More and more diners are talking about cutting back on the amount of meat they eat. It’s time to take a long look at your menu – are you providing the right options to cater to this shift? And do they stand out well enough?
A proportion of your diners may already be avoiding meat for religious or ethical reasons, but increasing concerns about health, and impact on the environment, are driving the momentum behind ‘plant-based eating’. Some diners want to flip the balance by putting less meat and more veg on their plates. Others won’t cut meat out of their diet altogether but might be switching from red meat to healthier options, such as chicken or fish. Others are cutting animal products from their diets altogether. Show them that YOU get it by reflecting these changing priorities on your menu.
Don’t hide your vegetarian and vegan choices in a separate section. Take the effort out of ordering meat-free by labelling the vegetarian and vegan dishes on your menu. You can do this easily with symbols and a key. Alternatively, you can design your dishes to be flexible to allow you to simply remove a meat item from the final dish if a diner asks for it!
The same applies to the online world – don’t forget to update your menu on your website and social channels so that anyone researching menu options beforehand knows they will be catered to.
This is not as challenging as you think! Yes, you’ll lose some weapons in your cooking arsenal that give food richness and texture – butter/ghee, cream, eggs for example – but this is an opportunity to rethink your approach. Clue up your staff the difference between vegetarian and vegan dishes too, so they can confidently advise your customers. They need to know that they can trust you.
- Vegetarian means free of meat or animal products (Animal products can come in many surprising forms, including jelly-based products commonly used when cooking).
- Vegan means free of meat and animal products and all animal-derived products, such as cheese, honey and eggs.
Meat-free is mainstream! If you want to shout about your evolving menu, you can run special events such as ‘Meat-free Mondays’ or have a month where you promote (and discount) vegan dishes to draw attention to what you’re doing.
Try to include at least one vegetarian or vegan option on your specials board. Let them take pride of place in your main menu. Add meatless dishes to your chalkboard outside the premises to help drum up passing trade.
‘Plant proteins’ have become a bit of a buzzword, so where you can, big this up on your menus. You can also draw attention to other plant-based benefits such as the calorie count, or that your plant protein is low fat or contains ‘heart-healthy’ fats. This might really swing it for some diners.
Some diners going meat-free will still crave the taste and texture of meat. There are loads of new and not-so-new 'meat-alternative' products vailable that make convincingly meaty burgers and sausages, ‘chicken’ and deli-style ‘meats’, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, soya chunks and mycoproteins. This is a plus point, not something to hide – so promote it on your specials board, and through your social media. You can also use ingredients with a naturally ‘meaty’ texture, such as pulses, mushrooms, aubergine and jackfruit.
In your menu titles and descriptions, go big on the lip-smacking tastiness of what you’re offering! Put some time in to how best to word your dishes – try to tease the diner with your descriptions. Remember, however delicious your dish is, if it doesn’t sound appetizing on paper, it won’t convert to orders. For this reason, have an outside party review your written menu to make sure it’s as captivating as it can be. And while the health-factor is definitely a draw for some, not everyone is looking for the low-calorie virtuous option when they eat out. Any health benefits should be presented as an added bonus.
Going meat-free does not mean losing out on flavor, or putting lots of extra work in. Get some inspiration on how to add flavor using herbs and spices and make use of quick-fix products that will add an irresistible umami flavour, such as Knorr Tomoto Pronto and Knorr Aromat Seasoning Powder that make your plant-based cooking shine.