Vegan Menu Ideas for Your Restaurant

The interest in plant-based foods continues to grow, and it’s not just vegans and vegetarians who are responsible for the push. Many consumers, omnivores included, want to add more vegetable-based dishes to their diet. Updating your menu with vegan options is a way to increase your customer base and stay current with food trends. If you have concerns about how to execute this successfully, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn how to make a vegan-friendly menu that all your customers will love.

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What Is Veganuary?

Veganuary, as the name suggests, is a combination of "vegan" and "January." This month-long pledge originated in the UK in 2014 and has since grown into a global phenomenon. The concept is simple: participants commit to following a vegan diet for the entire month of January. This means avoiding all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. So why should restaurant owners pay attention to Veganuary? The number of people adopting a vegan diet is on the rise. By offering vegan options on your menu, you can tap into this growing market and attract a whole new customer base. Keep reading for simple meal ideas you can incorporate into a Veganuary menu!

How to Become a Vegan-Friendly Restaurant

Adding one veggie burger option to your menu won't transform your business into a vegan-friendly paradise. To be inclusive of plant-based diets, you need to examine some different aspects of your operations. Check out our 5 tips for vegan-friendly restaurants below:

1. Education and Training

Education and Training

Education is the first step to truly becoming a vegan-friendly restaurant. It starts at the top! Familiarize yourself with alternative diets so you understand how to appeal to plant-based customers. Then train your entire staff so they can answer questions and provide recommendations.

What’s the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Understanding the meaning of the terms vegan and vegetarian is the first hurdle. Your staff members should know how to serve a customer who walks in the door and says, "I'm vegan. What menu options do you have for me?" Vegans have the most restrictive diet and abstain from eating any animal products, like meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, but they do eat eggs and dairy. If this is too hard to remember, just focus on making vegan options. Anything vegan will also be suitable for a vegetarian diet. Just make sure it tastes good!

Allergies vs Dietary Restrictions

One of the first questions your servers should ask their guests is, “Does anyone at the table have a dietary restriction or allergy?” Food allergies are a major health issue because a customer could experience a dangerous allergic reaction when exposed to a certain food. A dietary restriction, on the other hand, is a life choice or preference. It may be a preference based on health, but the guest will not face a life-threatening reaction. Your staff should be trained to handle food allergies and dietary restrictions. If a customer asks for no dairy in their meal, the follow-up to that request should be “Are you allergic to dairy?” Always confirm whether the customer has an allergy or just a dietary restriction.

2. Build Dishes Around Protein (Not Meat)

Build Dishes Around Protein

Contrary to popular belief, vegans don’t just eat lettuce and broccoli. Plant-based proteins are the key to making a dish that is satisfying for everyone, meat-eaters included. A dish that’s made entirely of vegetables won’t be appealing or filling for anyone. Start to embrace the idea of building dishes around proteins instead of meat. Choose a few different plant-based proteins to be the stars of your new menu:

  • Tofu - Don’t be afraid of cooking with tofu. It’s one of the most versatile plant-based proteins you can use because it absorbs flavors and marinades.
  • Tempeh - If you need more texture in your dish, tempeh is a great alternative to tofu.
  • Lentils, Beans, or Chickpeas - You probably already have these plant-based proteins in your dry storage!
  • Meat Substitutes - The quality and taste of faux meats have improved dramatically over the last few years. There’s a convincing substitute for just about any type of meat you can think of, whether it’s pork, chicken, or beef.

Meat substitutes like frozen veggie burgers are convenient, but don’t rely on fake meats alone to build your menu. Diners are looking for dishes they can’t make at home. Your menu will be the most successful if you offer a variety of different plant-based proteins.

3. Vegan Menu Ideas

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a vegan menu. Stick with what you know and make some slight adjustments. Swap in vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, or use olive oil in place of butter. Canned coconut milk is a useful staple to keep on hand for savory and sweet dishes. Many replacements are items that you have on hand already.

Vegan Breakfast Options

Vegan Breakfast Options

Many breakfast and brunch menus are heavily reliant on eggs and meats. You can broaden your appeal by including a few easy vegan breakfast options for your guests:

  • Tofu Scramble - A proper tofu scramble is the classic breakfast option for vegans. Just don’t forget to press the tofu! No one wants a watery, mushy scramble. Add some kala namak salt for an eggy taste. Once you nail the recipe for tofu scramble, you can use it in sandwiches, breakfast bowls, and burritos!
  • Avocado Toast - It’s still in demand! Add extra toppings like arugula, sliced tomato, or pickled red onions.
  • Yogurt Parfaits - Simple and effective. Keep a vegan yogurt on hand and layer it with fruit and granola.
  • Vegan Pancakes - Did you know that you don’t need milk or eggs to make a fluffy pancake? Find a vegan pancake recipe and make that your standard across the board. You’ll always have a vegan option available for breakfast. Serve with coconut whipped cream, strawberries, and maple syrup.

Vegan Appetizers

Many appetizer options can be made vegan simply by omitting meat or cheese-based toppings. Try these easy plant-based appetizers:

  • Roasted Shishito Peppers - These mild green peppers are a popular appetizer that's already vegan.
  • Charred Brussel Sprouts - Top charred brussel sprouts with pine nuts instead of bacon for a smokey taste.
  • Warm Marinated Olives - Something happens to olives when you heat them. They become even more delicious and savory! Serve with crusty vegan bread.
  • Vegan Hot Wings - Try our recipe for easy plant-based hot wings. Serve with vegan ranch!

Vegan Entrees

Vegan Entrees

Vegetable-based entrees have become more popular, even with omnivores. Check out our ideas for delicious plant-based mains:

  • Fried Oyster Mushroom Po’Boy - Get acquainted with the oyster mushroom. This amazing fungus tastes eerily similar to chicken when it's breaded and fried.
  • Lentil Loaf - Meatloaf made with protein-packed lentils is a comfort-food dish you can serve with vegan gravy and mashed potatoes.
  • Tempeh Bolognese - A savory, meaty bolognese sauce is still achievable with plant-based proteins.
  • Mapo Tofu - A spicy dish from the Sichuan Province, this tofu recipe gets its umami flavor from a Chinese bean paste called doubanjiang.
  • BBQ Bowl - Offer a buildable bowl with different types of BBQ sauce, barbecue jackfruit, vegan mac and cheese, or vegan cole slaw. Cornbread on the side!

Vegan Desserts

You don't have to master the art of dairy-free baking to provide a tempting dessert menu. Try these options for desserts that contain no animal products:

  • Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk - This is a simple dessert that only requires a few staple ingredients - cooked rice, coconut milk, sweetener, and cinnamon. You can even use leftover cooked rice to cut down on food waste!
  • Fruit Crisp - Fruit crisps or crumbles make an appealing dessert, especially if you use local, seasonal produce. You can also get away with canned fruit or pie filling!
  • Vegan Ice Cream - Keep vegan vanilla ice cream in the freezer and you can use it to whip up milkshakes, sundaes, or pie a la mode.

4. Menu Labeling

Providing thorough menu descriptions is a good practice in general, but you can go above and beyond by adding icons that identify vegan and vegetarian items. Apply this to your physical menus as well as your online menu. Many diners review your online menu before they decide to dine with you. By clearly labeling plant-based dishes, you are more likely to attract vegan and vegetarian customers.

You could also provide a separate menu that only lists your vegan dishes. This makes it easy for guests and servers to identify your plant-based items.

5. Update Your POS System

It’s easy for wires to get crossed when a server has trouble entering special requests in your POS system. Update your POS to account for substitutions and changes, so that requests are clear when they reach the kitchen. A “make it vegan” button should automatically provide instructions to omit any dairy-based sauces and cheese from a dish. The easier it is for the kitchen staff to understand vegan requests, the better your food will be.

Becoming a vegan-friendly restaurant isn't just about the menu. It's important to provide tasty plant-based alternatives, but you also need to lay some groundwork. Training your staff, labeling your menu, and updating your POS system will make it easier to accommodate alternative diets in your restaurant.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Michale LeRoy
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