How mainstream restaurants can better cater for vegan customers

Read Time:   |  18th August 2020

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Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of vegan restaurant chain Stem & Glory, takes a look at the common mistakes mainstream restaurants make when serving vegan customers and how easy they are to put right

When I first became vegan – 35 years ago – people would look at me as though I had two heads and had just landed from outer space.

There’s no doubt things have improved massively. We have come on in leaps and bounds with food in this country, not just for vegetarians and vegans, but our cuisine has improved tenfold, in general. The vegan movement is steadily growing and savvy restaurants have woken up to the fact that they need to offer vegan options.

The power of the vegan pound

The chances are in a group booking there may well be one vegan and if catering for them is a hassle for the chef, they may decide to take their party somewhere else because these days they do have choices.

However, that said, even though restaurants are getting better all the time at offering vegan menu items, the same common problems still occur over and over again. Restaurants need to identify where they’re going wrong and start changing what they’re doing.

Here are five ways that mainstream restaurants can better cater for vegan customers:

  1. Offering vegan menu items that are similar to non-vegan items can result in confusion amongst staff. I ordered a vegan margarita pizza recently which came with cheese. The problem was there was a vegan and non-vegan margarita on the menu and they looked the same. The vegan dish needs to look and sound completely different and serving it on different plates goes a long way to cutting down on genuine mistakes by the staff.
  2. While genuine mistakes do happen, what is completely unacceptable is that some people in hospitality still think it’s funny to sneak non-vegan ingredients into meals served to vegans. Butter in vegetables where they think you won’t notice is common. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have enquired if vegetables are cooked or dressed in butter, only to be told they weren’t, but when they arrived they were so obviously cooked in butter. I always ask for butter to be replaced with oil and that’s why eating out in Italian restaurants is a winner for vegans because for every dish where the British cook will reach for the butter, an Italian will always gravitate towards olive oil.
  3. Coffees can be a minefield. The number of times I’ve taken a sip of my soya latte only to discover it was made with milk! Yes, people can make mistakes and the server can easily just take the wrong drink. Again, having different cups for soya milk drinks and milk would hugely minimise the chances of the wrong drinks arriving. It’s so obvious and easy to sort this.
  4. I worry about having vegan food prepared in non-vegan kitchens. Food hygiene rules should prevent cross contamination, but we have to accept it happens. Hands go from meat and dairy to handling vegetables. The staff doing it often don’t even give it a second thought as they’re mainly focused on the end result, i.e. a meal served without meat or dairy. But restaurants need to have a clear policy that vegan meals are prepared at a separate station so there’s no opportunity for cross-contamination.
  5.  A big, big no is frying vegan food in fryers that also fry meat and fish products. If restaurants are doing this the customer needs to know so they can make an informed decision. This needs to be clearly identified on the menu.

In the coming years market trends will most likely force restaurants to up their game in meeting the needs of people who abstain from eating animal products. Currently, I have a very small list of vegan-friendly restaurants that I like to visit and my wish is to see that grow into a very long list.


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Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100% made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge.

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