7 Tips for Making Your Restaurant Vegan-Friendly

We here at Vegan Prestwich love a meal out. Committed to keeping our community informed about the latest options, we’re always on the lookout for new local eateries, and when one opens up we’ll get there as soon as possible to test their fare. For the community, of course.

At the time of writing (in June 2022), it’s estimated that somewhere between 2% and 3% of UK adults are vegan. That’s over one in 50 people, and still growing year on year. The percentage may be even higher locally in Manchester, given that we placed third in Holland and Barrett’s analysis of interest in vegan food in their stores, just behind Edinburgh and Brighton, and given that 16% of people in the North West said they’d like to cut out meat in 2022 according to a survey by Finder. And then we have Veganuary, a massive annual consumer event which has seen sign-ups surge, topping half a million in 2021. The month-long plant-based challenge is likely behind a nation-wide boost in vegan food sales through December and January. The point being: veganism is worth paying attention to.

Happily, the majority of new places we see here in Prestwich have the heart (and savvy) to provide for vegans on their menus. However, there are the occasional few who miss the mark, and while that is absolutely their business and their choice, we tend to think of it as a missed opportunity.

We never name and shame here, and we’d much rather help! But what do vegans want? If you don’t live the lifestyle it can be hard to know. So we’ve put our extensive scran-based “research” to good use by compiling the following short list of choices, big and small, that businesses can make to welcome in and win the loyalty of vegan customers.

1. Label up your menu

It’s with a sinking heart that we’re handed a menu free of dietary signposts and then read the (in)famous phrase: “Please let the serving staff know if you have any dietary requirements or allergies.”

Cue a lengthy conversation with busy staff who may or may not know anything about veganism. In the worst case they’ll soon be scrambling back and forth to the kitchen to check multiple menu options while we cringe and tie ourselves in knots trying not to conform to the fussy vegan stereotype. In the best case it’s just a bit awkward and makes us feel singled-out in the not-good way.

So if you provide vegan options already, declare them loud and proud! And if you really want to ace this step, then a separate vegan menu showing only the options we can choose is a wonderful, much-appreciated gesture. It saves everyone’s time and makes us feel really well taken care of.

2. Provide plant milk

Having oat or soya milk available for teas and coffees is a nice, simple touch. Preferably without the extra charge some places add for plant-based milk! Recent research shows 48% of UK adults now use plant milk in their diet, so this is potentially a big win for any business. If you’re interested in reducing waste, it’s also becoming more and more common to see old fashioned on-the-doorstep milk delivery services offering oat milk in returnable, reusable glass bottles. We have one here in Prestwich, in fact!

3. Get some vegan cheese in

Have you got cheesy veggie options on the menu which would be entirely plant based without the cheddar? Or the halloumi? Or the feta? You could switch that out for vegan cheese, or even some nice firm tofu, et voila! Another vegan option appears. For those not yet in the know: vegan cheese has an… unfortunate reputation, but has come an incredibly long way in a short space of time, and you can even find some which melt nicely for pizzas or panini. They’ve become a staple of a lot of vegans’ home-cooking and are well worth an experiment in a professional kitchen.

4. Label your vegan booze

Did you know that some alcoholic beverages aren’t vegan? Some aren’t even vegetarian. It’s all down to the filtration, as some beer and wine producers in particular choose to use fish guts in their process. There’s very little reason to do this other than tradition, but a substantial portion of the industry has yet to make the swap to veg-friendly filtration.

Vegans can spend hours in a supermarket wine aisle, checking the labels on 20 wine bottles to find one that’s suitable for us. Luckily there are sites like Barnivore with a handy search to demystify this for us when we’re out and about, but it’s still a lovely surprise when restaurants take the time to label the vegan options on their alcohol menu, or at least arm their serving staff with the knowledge to easily answer questions that arise.

5. Know your vegan from your gluten free

We get it, you likely started hearing about both in the mid-2010s and stashed the terms away in the “fussy eater” section of your brain, but the two things really aren’t at all related. Veganism is a personal commitment and choice, most often made on health or ethical grounds, while the gluten free requirement centers around people with food intolerances or coeliac disease. Lots of vegan things aren’t gluten free - most notably seitan, a popular meat replacement which is made entirely from gluten. Equally, lots of gluten free things aren’t vegan. Like steak. When a food service professional does not know this, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

6. Remember we need protein, too

Actually you can get by on a lot less protein than people tend to think, but it does help with a feeling of fullness. Vegans have the same nutritional needs as everyone else, so while a plate of courgettes, aubergines, and tomatoes might look delightful and healthy, and while many vegans do cite health as a reason for their dietary choice, it will likely leave us hungry 20 minutes later unless you throw in something more substantial. Good protein sources for vegans include beans and other legumes like chickpeas or lentils, as well nuts, mushrooms, tofu, seitan, or soya-based meat replacements.

7. We’d love more than one option per course

We’re sure it’s not an easy task to select your menu, and we know we are in the minority and can’t be everyone’s top consideration. However, anyone can eat vegan food, and many more people are willing and eager to try vegan options these days than ever before. By catering for vegans you cater for almost everyone.

Like anyone else vegans will struggle to get excited about eating somewhere when they have only one choice, aka no choice. This is worse when the one option available is the same, easy/lazy option we see everywhere. We love a vegan burger as much as the next herbivore, but when it’s the only vegan menu item in 50% of the places we go to it gets a bit old. Ditto having a sorbet as your one vegan dessert.

If you’re running a restaurant can we assume that you love food? Well, us too! When we see creative, thoughtful vegan options on a menu we feel your passion and care. It makes us want to come back ASAP to try the things we didn’t pick this time.

Vegans may be a small minority, but when we find places that get these things right, we can be incredibly loyal customers. We love to go forth and rave about friendly businesses to other vegans through online communities like those we ourselves maintain on Facebook and Instagram. For a small business with narrow margins it can be tempting to consider the popularity of your menu items in isolation, and with this rationale we have sadly seen businesses cutting vegan items from their menus post-pandemic. Unlike other demographics, though, that 2-3% of customers won’t just choose one of your more popular dishes. Instead, they’ll stop coming through the door, and since 50% of people now have at least one vegan in their life, sometimes they’ll take their omnivorous friends with them.