Menu ideas

Vegetarian week: top tips for meat-free menus

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Vegetarians might get a lot of stick in this industry, but catering to their diet can be simple and profitable
Vegetarians might get a lot of stick in this industry, but catering to their diet can be simple and profitable

Related tags Vegetarian cuisine

This week is National Vegetarian Week and operators across the country are shifting their focus from meat to put on a range of veggie-centric events and promotions.

Peperami recently compiled a list of 25 things British men would rather do than become vegetarian, which rather surprisingly included breaking up with their partners, giving up sex, swimming with sharks and quitting smoking, with a considerable 81% of men polled saying they would “feel lost” without meat in their diet.

But despite these results, demand for vegetarian and healthy options is at an all-time high​, with 26% of customers reportedly choosing not to eat meat.

Will Matier, managing director at Vegetarian Express, said: “It’s a common misconception that catering for vegetarian diets is boring and difficult but that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Vegetarians deserve the same eating out experience as everyone else and with almost 60% of people feeling there aren’t enough vegetarian dishes on menus, there is a clear opportunity for caterers to step up to the plate and profit in the process.”

Top tips for meat-free menus

Vegetarian Express, which supplies vegetarian and vegan products to UK foodservice, has provided a list of top tips for operators wanting to cash in on meat-free menus created by consultant chef and ex-executive chef of the Lanesborough Hotel in London, Paul Gayler. These include:

1. People eat with their eyes:​ make sure veggie options are colourful, full of exciting flavours and presented in an interesting way when plated. Combine flavours and textures to add interest – for example add almonds, walnuts or pecans to liven up a salad, or use shiitake mushrooms to give a similar texture to meat. By using a variety of vegetables and a diverse range of spices it will ensure the dishes appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

2. Consider the health benefits:​ Horizons highlights health as an increasing factor in consumer choice when eating out and with research showing that vegetarian diets are often healthier than those of an average meat-eater**, a meat-free option can become a menu hero.  Beans, for example, are the most nutritious and versatile of foods benefitting from being low in fat and cholesterol free and when used instead of meat, still offer the diner a substantial meal.


3. Choose the right substitute:​ items such as tempeh and tofu – which have long been staples of Asian cuisine – make great substitutes to meat but it’s important to consider their different uses. There are two different types of tofu for example; fresh, firm tofu is best for holding shape when baking or grilling, while the soft silken tofu is better suited to desserts, creamy sauces and dressings. Beans are also a great way to substitute meat while keeping a vegetarian’s protein intake up – in fact 63% of people opted for beans as their favourite ingredient in a recent survey*.

4. Be creative: ​prepare interesting and attention grabbing features that set you as an operator apart from the competition. This could include a colourful, seasonal – therefore always changing – ‘pick and mix’ salad bar where customers can help themselves to the variety on offer, or a juice bar serving freshly squeezed, made-to-order vegetable and fruit blends.

5. Tempt customers with samples:​ non-vegetarians often habitually gravitate towards the menu items that contain meat; try tempting them with a sample of a vegetarian dish, a small plate or a sharing platter – often a small taste will help them take the plunge with a meat-free option.

6. Profit in the process:​ remember, gross profit margins are typically greater on vegetarian dishes than they are on meat options. Meat-free versions of consumer favourites can maintain appeal with mainstream customers whilst catering for demand and maximising profits in the process.

Other operators

Peach site the Almanack, Kenilworth, is offering up daily vegetarian specials.

Some of the dishes on offer include wild mushroom and pine nut tart with jersey royals, rocket and ranched dressing, spiced mixed bean and broad bean burger with smashed avocado, grilled halloumi, skinny fries and slaw and warm salad with beetroot, apple, lentils, feta cheese, dressed baby spinach and balsamic glaze.

Tom Rickard, of the Almanack, said: “The chefs have kept our ethos of using fresh British produce. We kicked off [the veggie specials] today and we’ve had a very good service with the majority of people eating them.”

Posh veg

And at Michelin-starred eatery Alimentum, Cambridge, chef patron Mark Poynton is putting on a six-course vegetarian tasting menu.

The menu, which costs £65 per person, includes dishes such as English asparagus with morel mayonnaise and quail eggs with asparagus and rapeseed emulsion, cauliflower, pomegranate and 100% cocoa and tomato with Virgin Mary, goat’s cheese and black olive.

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