Advice for Businesses About Catering for Vegans
Providing vegan food makes great business sense. Both vegans who love locally and visitors from other places will seek out the best places to eat. At times, I organise large groups of people to eat in a restaurant and I will choose somewhere that caters for vegans. I might be the only vegan there but the restaurant will serve 30 people because of that one vegan option. It's not difficult to provide for vegans although a little care and attention to detail is required. Remember that vegan food is suitable for nearly everyone - for example, there are no worries about it being halal or kosher. By providing a vegan option, you aren't relying on attracting vegan customers - if it's good then other people will order it too.
Tips on improving your offer to vegans
It is very helpful to mark vegan options clearly on your menu, or to have a separate vegetarian or vegan menu. By being explicit about vegan options, you will give vegan customers more confidence that their food really is vegan and avoid embarrassment and hassle when ordering.
It may be easy to adapt an existing vegetarian meal on your menu to be vegan. For example, if you serve pasta with tomato sauce that may already be vegan provided you don't sprinkle cheese on top. State on the menu that the dish can be adapted for vegans.
Make sure that vegan options are always available. If I turn up for a meal and there is no vegan food for me, I'm going to be disappointed and inconvenienced. If you have a vegan option on the specials board, make sure there is another one available when it runs out.
Customers will appreciate you having soya milk for tea and coffee and vegan margarine (such as Vitalite) for bread. Having vegan cheese for pizzas etc. will also be much appreciated.
Make sure that your vegan food really is vegan! Check for the presence of non-vegan ingredients in each component of the meal. If you make mashed potato with milk, you will need to provide separate mash for vegan customers. It's easy to forget at the last moment and sprinkle dairy cheese over the top of a meal if that's how the dish is normally made. If a customer orders a vegan meal, don't plonk a bowl of prawn crackers in front of them as an appetizer or give them butter with their bread. Avoid cross-contamination - for example, don't use the same utensils or chopping board as non-vegan food. Be honest - if you really can't provide a genuinely vegan option, tell the customer so. Treat them with the same care as you would someone with a serious allergy.
Make sure all your staff understand the concept of veganism and the requirements for avoiding animal ingredients and cross-contamination of food. A good chef will embrace the challenge of preparing a vegan meal or devising a menu with vegan options. There are courses specifically to teach vegetarian and vegan catering, for example those provided by the Cordon Vert Vegetarian Cookery School.
It's hard for a customer to know what's in their food so vegans may ask you about ingredients several times to make sure. Be patient with them. Don't make too much of a fuss if someone orders vegan food as this may embarrass them. If someone orders a vegan meal, it's helpful to state that it's the vegan option when you serve the food to provide reassurance that they have the right one. The same applies if you are bringing a jug of soya milk or a saucer of vegan margarine.
Vegans are not all the same - like anyone else they have their own tastes and preferences so what one person enjoys may not satisfy another. Having a range of vegan options will mean the customer is more likely to find something to their taste. There are a lot of people who call themselves vegan but aren't strict about their veganism. Sometimes people ask for vegan options because they have a dairy allergy or are just fussy about food. Just because one customer is prepared to compromise and eat honey doesn't mean the next one will. Be aware that whilst someone might be vegan for ethical reasons, they might also have food allergies or intolerances or be on a diet which will further restrict what they can eat.
Try to provide interesting vegan options. Many places have houmous with pitta bread or a baked potato with beans as their only vegan option. This is just about OK as a last resort but won't inspire vegan customers to visit. It's easy to make much better dishes and if you want to impress your vegan customers, make the vegan options an integral part of your offer rather than an after-thought. Vegan customers don't want to be sitting eating an undressed green salad when their non-vegan friends are tucking into a banquet. Last time I searched Google for 'vegan recipes' there were 44 million results! Although main courses are the most important, vegans will appreciate the availability of starters and desserts too. If nothing else, it is easy to keep a tub of non-dairy ice cream in the freezer. Remember that wine and beer are often not vegan so including drinks that are suitable (and labelling them as such) is helpful.
Ask questions. Vegans are often knowledgeable about the ingredients of different foods and may be willing to make suggestions about what you can prepare for them. If someone orders a vegetarian meal 'without the cheese' ask them whether they are vegan and, if so, let them know about all the options available to them. They will be pleased that you've understood their requirements.
Make sure that people know you cater for vegans. If your business is in the Nottingham area, you can ask to be listed on this site. If you mark vegan options on your menu, word will get around. There may be a vegetarian social group or Vegan Society Contact locally. If so, get in touch with them and suggest they come to try out your restaurant. If they have a nice meal, they will tell their friends (when vegans get together, they always talk about food!)
Find out more
There is lots of helpful information out there. You can get information from The Vegan Society.