthy meals.
Offer Choices and We Will Love You
Who wants only one or two choices when dining out? To rank as “veg friendly,” offer several veggie entrees, and make them vegan for widest appeal. If you are “vegan friendly,” include it in your advertising. We are looking for you! Some restaurants even offer a separate all-vegan menu.
Identify the Veg Items on Your Menu
It is helpful to have symbols, a little V or a leaf, next to the vegan menu items in all categories. Wait staff also should know what your veggie/vegan/adaptable offerings are.
Salad bars are great for people eating plant-based, 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. Posting a card that lists ingredients in each item is very desirable. A reminder that taking a clean plate for seconds is a sanitary procedure appreciated by all.
Cookbooks and Recipes
Shop for a vegan cookbook that features the mighty bean and luscious lentil, and have fun with dishes based on grains, vegetables, and legumes (the many varieties of beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas.) Explore hundreds of recipes via the links on our Recipes page. To really boost knowledge and confidence in veg-centric culinary skills, consider online plant-based cooking courses.
Why lose out when vegetarians/vegans and their dining companions pass you by? A little effort to offer creative plant-based choices will bring its rewards!