Have a little faith! Religion often plays a role in dietary choices throughout the year and on certain religious holidays.

Regardless of the religious dietary restrictions, restaurant managers can develop restaurant menu ideas that allow customers to respect religious guidelines without sacrificing a night out at their favorite restaurant.

Religion and food have always been closely linked. 84% of the global population identify with some religious group and the dinner table has long served as a place of prayer and thanksgiving for these individuals and families. Restaurant owners are used to accommodating guests from all walks of life which may include hungry patrons who have religiously-based dietary restrictions. Knowing what to expect in these circumstances can alleviate potential awkwardness or confusion.     

According to the Pew Research Center, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism account for 77% of the global population’s religious community. Each of these religions has certain dietary restrictions throughout the year. Despite these dietary restrictions, people of faith are often looking for good places to dine out.

restaurant table of food with some yogurt

Our summary of religious dietary restrictions will provide restaurant managers with an idea of the “dos and don’ts” of creating menu items for customers from all religions.

Christianity

Ever wonder why the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is heavily advertised during March and April? Well look no further than the Christian season of Lent. Okay, so maybe you weren’t wondering about the Filet-O-Fish.  But the point is that, during Lent, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Rite Christians are required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. The Lenten Season lasts for the 40 days and 40 nights before Easter Sunday and is the primary fast for Christians. While there are no year-round dietary restrictions for Christians of any sect, restaurant managers should perfect their seafood specials for Lenten Fridays to ensure their menu is ready to accommodate meatless patrons during this religious season.

Islam

Fun fact: Halal is not just the name of your favorite food truck, it means lawful in Arabic and is used to describe the Islamic food regimen. This diet consists of five major rules.

  • Pork in any way, shape, or form is forbidden. That means bacon, ham, and pork sausage is all off limits.
  • Blood is not halal with some exceptions which include the liver or spleen of an animal that was killed properly.
  • Meat from animals that died naturally or were killed in a myriad of ways is not permitted in an Islamic diet. To spare the gory details, we’ll just say that there is a specific method of animal slaughter that results in halal meat consumption.
  • Alcohol is off limits. Sorry, rules are rules.
  • Carnivorous animals such as insects or reptiles are not allowed either.

During the Islamic month of Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Restaurant managers may want to consider keeping their kitchens open later in the evening if they are in a region with a high Muslim population who would undoubtedly be ready for a good meal after dusk.

lots of people at a table

Judaism  

Kosher laws set the standard for what is acceptable for Jews to eat. The quick notes about the kosher diet says that swine, shellfish, and insects are off limits year-round. However, the kosher diet is much more complex than just picking the bacon bits off of your food. In fact, kosher laws are so complex that kosher endorsement organizations must approve any food processor that wants to label their food as kosher.  

The main Jewish holiday that could impact your restaurant menu ideas is Passover. This a week long holiday celebrates the Exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt and observers abstain from eating bread during this time. That means no croutons on a lunch salad, no pasta, no breaded chicken, and so-on.

Hinduism

Hinduism does not have any strict dietary restrictions. However, Hindus believe that every living thing contains an atman, or soul, which means that strict vegetarianism is encouraged.

Buddhism

Like Hindus, Buddhists tend to follow a vegetarian diet though it is not a tenant of their religion.

Though not all religious dietary restrictions will affect how restaurant managers set up their menu or designate specials each week, it is important to consider that patrons come from all cultural and religious backgrounds.

Being aware of religious dietary restrictions can go a long way toward making customers feel welcome and is a great opportunity to show off a culturally diverse menu.

Written by   |  
Quinn Massaroni is a Rhode Island-based freelance writer, graduate student, and daily eater. Her ideal meal would start off with calamari from Druthers in her hometown of Albany, New York, followed by borscht from Cafe Pushkin in Moscow, dessert from Baked Bear in San Diego, and would finish with a margarita on the Salvation Taco rooftop in New York City.