Menu Management

Should Your Restaurant Add Vegan Menu Options

By Katie McCann

Cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms, and blueberrys in a pattern.

The short answer? Yes. 

Here’s why.

Veganism has become more than just a hot food trend; it’s now a global movement. And an increasing amount of people globally are choosing to embrace this lifestyle.

In the U.S. alone, the number of people who identify as a vegan has increased by 600% over just three years, from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017.

But, many restaurants remain reluctant to include vegan menu items.

Despite veganism’s rise, many restaurateurs remain hesitant about adding vegan menu options. Some reasons include a perceived lack of demand, high cost, and the hassle of adding vegan dishes to menus. 

Some restaurant owners feel that vegan dishes clash with their brand. Others have removed vegan options from their menus because customers order them once and never return.

Sound familiar? 

Look, we get it. You’re busy and have a lot on your plate. Having to add vegan dishes is another thing on that never ending to-do list. 

But here’s the thing. If you dig deeper into the vegan trend, you’ll discover these reasons are invalid and that veganism presents one of the biggest opportunities for your restaurant.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • Just how popular vegan dishes are – even among non-vegans
  • That many restaurants are warming to this trend
  • Why you should include vegan menu options – the benefits are plentiful
  • 7 essential tips you should consider when adding vegan dishes to your menu

Ready? Let’s get started.

The Growing Popularity of Vegan Food

A bowl of vegan ingredients

What was once on the fringes is now mainstream. The Economist declared 2019 as the year of the vegan. 

And not only have the number of people identifying as vegan increased, but more people – including those who eat meat – are eating vegan food. 

According to a Nielsen survey, 39% of consumers in the U.S. and 43% in Canada say they aim to include more plant-based foods into their diet. And in a recent survey by Harris Poll, 37% of the 2,000 people polled said that they sometimes eat vegetarian (including vegan) dishes when eating out. Millennials are the biggest drivers of this trend, with a quarter of 25 to 34-year-olds classifying themselves as vegan or vegetarian. 

What’s driving this shift towards veganism?

There are three key factors:

  • People are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental impact.
  • More consumers are conscious of the treatment of animals when producing food.
  • People believe veganism is an  investment in their personal health.

How Restaurateurs Are Warming to the Vegan Trend

Many restaurateurs are supporting the veganism trend despite some initially seeing it as a threat. The number of restaurants opening that focus exclusively on plant-based diets has grown rapidly in the past decade or so. Vegetarian Journal’s Guide to Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes in the U.S. and Canada now lists 971 restaurants compared to 55 in 1993. That’s nearly 18 times more restaurants!

In addition to vegan venues, mainstream restaurants that serve dishes with meat and other animal products are  expanding their menus to include items like cauliflower wings, vegan cake, and even meat-free burgers. 

These restaurants include fast-food chains that have traditionally offered only meat. Fatburger and Wahlburgers, for example, have both introduced meatless burgers made entirely from plants. McDonald’s now even offers a vegan burger, the McVegan, in certain locations.

Some more adventurous restaurants have executed complete brand overhauls and switched to 100% plant-based menus, like Nick’s Kitchen, a Filipino vegan restaurant in California.

The Many Benefits of Adding Vegan Dishes to Your Menu

Of course, your restaurant doesn’t have to become entirely vegan to benefit from the vegan trend. Here are four significant benefits of including vegan dishes on your menu:

1. Growth in Your Customer Base

With both vegans and non-vegans fueling the demand for vegan dishes, you can capture these customers with even just a few vegan menu items.

Customers will perceive you as a more inclusive restaurant when you offer these options. You’ll also appeal to a broader market: vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians (those increasing their intake of plant-based foods without eliminating meat), as well as environmentally and health conscious consumers. That’s not to mention those who are curious and simply looking for an alternative dining experience. 

And because the vegan community is tight-knit and appreciative of restaurants that cater to them, they’ll likely tell their friends, which will lead to powerful, free word-of-mouth marketing for your restaurant.

2. A Sales Boost

Reaching a new customer base also helps you increase sales. The increase in sales will vary by restaurant, depending on which vegan menu options you add or how well you execute your brand overhaul (if you chose to go completely vegan). 

To give you an idea of what’s possible when becoming a 100% vegan restaurant, consider the following: A recent informal survey conducted by Kiki Adami, the founder of specialty and hospitality consulting firm Veganizer, revealed how 17 restaurants reported sales increases of between 10 to 1000% when going vegan. 

The restaurant that achieved a 1000% increase in gross sales, against a 433% increase in food costs, was Nick’s Kitchen (mentioned earlier). Not bad, right?

3. The Ability to Retain Existing Customers

Imagine you have a customer named Dane. He’s a regular at your restaurant and usually only eats meat centric dishes. One day Dane decides he wants to become healthier and reduce his environmental impact. So, he chooses to cut his meat intake and starts eating more plant-based foods.

But your restaurant doesn’t offer many vegan options, besides the odd salad. As much as Dane loves your restaurant, your lack of menu options gives him no other choice but to start dining at other restaurants that offer more variety. 

Customers who can’t find what they want at a restaurant will go elsewhere. Make sure that your restaurant provides a diversity of dishes, including vegan dishes, to retain customers like Dane.

4. More Group Bookings

When you go out to eat with a group, you want to make sure wherever you go has something for everybody to eat. This means that if there’s a vegan in the group, you’ll probably ignore restaurants that don’t offer vegan dishes. 

Your customers are no different. Having a variety of vegan dishes will increase the chances of winning those large group bookings and ensures you’re not losing more than just the vegans.

A group of women eating at a restaurant

7 Essential Tips For Adding Vegan and Vegetarian Options to Your Menu 

Now that you understand the popularity of vegan dishes, how restaurants are adding these dishes to their menus, and why it’s so crucial for your restaurant, let’s look at seven tips you should consider when planning to add vegan dishes to your menu.

Tip 1: Make Sure Your Vegan Dishes Are Appealing

Many restaurateurs say that they offer vegan options. But upon arriving, customers find the options are actually limited to a few bland side salads. 

Chances are, diners won’t be rushing back for that, and restaurant owners can misinterpret the results as a lack of demand.

Take just a little more time to research and brainstorm what dishes you want to add to your menu. The options at your disposal really are limitless – from vegan macaroni and cheese and black bean veggie burgers, to vegan lentil soup and even delicious vegan ice cream.

A lack of variety is also a common mistake that many restaurateurs make. Include several types of dishes across your starters, mains, and desserts. 

Tip 2: Pick Menu Items to Fit Your Brand

Any menu items you add need to match your brand and overall restaurant concept. Customers looking for vegan options will be looking for a similar, if not the same, experience as other diners. For example, if you run a burger joint with unconventional combinations, it makes perfect sense to include a vegetarian or vegan burger option with similar toppings or creative twists as your meat options. 

To ensure the dishes you produce align with your brand, work closely with your chef while brainstorming.

Tip 3: Update Your Online and Offline Menus

Once you’ve chosen your menu items, don’t forget to update your menus – both online and offline – and your menu management system with these new options. These updates ensure your customers actually know what’s on the menu and that you capture the right sales data for your business.

Tip 4: Highlight Your New Menu Items

While you’re updating your menu with the mouth-watering new additions, add a way to indicate which dishes are vegan. Whether you have vegan dishes in their own section on the menu, or with a symbol next to them indicating their vegan, it will show your vegan diners you’ve thought of them every step of the way!

Tip 5: Update Your Menu For Cross-Selling

Have you noticed that certain items on a menu often work well together? And that grouping these items together encourages diners to purchase these dishes? 

When adding your vegan dishes to your menu, make sure you pair them with complimentary dishes to boost profits.  

For example, a Portobello burger pairs perfectly with a light earthy Pinot Noir.

Tip 6: Train Your Staff

Diners will likely have several questions about vegan dishes, like what ingredients are used or protein options available. Make sure you provide employees with proper menu training so they can answer these questions without having to check with the kitchen. 

Some training ideas include having taste tests so that servers know exactly what the vegan dishes taste like, and even introducing quiz nights where you ask questions about the dishes and give employees rewards for getting it right. 

This training will improve the servers’ menu knowledge, helping them cross and upsell. 

And we all know what that means: an increase in the average restaurant check size at your restaurant.

Tip 7: Spread the Word

Finally, after putting in all the work – from selecting appealing items that match your brand to training your employees – let your customers know about the changes. 

A great way to spread the word is through your restaurant’s social media. Release images of the new dishes on Instagram.

Pro tip: Make sure you style the food correctly so it looks professional and mouthwatering. You can even put together a press release that you send to select online and offline publications.

While some restaurant owners are reluctant to add vegan options to the menu due to lack of brand fit or concerns that there’s not enough demand, most are starting to recognize that adding sustainable menu options is the right thing to do for both the business and the environment.

After all, there’s now a growing demand for plant-based foods that goes beyond vegans. This demand means there’s a massive opportunity for you to bring more customers through your doors and capture a growing share of the market.

How will you take advantage of this opportunity? 

Photo of Katie McCann
by Katie McCann

Katie is a former Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.

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