The vegans are coming. You probably have heard of them—your coworker’s niece, a friend’s son, maybe even your next door neighbor. The number of Americans who identify as vegan increased from 1 percent in 2014 to 6 percent in 2017. The number of people requesting vegan meals is dramatically increasing. In 2016, Google Trends showed there was a 90 percent increase in “vegan” search traffic, which was up from the already rising 32 percent increase in 2015.
Who are these vegans, and what are they looking for looking for when dining out? A vegan is someone who eschews animal products in their diet and lifestyle—think vegetarian without the dairy, eggs, or even honey. Another word for a vegan diet is plant-based, as opposed to animal based.
Most vegans adopt the lifestyle for health reasons because research is showing that heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes,and certain forms of cancer can be prevented or reversed by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Others adopt the lifestyle for environmental or ethical reasons.
As a growing demographic, vegans are looking for places to dine that show some willingness to accommodate their diet preferences. Below are some easy and effective ideas for your plant-based options to shine.
1.Milk It Up
Consider adding a dairy-free option for coffee. While soy milk is the most popular alternative, many other plant-based milks are on the market. Consider offering almond or coconut milk for those wanting even more options. If you do, you can purchase these milks in small aseptic packages while you build up the demand to save on spoilage.
2. Dairy to be Different
Vegan Butters and cheeses are things. No longer does commercially available vegan cheese taste like the by-product of the eraser manufacturing process. I like to say that “no cheese will remain unconquered” by the plant-based food scientists. In addition to the ready made vegan cheese alternatives, you can also make your own vegan parmesan by processing Brazil nuts with nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt and pepper. As for butters, there are commercially available vegan spreads that provide a buttery flavor to your dishes and also make a great side to bread or toast.
3.All About the Analogue
Vegan Food science has come a long way in terms of replicating the flavor and texture of animal based products. There are some top tier products on the market that you can store in a freezer and defrost on demand to replace a burger, or even chicken cutlets.
4. Soy Solutions
Tofu and Tempeh are standard items that can be used on your menu. Be sure to use the extra firm or super firm tofu for the best texture. Tempeh is tofu’s more nutritious step sister and provides a nuttier and heartier texture. Having a tofu scramble option in addition to eggs for breakfast will attract vegans in droves, especially if there are few others offering that option.
5. Eggs for Vegans
Ever heard of a flax egg? Simply combine 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds or whole chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water to create one egg. Use this to replace the egg in muffins, cakes, and cookies as a binder. Vegan desserts are on the cutting edge of the vegan revolution, as it is so easy to replace the dairy and eggs in baked goods and still have a decadent treat.
6. Work With What You Have
In many instances you can get creative with your current inventory and offer a vegan option where before you had none. Egg-free pasta, with fresh tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, and garlic is one example. Avocado toast or a Mexican bowl with rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole are some other ideas.
7.Call it Out
Be sure to go through your menu and add a “V” or another symbol to highlight the vegan options. You may be surprised to see that you already include some dishes suitable for vegans. Don’t forget to update your yelp profile to include the word vegan in your description. You should also make it known clearly on your website that you offer vegan options as most vegans will do an internet search for food options in your area.
So toss us a vegan bone and include something besides iceberg lettuce, and a baked potato on your menu. Your co-worker's niece will thank you.
Mark Reinfeld is the 2017 inductee into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame. He is a widely acclaimed vegan consultant, and multi-award winning chef and author of seven vegan cookbooks. Mark has been offering vegan menu development and chef training for over 25 years to clients such as Google, Whole Foods, Aramark, Bon Appetit Management, Credit Suisse First Boston, The Peninsula Spa, and many more.