Having just returned from an overseas trip, both a highlight and lowlight was the availability of cuisine for those who prefer a plant-based diet. Perhaps most surprisingly, was a very upmarket venue, who we told in advance, that was least prepared.
My wife was celebrating a delayed 50th Birthday (thanks COVID) on a luxurious small cruise ship. Although given 3 years notice (1 year for booking and 2 for COVID delay) of the plant-based guest, and reconfirming on boarding, the first meal was met with “tell us what you would like and the chef will prepare it.” Hardly an appropriate approach for 21 meals over 7 days nor the fact of how this would affect the others travelling with this person. The follow up solution was “the chef will surprise you!” Needless to say, the only one surprised was the Chef and F&B Manager at my wife’s ensuing “come to Jesus meeting!”
So WHY, with Plant-Based Dining being one of the Top 5 Trends for 2023, are many restauranteurs still treating Veggie Eaters as 2nd Class Citizens? Read on for the biggest mistakes hospitality people make as well as insights, tips and pointers to help your business succeed with this ever-growing and important market segment.
Plant Based Diners are not Freaks:
The reasons for following a plant-based diet are many and varied and while the noisiest followers may tout animal cruelty reasons, a larger base of followers do so because of health choices with some being medically based. My wife suffered 10 years of leg pain and not one of the many doctors she visited could resolve the problem until one day a practicing TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor suggested a plant-based diet thus removing animal products from her meals. Voila problem solved (and no more expensive and useless doctor visits). So, when considering a plant-based consumer, broaden your thoughts as to what might be behind their decision.
Give them FAKE Meat:
The rise of “fake meat” has been unprecedented with the likes of Beyond, Impossible and Korn leading the charge. There’s fake meat, chicken and even fish products widely available. It’s commonly known though, that the largest consumer base for these products is in fact meat eaters who are “taking a break” from meat for a day rather than plant eaters. While plant-based diners may consume these products, it’s often through lack of alternate offering or simply inquisitiveness. One approach some restauranteurs take is just adding one of these fake meat options to their menu thus believing they’ve covered the plant-based eaters. Don’t fall into this trap! A Beyond Burger or similar won’t cover the needs of most plant-based guests.
Vege Eaters are Cheap:
If you’re thinking plant-based diners are cheap, think again (have you visited the vege section of the supermarket lately and seen the prices?!?). Often given the limited availability of plant-based dishes, plant-based diners will often “pay the earth” just to enjoy a night out. Be careful though, charging the same price for your plant-based dishes as your meat-based dishes will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of your veggie customers who will often share their experience with their plant-based buddies. We recommend that you approach plant-based dish pricing focusing on contribution margin and factor in any significant extra labour if necessary. In this way, if challenged on pricing, you have a solid explanation. The upside is because plant-based diners have limited choices, they will often drive the decision making on where the family or group eats, and your fairness will be richly rewarded.
Separate Menus are Expensive and Time Consuming:
Yes, creating a separate menu for your veggie customers may be a pain, however you don’t need a separate menu for plant-based dishes. You don’t even need a separate section on the menu you have. Simply marking the dish with a recognized symbol and featuring it alongside all your other dishes if totally suitable. If the dish is well conceived and the description well written you might be surprised how many carnivores will be tempted, if not for a main item at least for a starter. Another option is having dishes that can be made veggie (VG* – vegan option available) by replacing a meat-based protein with a plant-based one instead. Just remember, beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh are all great choices and are significantly cheaper than fake meats.
Other Menu Planning Pitfalls & our REBEL Solutions:
- Most plant-based eaters consume large volumes of food. They typically need to for achieving a similar calorie or protein intake. When designing your plant-based dishes don’t skimp on portion size. You can often do this by increasing the volume of starch served or focus on more filling ingredients like beans and lentils.
- Whilst mushrooms are often the “fall back” ingredient for plant-based dishes, understand that a decent percentage of plant-based diners do not eat them or don’t enjoy seeing them as the only alternative on a menu. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Take a look again at the ingredients you already use. What other vegetables are common on your menu as sides?
- Before creating new dishes, look closely at your current menu first, you might be surprised how many dishes can be made to be plant-based with a simple modification or ingredient swop out.
- If at your wits end for plant-based creativity look at Asian cuisines that have a larger proportion of plant-based dishes. Think India, Thai, Chinese….
So as your mum said…”EAT YOU GREENS” or at least respect those that do as you’ll be surprised how the green dollar will help your bottom line!
For assistance on incorporating plant-based dishes into your business, or marketing to this segment, give us a REBEL Yell!
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