Vegan menu ideas 7Shifts

Has your restaurant boarded the plant-based train? If not, it’s time you bought a ticket because based on the numbers, veganism isn’t a fleeting trend – it’s a global shift that’s here to stay.

From a profitability perspective, introducing plant-based menu items makes sense; if your restaurant can rise to meet the growing demand for vegan alternatives, you’ll cater to a wider market. And that means a greater market share and a better bottom line.  

Check out these stats on the meteoric rise of plant-based foods:

  • According to The Vegan Society, demand for meat-free food options grew by 987% in 2017.
  • Google searches related to veganism quadrupled between 2012 and 2017, and are now 3x more popular than searches for vegetarian or gluten-free.
  • In just three years, the percentage of American consumers that identify as vegan rose from 1% to 6%.
  • Canada’s Food Guide was updated earlier this year to promote plant-based options over meat and dairy.
  • In 2018 the UK released more vegan food products than any other nation.

And this is just the tip of the statistical iceberg. As veganism occupies a larger space in contemporary life, restaurateurs can’t sit idly by; they need to take action.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Hang on a minute. Are they suggesting I scrap my menu and start all over?”

Not at all. If you’re looking to beef up your menu (no pun intended) with plant-forward dishes, it doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing situation. However, choosing to do nothing means you risk losing out on a growing group of diners whose dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices are no longer be compatible with what’s on your menu.

That’s a pricey gamble when you consider vegan food products generated more than $2 billion in sales in the United States in 2015. And as that number continues to rise, ask yourself if you can afford to miss out.

plant based food trends

How to Add Vegan Items to Your Menu

There are countless reasons someone might choose to explore veganism, or simply try to incorporate more plants into their diet: eco-consciousness, animal advocacy, the global water crisis, personal health, etc. But at the end of the day, the “why” motivating the choice matters less than the choice itself.

As the list of food tribes grows (dairy-free, gluten-free, pescatarian, vegetarian, flexitarian and, of course, vegan amongst others) it’s no wonder some restaurateurs look at their menus and question whether it’s possible to configure it in a way that will keep everyone satisfied.

We’ve compiled three strategies to help you keep pace with your customers’ evolving preferences and design a vegan-friendly restaurant experience.

Could your menu design be to blame for low sales? Check out our free Restaurant Menu Builder.

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel – just replace it!

There are ways to creatively replace animal products with plant-based alternatives. One great example of this is burgers. The success of the Beyond Meat® burger aside, a meaty plant substitute like a lentil and bean patty allows you to keep many of your core ingredients (provided they, too, are free of animal products) and ditch the meat.

A bottom-line bonus is that a veggie burger often costs less to source or produce than a high-quality meat equivalent of the same size.

If you’re looking to adapt a dish like a noodle, soup, or rice bowl, your options expand to include things like tofu, tempeh, or protein-packed legumes. After all, cooking is an art and if you start looking at plant-based menu ideas as an opportunity to flex your creative muscles, it suddenly becomes less of a chore.

Replace This… …With This
Ice cream Sherbet, soy- or coconut-based dairy
Yogurt Soy-, rice-, or coconut-based dairy
Cow’s milk Milk from nuts (cashews, almonds), soy, rice, coconut, or oats
Cheese Nutritional yeast, soy- or nut-based dairy
Honey Agave nectar, maple syrup
Eggs Ground flaxseed, bananas, applesauce
Meat Tofu, seitan, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), quinoa, beans, lentils, jackfruit

2. Connect with the community

Not sure what plant-based menu items will resonate with your customer base (current or desired)? Ask them! Reaching out to vegan alliances or local nutritionists and dieticians are two helpful avenues to gather insights and feedback.

Another source – one close to your current customers – is your staff. Many tableside conversations never make their way to management, so involving your restaurant employees by encouraging them to make menu suggestions or sample top contenders will make the process of expanding your menu more efficient, and it offers a healthy dose of employee engagement along the way.  

3. Check for certification

Currently, the FDA does not regulate whether a vegan brunch menu item is, in fact, vegan. The onus on the restaurateur to set their own standards and source ingredients accordingly.

The American Vegetarian Association’s certification program is one way to move ahead with confidence that both the product and the manufacturing process are free of animal by-products. It’s possible your costs may increase slightly – after all, you’re paying for quality – but as more and more diners are becoming conscious and critical of the foods they eat, backing up your vegan restaurant menu with proper certification is a show of respect and a surefire way to earn and keep your customers’ trust.   

Chef adding food ingredients in stainless steel pot on stove. Cropped shot of male cook preparing food in restaurant kitchen.

Getting Feedback on Your Vegan Menu Items

So, you’ve consulted, created, and certified. The vegan additions to your menu are looking good and tasting great. What happens next?  

Get feedback from your staff

Even when there’s meat on the plate, introducing a new menu item is an involved process. But when you’re serving up vegan dishes, the to-do list gets even longer. Beyond ordering special inventory, there are precautionary measures to be taken around how the food is prepared, plated, and delivered to the customer.

In-person training sessions are a must so your team understands what tools to use when (and why), but don’t forget about online communication tools like your restaurant scheduling software’s in-app chat. You can use these to send out an all-staff reminder on launch day, review key selling points, or share customer feedback once the new menu is in full swing.

Get feedback from your customers

First and foremost, keep in mind that vegan food isn’t exclusive, it’s inclusive. You don’t have to identify as a vegan to enjoy tofu pad thai or veggie pakoras.

Language is a big consideration when marketing plant-based foods. Finding out whether your audience is more receptive to “plant-based” than “vegan” or “meat-free” will help you roll out a campaign to encourage new customers through your doors. And don’t forget to document what you’ve learned as part of your restaurant marketing strategy!

Additional ways to gain feedback

Once you’re ready to go public, also consider:

  • Throwing a menu release party.
  • Promoting your plant-based menu on Instagram.
  • Updating your digital touchpoints (places like Google My Business, TripAdvisor, etc.) to highlight the fact you now carry vegetarian and vegan fare.

80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from only 16% of menu items. How do you know which ones? The perfect menu is just a click away with Upserve's Menu Builder.

Design Your Menu
Written by   |  
Jessica Reimer is the Content Producer for 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurant based in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She works with the rest of the 7shifts marketing team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve communication in their businesses. Jessica has authored feature pieces and blog posts for a number of provincial, national, and international publications and specializes in psychology, community engagement, lifestyle, and business communications.