With an increase expected of 10% this year, it’s not only a lifestyle choice but seems to becoming a trend too. With most vegetarians being reduced to dining with their meat eating counterparts and being met with the same old stuffed peppers and mushroom dishes it’s never been more important to be more imaginative with your vegetarian offerings. There is still a generation who just assumes that people who don’t eat meat will simply accept any old vegetables stuck together on a plate and that as vegetarians they must love ALL vegetables or be happy to eat salad for every meal, this is very simply not the case. Some regard catering for vegetarians as a lot of unprofitable hassle; others see it as a catering opportunity. Some chefs don’t see vegetarian cooking as challenging enough or important enough and, quite frankly, some chefs just don’t seem able to create stand-alone vegetarian dishes; they need the crutch of meat or fish. Are they missing a trick?
Liz O’Neill of the Vegetarian Society explains there is more to it than just excluding meat and fish. “Traditional chef training treats dishes without meat as something of an afterthought, but those who think creatively and serve satisfying vegetarian meals full of taste and texture will be rewarded with repeat visits and a positive reputation amongst an influential group of diners,” she says.
There has been a lot of movement amongst high street chains who see the value of the vegetarian and vegan pound from Leon, to Yo Sushi and even Wetherspoons hopping on board the veggie bus (offering dishes like their sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry or a super-food Freedom Salad with giant couscous and balsamic vinaigrette.) but there is still way to go to offer more than what basically is a meal with the key ingredient extracted. Vegetarians tend to be offered an option rather than a choice and if your Chef is only offering items like veggie lasagne, chilli non carne, stuffed peppers or a tomato and cheese tart it’s clear they may be lacking a little in imagination. By offering several vegetarian menu items you give guests real choice and also appeals to a much wider and more diverse clientele.
Another bugbear for vegetarians is a lack of clear labeling, generally veggies don’t want to make a huge fuss and expect menu’s to be clearly laid out and give reassurance that dishes marked as suitable for vegetarians don’t contain any gelatine, animal rennet, fish paste, cochineal or animal fat. Clear labeling doesn’t just give vegetarians confidence but your other diners as well.
There are many plus points to offering a wide of vegetarian dishes as I mentioned before widening your clientele can only be a good thing, serving more vegetarian meals also gives your business the opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint, not only does that help the environment but it sends the message to your customers that you are a socially responsible business which these days is a big draw for customers.
Here a few tips to get you started.
● Consider getting accredited with the Vegetarian Society Food and Drink Guild. It’s not difficult, expensive or time-consuming and it will get you on to the vegetarian radar.
● Serve exciting, unusual dishes to showcase your creativity.
● Make sure front of house know which items are vegetarian on the menu, including puddings and specials like soup of the day.
● Don’t rely on cheese as the protein in the dish – think of nuts, tofu and tempeh as well as more traditional pulses.
● If you do use cheese, try to make sure it is made with vegetarian rennet.
● Put V signs on your menus.
● Have a non-dairy vegetarian option: some people don’t eat eggs or cheese and some people just don’t like them.
● Consider a professional chef’s course at the Vegetarian Society. Either an Inspiration Day or a four-day chef’s diploma.
● Think the vegetarian option means cheese.
● Think vegetarians will be happy with just pasta.
● Think goats’ cheese is exciting.
● Cross-contaminate by using the same knives, chopping surfaces and pans for vegetarian items and meat/fish products.
● Fry meat/fish products in the same oil as vegetarian items.
● Cook meat/fish dishes in the same oven as vegetarian dishes, unless they are covered.
Further information can be found here on the Vegetarian Society website.
Source: The Vegetarian Society