National Vegetarian Week (16th- 22nd May) is the perfect time to take a look at your menu and consider whether you’ve put as much creativity into your veggie dishes as you have into your meat dishes. The competition in the food industry is heating up with regards to veggie options and you don’t want to be losing potential diners and profits. Vegetarianism in the UK is on the rise as we are becoming more health conscious as a nation, and we are being encouraged to eat more veg. And although this doesn't necessarily mean cutting out meat completely, as this can still be part of a well balanced diet, it's likely that even meat eaters may begin to consider the vegetarian options at restaurants on occasions. So, what can you do this National Vegetarian Week to appeal more to the meat-conscious market?
Break the MouldThe main complaints for vegetarians relate to a lack of options when it comes to choices on the menu, and offering more than one standard option is guaranteed to encourage more vegetarians to dine at your establishment. Break away from the typical dishes like the goat’s cheese tart, or veggie burger, and offer more imaginative alternatives. Vegetables offer vibrant colours, interesting textures, and most importantly big flavours, so embrace these attributes and you can create fantastic dishes. It’s also a good idea to have a vegan dish on the menu too, or the option to make a vegetarian dish vegan.
Delve into cuisines that offer flavour-packed dishes for vegetarians, such as Indian, Italian and Mexican. A decent Cauliflower Curry, Five Bean Chilli or Aubergine Parmigiana will be guaranteed to impress diners. Rich and filling dishes like this also combat another regular complaint from vegetarians, that the options on offer are not substantial enough. When there’s steak on the menu for meat eaters, a light salad doesn’t really compare and won’t hit the spot in the same way, and you want all your customers coming back for more.
Having a variety of strong meat-free options not only encourages vegetarians to choose your restaurant, but as it’s often more difficult to find a good vegetarian menu, larger parties eating with vegetarians will be more likely to pick you too, which will increase your profits. It can also be lucrative to have a selection of good veggie options as these are often cheaper to make than your meat dishes. If done well, with a bit of creativity and attractive presentation, you can charge a similar price for your vegetarian dishes to your meat dishes, meaning profit margins are higher. As your vegetarian customer base increases over time, you should find that your profits will follow.
It’s important to clearly signpost what is vegetarian, or vegan, on your menu to avoid any mix-ups. For a veggie customer, when they pick up your menu and see lots of little ‘V’ signs dotted all over, they are more likely to eat at your restaurant.
In the kitchen, keep your vegetarian prep away from your meat prep, and make sure you have separate or thoroughly cleaned equipment for each section. For help with colour-coded kitchen equipment you can refer to our buying guide and our Hygiplas range is colour-coded to help avoid any cross-contamination during prep. If you are likely to be preparing food front of house too, then you should also continue this colour-coded prep in front of your customers. Some vegetarians may also appreciate you wearing gloves if touching meat and then preparing their food, so keep this in mind. These blue vinyl gloves are perfect for use during food prep.
You can also choose to organise events as part of National Vegetarian Week, such as pop-up vegetarian stalls and cookery classes. But there’s no need to confine your veggie love to one week if you have bigger ideas, you can carry on promoting your new improved vegetarian menu throughout the year, with seasonal changes. One UK chain is promoting their veggie options by dedicating one of their London stores solely to vegetarian and vegan food for the entire month of June, and is sure to gain an enthusiastic following.
If you’d like to get involved in National Vegetarian Week, you can go to their website, and sign up for a poster pack and a flyer pack. You can also use social media to promote your menu, the Vegetarian Society regularly retweet posts with the the hashtag '#NVW16' and can help you gain more coverage. You can also post high quality images of your new dishes to Instagram and Pinterest, and this is a great way to promote your dishes for free. Showing your involvement will help you to tap into your local vegetarian market and encourage new customers to try your menu.
By Rosemary Berry