Six helpful tips for integrating plant-based options into your menu and doing it in a way that will increase your profitability instead of killing your margin.
A plant-based lifestyle has the potential to redesign the current food industry. The production of meat is expected to plunge for the second year in a row, and the 3% drop in per-capita meat consumption will be the biggest decline in 20 years. A new 2020 study by Ipsos Retail Performance revealed that the number of Americans following plant-based diets is up nearly 9.6 million over the last 15 years. This is a 300% increase and nearly 3% of the population in the United States. Additionally, the number of people requesting vegan meals is dramatically increasing. Data from Google Trends show that the popularity of veganism is at an all-time high, surpassing the prior all-time high recorded in 2019. Simply put, veganism is now twice as popular as it was five years ago and doesn’t show any signs of stopping or slowing down.
With this growing demographic, vegans or plant-based dieters are looking for establishments to dine at or order from that show a willingness to accommodate their dietary preferences.
Plant-based dining has exploded over the past couple of years. Even as far back as 2010, it was often “the vegan” in the group that determined which restaurant that group visited. Now, eleven years later, it’s not just “the vegan” in the group. A large portion of diners who are not vegan still want to eat plant-based and will make their restaurant choice based on having those options available, and the food has to be great. If you want to attract these plant-based focused customers, grilled veggies and a salad simply won’t cut it. The meal has to have as much care and attention given to it as your non-plant based meals. It should also dovetail into your existing menu so that your labor and ingredient costs do not increase. Vegan fine-dine business owner, executive chef, and vegan food connoisseur, Jason Wyrick, offers six helpful tips for integrating plant-based options into your menu and doing it in a way that will increase your profitability instead of killing your margin.
Think About the Plate Differently
In culinary school, chefs are taught that protein is the center of the plate and protein is always a euphemism for meat. Rethink this concept. While having protein on the plate is important for satiety, it doesn’t have to be the central focus and it certainly doesn’t have to be meat. An enchilada loaded with roasted butternut squash with a side of black beans stewed with smoked mushrooms on the plate still has protein on the plate and is just as satisfying.
Equality, but Not Sameness in Flavor
One mistake I see being made by those not familiar with plant-based foods is that they try to mimic the flavor of a meat or dairy ingredient exactly in their plant-based version of a dish. In almost all cases, plant-based ingredients will not give you a one-to-one flavor match with meat and dairy, but that’s okay. You don’t need to do that. What you do need to do is to make sure the plant-based version has as much flavor, but not necessarily the same flavor. At my restaurant, Casa Terra, we grill mushrooms until they’re heavily charred and make a stock out of these that can be used in place of beef stock. It doesn’t taste like beef stock, but it has just as much of that deep umami component. We also do the same thing with charred onions. Also, if you find your plant-based dishes need a little bolster, try adding a little acidity to the dish to give it some punch. Pickled onions, citrus, etc. go a long way towards getting a pop of flavor in your dish. Start thinking about your plant-based dishes this way and they’ll stand on their own and not simply be a weaker version of non-plant based ones.
Sauces Win the Day
A great sauce will carry a dish. The same is true for your plant-based dishes. You can use a few ingredients to get some flavor punch into your sauces. For example, adding a touch sun-dried tomato puree will bolster your tomato-based sauces. A puree made from soaked cashews will add creaminess, a roasted garlic puree will add depth to a sauce, and a butternut squash puree will add lushness.
Meat and Dairy Analogs are Your Friends
There are now some great meat and dairy alternatives available from the major suppliers in town. Sysco has an excellent selection, in particular and US Foods is stepping up. Don’t be afraid to use these. Often, you can use them as a one-to-one replacement for meat and dairy items. This will make adding plant-based options easier training-wise for your staff. Ask your vendor for samples so you can try them in your dishes and make sure to get ingredients lists from them. A few items are being marketed as plant-based, but still contain dairy ingredients like casein and whey. Avoid these to make your plant-based customers happy. If you want to go a more whole foods, and honestly, a higher end route, you can use ingredients like mushrooms and jackfruit to replace items like shredded meat. We roast king trumpet mushrooms and use a fork to shred them in some of our dishes and we shred jackfruit and sear it off for dishes resembling pulled pork.
Repurpose Your Existing Ingredients and Recipes
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel at your restaurant. Just try substituting a few ingredients, like the aforementioned shredded mushrooms and jackfruit for meat in some of your normal recipes. If you have a Mexican themed restaurant, you can do something as simple as taking an enchilada sauce, dressing roasted veggies with it, and create a taco with all the appropriate condiments. Thinking this way will help your labor and ingredient costs because you won’t be making entirely new recipes for the plant-based dishes.
Consider Making Some Existing Dishes Plant-Based
Are you still making your beans with lard, or your rice with chicken stock? Consider making these items plant-based for the entire restaurant instead of making a meat-based version and a plant-based version. Turning some of your core components into plant-based only will let you serve even more customers without having to increase your workload and decrease your overall margin.
If you need assistance with adding more plant-based options to your restaurant, we’re here to help. Contact us at email@example.com and I, or one of my staff can help you not only add plant-based options to your menu, but become the talk of the town.
Executive Chef of Casa Terra and The Vegan Taste
Eat Healthy | Eat Compassionately | Eat Well
Jason Wyrick is the Executive Chef and owner of The Vegan Taste, the nation’s longest running vegan meal delivery service, and Casa Terra, an upscale vegan restaurant named one of Phoenix’ top 25 restaurants in its first year of operation. He is a NY Times Bestselling Author and the first vegan instructor to teach in the world famous Le Cordon Bleu program. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. He reversed his diabetes and lost well over 100 pounds by adopting a healthy, plant-based diet. Looking to make a complete life change, he left his job as the director of marketing for a tech company and became a chef so he could teach others how to heal themselves, heal the planet, and live a more compassionate lifestyle.