Today, there are over one billion vegetarians in the world, and every day, more than 2,000 people convert to vegetarianism. A recent poll indicated that in North America, around 13 per cent of people identified as either vegetarian or vegan, and that number is expected to continue to increase in the future.
According to Google Trends, public interest in a vegetarian/vegan diet is higher than ever before. Whether the trend is sparked from many celebrities from Justin Timberlake to Bill Clinton preaching vegan diets or from a desire to eat healthier, it’s clear that this demographic is growing.
The cost of meat has also soared over the past few years, so many restaurant and foodservice owners and operators are feeling the tight squeeze with their food costs. Promoting more vegetarian/vegan dining options will help cut down on food costs and increase profits.
So as an owner or operator, are you catering to the dietary needs of such a significant percentage of our population?
Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto, offers the following tips to help promote a vegetarian diet in your restaurant operation:
1. Meatless Mondays
Jump aboard the “Meatless Monday” campaign, an international campaign that encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays to improve their health. By offering a three-course prix fixe vegetarian menu on Monday nights, you can help promote your restaurant by reaching out to a whole new set of customers. This is also a great way to try out new recipes, and add favourites to your regular menu. You can also find lots of great free promotional materials at www.meatlessmonday.com.
2. Educate your customers
Many meat eaters feel that they must have meat with their meal or it will feel incomplete. Educate your regular customers about other forms of protein, and promote your food as being both healthy for the body and for the environment. Be sure to create beautiful, interesting and satiating dishes that even the staunchest meat eater will find enjoyable and satisfying.
3. Don’t preach
However, if you promote more vegetarian dishes in your restaurant, don’t alienate your regular meat-eating customers either. It’s not necessary to start hanging posters from PETA around your restaurant. The idea is not to convert your customers to become vegetarians but rather open them to the idea that a vegetarian meal can be as tasty and satisfying as a regular meal.
4. Offer free samples
Another way to promote your vegetarian/vegan dishes is to offer free samples at the bar, or if your restaurant does not have a bar, consider offering a small amuse bouche to your customers in the dining room. If something is truly delicious, people will want to order it regardless of what is in the dish. Be sure your employees let your customers know that the dish is one of your chef’s new creations and is available on the menu to order.
5. Hold blind taste tests
To make things more fun, consider holding blind taste test events to see if your customers are able to tell the difference between meat and meat substitute products. The taste tests will also help to educate your customers that meat substitutes can actually be tasty, and encourage people to order the dishes off your menu.
6. Donate a portion of your vegetarian/vegan dish sales
Consider donating a portion of your sales from your vegetarian/vegan dishes to a local nonprofit that is dedicated to feeding homeless or low-income families in your neighbourhood. Not only will you be promoting the fact that vegetables are healthy, delicious and environmentally friendly, but you can also help to raise awareness about the food-based issues in your community.
About the author:
Diane Chiasson, FSCI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., is recognized as the world’s best restaurant, foodservice, merchandising, hospitality and retail consultant based in Toronto. She has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 30 years.Her company provides innovative and revenue-increasing consulting services including restaurant and retail merchandising, interior design, marketing, brand identity, menu design and training.