Question: Given the recent trends in customer behaviour, I’m considering widening my menu to include more vegetarian options. I like the idea of being more energy-efficient but I’m not convinced that it’s the right move if I’m looking to boost my business. Will I regret the move to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my menu?

Answer: No, you absolutely will not. To help you understand why going veg isn’t bad for your bottom line, we want to share with you this great article that we found on the website of our partners over at LEAF, written by Roberta Waddell.

Vegetarians do not dine out in the same laid back fashion as their omnivore counterparts. They are professionals at the menu scan, extremely noting of amiable service, and most have a black list of restaurants serving bland or no vegetarian options. Just because vegetarians do not eat meat does not mean they are willing to sacrifice being gastronomically satisfied. Although they may not represent a restaurant’s largest consumer base, because of the lack of restaurants catering to their specific needs, vegetarians are more likely to become loyal and recommending customers. Evolving with the vegetarian trend does not have to be difficult, and can actually be beneficial to restaurants in terms of cost and business.

Why incorporate veg options?

As plenty of restaurant owners are aware, quality meat is often one of the most expensive items on the ingredient list. Most protein substitutes in vegetarian dishes cost substantially less, can be purchased in bulk, and keep longer. In addition, there are many main vegetarian protein sources such as beans, dairy items, or grains which most restaurants are likely to already have on hand to compliment the meat dishes on their menu.  Since there are many potential protein sources in a vegetarian dish, menus can be altered with the market and seasons to favor lower cost seasonal ingredients.

Meat dishes also cost more money to cook. Meat takes longer time and higher heat to become safe to eat, while vegetables take less time to cook, and are safe to serve in their raw state. Sanitarium, the major breakfast cereal and health foods manufacturer, ran a cost comparison of three meal plans, including a traditional meat diet, low-meat diet and vegetarian diet. They found that one week’s worth of food for four people on a meat diet was $508; for a low-meat diet, $418, and a vegetarian diet, $394.40. That is about $5000 annually. It may take a little primary research, but if restaurants shop well they will be able to find local and organic vegetarian options at a lower cost per pound then the meat alternatives.

A business case For adding tasty, creative vegetarian options

Restaurants are taking a major business risk when choosing not to cater to vegetarians. Restaurants need to provide not just meatless options, but filling, tasty and creative vegetarian meals. Also, consumer eating habits are evolving. Even meat eaters are becoming accustomed to the odd night of quinoa patties and bean tacos.

In a survey of its members, the Vegetarian Resource Group found health, animal ethics, and the environment to be the major reasons for a lean towards vegetarianism. The survey, including members of all diet types, revealed more than 40% of people order a dish without meat sometimes, 8% often, and 7% always. Restaurants provide an ideal venue for people to try new dishes. In the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2011″ survey of more than 1,500 professional chefs, over half rated meatless/vegetarian entrées and vegan entrées as a “hot trend.” Many individuals seeking out these new trends will utilize websites and smartphone apps rating top vegetarian locations in their area. Breaking into the vegetarian scene can result in an increase in business from those individuals seeking out specific restaurants with a good reputation for healthy, ethical, and environmentally-conscious meals.

Serving vegetarian meals pushes restaurants to create new and exotic dishes, which diversify their menu. What are your favorite vegetarian meals? And more importantly how would you go about adding a unique twist which expresses the nature of your restaurant beyond its meat dishes. The possibilities are endless, not costly, and bring in a potential variety of new customer bases.

image credit: tetramesh