A few years ago, if you wanted a vegan meal at a restaurant, you usually had to make do with a dry soy burger, an uninspiring pasta dish or a limp fruit salad.
Now there are an absolutely delicious range of plant-based options available from restaurants, cafes and takeaways. Think miso-glazed aubergines, mouth-watering vegan pizza, succulent seitan steaks and ‘Beyond Burgers’ that have been designed to look and taste just like beef!
With restaurants across the UK in lockdown, now is a great time to review your restaurant’s menu and decide if you want to add any new options. You may be thinking about adding some new plant-based dishes to appeal to both existing and new customers.
In this article we will look at current attitudes towards vegan food, and the advantages and disadvantages of adding vegan dishes to your menu.
The current state of play: veganism and vegan food in London
London is the vegan capital of the UK, as well as the most vegan-friendly city in the world. According to Statista, 4% of the population of inner London were vegan in 2019 – about four times higher than the rest of the UK. This means that one in twenty-five people are likely to choose the plant-based option on your menu.
London currently has over 150 exclusively vegan restaurants, with food ranging from Indian and Italian, all the way through to burgers. There are also several thousand more that serve both meat and plant-based options.
Back in the day, people became vegan solely because they wanted to stop animal cruelty. However, people now choose to cut out animal products for other reasons, including reducing their carbon footprint, improving their health and losing weight.
Flexitarianism has also become more popular, with meat eaters making a dedicated effort to reduce the number of animal products they eat. One in three people in the UK now says that they enjoy a flexitarian diet, taking part in campaigns like ‘Meat Free Mondays’.
Even though restaurants are still in lockdown, there has been an increase in plant-based takeaways. Deliveroo reported a 163% increase in vegan orders during 2020.Best plant-based burgers in London – Temple of Seitan
Should I serve vegan alternatives on my menu?
You may be wondering if it is worth adding plant-based food options to your menu for customers. Here are some of the pros and cons of doing this.
The pros of adding vegan food to your menu
- Vegan food is around for the long-term, making adding plant-based options to your menu a worthwhile investment
- You can drive additional footfall to your restaurant and encourage existing customers to bring their vegan friends along for a meal
- The vegan community is tight knit, meaning that if customers like your food, they will recommend your restaurant to others
- Some vegan foods are also gluten-free, meaning that you can appeal to people who may have other dietary requirements
The cons of adding vegan food to your menu
- There may be additional costs involved in vegan food. For example, chia seeds are often used as an egg replacement, but these can be two or three times as expensive as eggs. However, the thing to bear in mind with vegan food is that it can also be cheaper. This is because meat is usually the most expensive purchase a restaurant will make. When you decide on whether to add vegan dishes to your menu, you will need to price them up and work out what your profit margins will be
- Your restaurant needs to take the time to ensure that animal-based products aren’t accidentally used in vegan food or the two aren’t prepared in the same kitchen space. For example, Burger King launched a soy-based version of its Whopper burger in 2020, but couldn’t sell it as a vegan option as it was cooked on the same grill as its other burgers. If a vegan customer accidentally consumes animal products, it could result in customer complaints and negative publicity for your restaurant
- You want to make sure that you don’t alienate your existing customer base by offering too many vegan options. Carrying out market research can be an excellent way to determine how your current customers feel
In conclusion – are vegan replacements here to stay?
The number of people becoming vegan is growing and growing all of the time. With this in mind, it is a great time to introduce plant-based food options to your menu.
If you’re keen to do this, but aren’t sure where to begin, here are our top tips:
- Do some market research with your customers and prospective customers – what would they like to see on your menu? If you serve things that your customers want to eat, they are more likely to purchase them
- Start small and add one vegan starter, main course and dessert. You can then add more if there is positive feedback
- Make sure that your food matches your brand and restaurant concept. For example, if you serve Italian food, you’ll want to make sure your vegan food options are Italian based too
- A simple and cost-effective option is to offer to ‘veganise’ one of your existing products. For example, if you serve a pulled pork sandwich, you can provide a vegan alternative by swapping the pork out with BBQ jackfruit. This saves money as you can use a lot of the same elements in the two dishes
- Take lots of photos of your new vegan offerings and showcase them on your social media profiles. You’ll want to make sure that they look as mouth-watering as they taste!
- Train your serving staff and encourage them to sell as many of your vegan products as possible. What side dishes and drinks do your plant-based offerings complement? There are a lot of great cross-selling opportunities to be had
- Don’t forget the bar! There are lots of brilliant vegan-friendly beers, ciders and wines out there that your customers will love