The time has come for all restaurants to offer at least one to three vegetarian options on their everyday menu. There are many reasons this is true, but they all relate to changes in the world around us. Simply put, there are trends in our cuisine, and one of them to prefer healthy dining that avoids meat altogether. Vegetarianism has become popular, cheaper, and trendy, and the restaurant that lacks a meatless option is alienating a growing segment of their clientele.
The reasons that every restaurant should adopt a few vegetarian options are clear:
• They are low-cost/wide-margin
• They provide a fun challenge for the kitchen
• They offer a pleasant surprise in many restaurants
• They’re a great way to exceed expectations
The days when it was acceptable for steakhouses and seafood restaurants to ignore the vegetarian – or to ad lib an entrée if necessary – are long gone. This is also true of fast food restaurants, many of which have long since added salads and vegetables. This has been replaced a time in which steakhouses and seafood restaurants that fail to offer a vegetarian option are losing out on clientele because of it.
Attracting Diverse Clientele
The idea in this business is to carve out a niche but to serve everyone. No good restaurant should be saying no to its clientele, just as very few good restaurants lack a specific type of cuisine and business model. But these days, restaurants offering no vegetarian entrees are essentially saying no to guests. In the past, this hasn’t been punitive for restaurants. Many people following strict vegetarian diets have grown accustomed to not finding anything suitable in restaurants, especially those specializing in steak and seafood.
This trend is clearly changing for many reasons:
• Dietary Restrictions: There are more people observing dietary restrictions for religious or nutritional reasons.
• Improved Options: There are more options in the world, which encourages people considering vegetarianism to forge ahead.
• Improved Entrées: There are more great recipes out there, and vegetarians are aware that restaurants avoiding them aren’t really trying.
• More Large Parties: Group outings organized through work, school, or social organizations are becoming more common.
This means that tossing in one or two vegetarian entrées or forcing people to order salad is less acceptable than it was in the past. More vegetarians are accustomed to discovering great meatless options when they go out to eat.
Challenge the Kitchen
There are thousands of great meatless and vegan recipes out there. Coming up with the right one should be left to kitchen employees, who can compete with each other to create the best entrée. The critical choice usually comes down to pasta vs. vegetables, or some combination of thereof.
Great ideas can come from anywhere, which means that it is often a good course of action to let all kitchen employees come up with a new dish to be beta-tested on the staff. Anyone can come up with a mushroom risotto or vegetarian pasta. Employees who want to make a splash can be resourceful and put together a great vegetarian dish that keeps diners away from the side dishes and salads.
Local Produce Vendors
Restaurant operators are increasingly pairing with local vendors who can provide fresh, low-cost alternatives. The benefit to the vendor is increased local exposure, and the benefit to the restaurant is enhanced connectivity with the surrounding community. Local produce vendors feature items that are indigenous to the area, or which the area might be known for.
This can be a great resource for the management team creating new vegetarian dishes. Local tie-ins create great incentives for the vendor to provide fresh ingredients at reasonable prices. They will know that word-of-mouth from managers and employees can go a long way. This is a good way to corner the vegetarian and local markets at the same time.