The plant-based nutrition movement is growing but is your restaurant prepared? Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the plant-based food alternatives market could reach $162 billion over the next decade. If those projections are accurate, vegan foods could comprise 7.7% of the protein market by 2030.
Whether you’re an existing restaurant looking to appeal to plant-based customers or want to open a vegan restaurant, these five vegan menu ideas can help you reach your goals.
1. Replace – Don't Reinvent
Many restaurant owners feel overwhelmed by the idea of going vegan because they assume they have to reinvent their menu. But it’s easier than you think to add vegan menu items. The trick is to replace and not reinvent.
It’s easier and more practical to replace non-vegan ingredients with vegan ones. Going this route also allows you to offer both options and appeal to a broader customer base. Virtually every dish on your menu can be adapted to fit the plant-based lifestyle.
- Meat replacements: Tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, lentils, beans, jackfruit, textured vegetable protein. Offering familiar vegan options, like the Beyond Meat or Impossible burger, can also help get more customers on board with your plant-based menu items.
- Dairy products: soy, coconut, rice, and nut milk alternatives. Non-dairy options allow you to offer desserts and coffee drinks to vegan customers.
- Eggs: Applesauce, flax seeds, bananas. Ground flaxseed can be mixed with water to use as an egg replacement.
- Cheese: Nut and soy dairy alternatives, or nutritional yeast.
- Honey: Maple syrup or agave nectar.
Dishes containing non-vegan ingredients can easily be replaced with any of the plant-based options above. For example, if you bake your cakes in-house, you can replace the eggs with flax seeds or dairy products with coconut-based alternatives to make them vegan-friendly.
Of course, you can and should also add some unique and new vegan dishes, but offering plant-based alternatives for many of your existing menu items will save on costs while still appealing to a larger customer base.
2. Connect with the Community
There are a surprising number of foods and ingredients that aren’t vegan-friendly, like:
- Marshmallows – They contain gelatin, which comes from animal bones, hides, and connective tissues. Vegan alternatives do exist.
- Apple juice – Some manufacturers use fish bladders to clarify apple juice.
- Jams – Some jams also contain gelatin. Pectin-based jams are a vegan-friendly alternative.
- Some wines and beers – They may also be clarified using fish bladders.
- Sugar – Many manufacturers use bone char to make sugar look whiter.
Before adding new vegan dishes to your menu or offering plant-based alternatives, it’s essential to connect with the community to learn more about what is and what isn’t considered vegan.
Connecting with the community will also help you better understand what dishes may or may not appeal to your customers.
3. Go Beyond Soy
When adding new vegan restaurant menu items, many owners simply stick to soy-based options. It’s a simple approach, and it may save you some time with prep work. However, some vegans prefer to avoid or minimize their soy intake. Others are tired of having the same-old options when dining out. Go beyond soy and branch out with other vegan options.
- Beyond Meat burgers are great, but what about black bean chipotle burgers or even lentil and quinoa burgers? Top with a house-made sauce to make the dish even more enticing.
- Tempeh is an excellent alternative for ribs and even bacon, which allows you to offer more plant-based options.
- Miso adds umami to dishes.
- Seitan (vital wheat gluten) has a meatier texture and is an excellent replacement for sausage, chicken, and pork.
- There are fishless options for a wide range of familiar seafood items, like shrimp, fish fillets, crab, caviar, and more. Vegan sushi, anyone?
Vegan food has come a long way over the last decade, and restaurants have more options than ever. So, if you’re going to add new dishes to your menu, think outside of the usual soy box and offer something new.
If you’re rebranding or opening a new vegan eatery, offering a diverse range of restaurant vegan options will appeal to a wider customer base and may even attract some curious meat-eaters.
4. Have a Plant-Based Section
Another way to appeal to plant-based customers is to have a dedicated vegan restaurant menu. Here are some ideas.
- Vegan bowl menu: Sometimes known as Buddha bowls, these dishes are simple to make and loved by vegan customers. They typically consist of grain, vegetables, herbs, a plant-based protein, dressing, and toppings (sesame seeds, sprouts, pickles, olives, nuts, ferments, etc.). Ingredients can easily be mixed and matched, so you save on costs and prep work.
- Vegan plate menu: Entrees or customizable plates that are entirely plant-based. Give customers a range of options, and allow them to build their own plates. Maybe they can choose a plant-based protein and two or three sides to add to their plates.
If you’re looking to add vegan options to your existing restaurant, having a dedicated menu is a great place to start. It ensures that your plant-based customers know which dishes are safe to order.
5. Make Your Vegan Dishes Appealing to Everyone
The best vegan dishes are enjoyed by both vegans and meat-eaters alike. By offering dishes that appeal to everyone, you can ensure that your plant-based options are ordered more often and enjoyed by all of your guests.
Customers will be disappointed if they find out your vegan restaurant options are nothing more than just a few side salads. Go beyond that, and offer creative dishes that vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters will enjoy.
A good lentil burger, for example, can taste every bit as good – or even better – than its meat counterpart.
Look around to find unique and appealing vegan menu items at restaurants. Get inspired by their dishes and create your own.
As more people go plant-based, restaurants must find ways to incorporate vegan dishes into their menus. Whether you’re going full vegan or simply offering plant-based alternatives, the ideas above can help you get started. From here, you can evolve your menu (if you wish) to offer more vegan alternatives or an entirely plant-based menu.