How to create a plant-based menu

How to create a plant-based menu

Have you noticed your customers gravitating toward plant-based dishes? You’re not the only one — going meat-free is a growing trend. In 2022, the plant-based food market was worth $10.9 billion, and Bloomberg estimates that plant-based food sales will increase by 500% by 2030.

Plant-based meals cater to two types of people: vegans and vegetarians. Vegans don’t eat any animal products; vegetarians typically avoid meat but eat eggs, dairy, fish, and sometimes poultry.

If you can expand or edit your restaurant’s menu to satisfy these customers, you can reach a wider market and boost your bottom line. Adding more plant-based dishes is also an effective way to become more sustainable.

How to create a plant-based menu for your restaurant

Given the rising popularity of meat-free diets, now’s a good time to add more plant-based options to your restaurant’s menu. You don’t need to rework the entire menu — simply add more options for vegans and vegetarians. In the process, you’ll attract new diners without alienating your existing customer base.

Don’t have time to develop new menu items? Look for ways to make substitutions or remove animal products from your existing dishes. That way, vegan and vegetarian diners can enjoy your most popular items, too.

Before you update your menu, take time to audit your current offerings. Check sales data to identify your highest- and lowest-performing dishes. Then, eliminate rarely ordered items to make room for new options. You’ll keep the menu in check and maintain a reasonable workload for your kitchen crew.

1. Find plant-based substitutes

Plant-based substitutes are a great way to make vegan menu items without adding more work to your cooks. All you need to do is find a suitable alternative for animal-based ingredients. Incorporating locally sourced food into your menu can also help you cater toward the plant-based crowd.

Some popular, vegan-friendly substitutes include:

  • Portobello mushroom caps instead of chicken breasts
  • Tofu as a substitute for chicken or beef
  • Vegetable stock to replace chicken or beef stock
  • Quinoa or vegetable patty instead of a beef burger
  • Coconut oil or nut butter in place of dairy butter
  • Vegan cheese as a substitute for dairy cheese
  • Oat, rice, almond, soy or coconut milk for dairy milk
  • Ground flaxseed, bananas, or applesauce to replace eggs
  • Sorbet or coconut ice cream instead of dairy ice cream

Keep in mind that vegan substitutions don’t always work on a one-to-one ratio. You may need to adjust the amount to account for ingredients with different densities or consistencies.

2. Integrate plant-based options into traditional dishes

Adding vegan-friendly ingredients to an existing item is an easy way to provide more options for customers without recreating the entire dish. For example, you might consider offering meat as an add-on ingredient rather than an integral part of a menu item. Start with a basic green salad or a tomato-based pasta and enable diners to add chicken or salmon for an extra fee.

Integrating plant-based options into your main menu makes each dish more accessible to everyone, regardless of dietary preferences. Since these veggie-heavy items aren’t isolated in a “vegan” section, meat-eating customers are more likely to consider them.

3. Get creative with presentation

Vegan and vegetarian dishes aren’t limited to salads and steamed veggies. Get creative and you can make plant-based options feel like a treat. Dress up veggies with breading to add a bit of crunch, or go crazy with the spices to add a Cajun or Thai kick.

Don’t forget about sauces, dips, and marinades — serve deep-fried cauliflower bites with a rich Buffalo sauce, and try garlic-infused pita triangles with a selection of hummus flavors. Unexpected flavor profiles and tasty textures will delight your vegan diners and entice meat-eaters to try a veggie-based dish.

Captivating menu descriptions are critical; the right word choices can increase demand for non-meat items. Make sure to describe the texture and flavor and indicate that the dish is meat free. You can use words such as:

  • Plant-based
  • Veggies
  • Vegans/vegetarians
  • Plant proteins

Help your plant-eating diners identify appropriate items at a glance by placing a “V” or a plant symbol next to meat-free options. Just make sure to include a key, particularly if you have both vegan and vegetarian dishes.

4. Listen to customer feedback

If you’re a meat eater, it can be difficult to figure out which dishes your vegan diners will enjoy. Instead of guessing, ask for customer feedback. Print out a short survey and place it on each table, poll your followers on social media, and send a digital survey to your email list.

Consider testing new meal ideas using a rotating plant-based menu. An ever-changing lineup gives your chef the opportunity to experiment with new dishes, and you’ll have the chance to see how customers respond to different items.

What are examples of plant-based meals?

Not sure where to start? Find inspiration in a few of the top 2022 food trends:

  • California rolls
  • caesar salad
  • Hash browns
  • Edamame
  • Onion rings

When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with vegan classics. Dishes such as eggplant Parmesan, veggie burritos, black bean burgers, roasted vegetable sandwiches, and minestrone soup are sure to please both plant-based and meat-eating customers.

Plant-based dishes are also predicted to make a splash in 2023. One of the top plant-based ingredients diners are looking for is non-dairy milk. Here are the top milk alternatives that were ordered on Grubhub in 2022:

  1. Oat Milk
  2. Almond Milk
  3. Coconut Milk
  4. Soy Milk
  5. Cashew Milk

Reach more customers with plant-based dishes

As plant-based diets become more popular, restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options are in high demand. In fact, in 2022, vegan dishes were some of the most popular delivery items ordered on Grubhub. Services like Grubhub make it easier to reach plant-focused diners — restaurants like PS Kitchen have used the platform to expand their reach and increase sales. With beautiful, vibrant photos that showcase the natural colors and textures of the vegetables, you can do the same. Ready to reach more plant-based diners? Join Grubhub today.