With some diners looking to cut back on the amount of meat they eat, it’s time to take another look at your menu – are you providing the right options to cater to this shift? Even if you have created new plant-based dishes for your menu, have you been implementing the right food and beverage marketing ideas to ensure that they stand out well enough?
A proportion of your diners may already be avoiding meat for religious or ethical reasons, and others for the impact on the environment. Also, since Covid-19, people are increasingly focused on their health.
Now, all that’s left is to use your delightful creations to attract more diners to your restaurant – especially those who are on meat-free diets.
Before you start producing posters and social media content about how amazing your new meat-free dish is, have a look at our 7 tips on how to promote your plant-based dishes.
1. Make your plant-based dishes obvious in your menu without having a separate section for it
Did you know the majority of diners who choose plant-based meat dishes are actually omnivores? In fact, our studies show that over 90% of diners who eat The Vegetarian Butcher’s plant-based meats identify as “meat eaters”.
Don’t separate your vegetarian and vegan choices in a different section, as that can make meat-eaters skip the section altogether. Instead, integrate them into the regular menu and make ordering meat-free dishes simple by labelling the vegetarian and vegan dishes on your menu.
This also meant ensuring that you don’t name a dish “meat-free”, “vegetarian” or “vegan”. Instead, use terms like “plant-based”. It’s an accurate description that’s helpful to diners… and your bottom line!
Don’t Use This Term! Here’s Why: Meat-free While a plant-based item labelled “meat-free” may appeal to vegetarians and vegans, it may scare meat-lovers away from a delicious and healthy decision. Focusing on what a dish is not like prevents the consumer from imagining what it could be like and how fantastic it is. Vegan You can indicate vegan recipes with a vegan symbol on the menu so that your vegan customers can find them. However, when a recipe is labelled “vegan,” it isolates non-vegans instantly. Subconsciously, non-vegan consumers may think it is less tasty than non-vegan dishes, or at least, it isn’t made for them specifically. Vegetarian For the same reasons the word “vegan” is not optimal, “vegetarian” also creates an “in-group” and “out-group” in consumers’ minds. Health-restrictive terms like “low fat” Studies show that restrictive language has low appeal. Consumers are more interested in the nutrients, taste and benefits of their meal – not what it is lacking.
In case you’re wondering, “How will vegetarian and vegan diners identify the dishes that are suitable for them, now that all the mains are grouped together?” Simply use small icons to differentiate plant-based dishes from those with meat in them.
You can label your vegetarian and vegan dishes easily with symbols and a key. Alternatively, you can design your dishes to be flexible to allow you to simply remove a meat item from the final dish if a diner asks for it!
The same applies to the online world – don’t forget to update your menu on your website and social channels so anyone researching menu options beforehand knows they will be catered to.
2. Cater to vegans and vegetarians
This is not as challenging as you think! Yes, you’ll lose some weapons in your cooking arsenal that give food richness and texture – butter, cream, and eggs for example – but this is an opportunity to rethink your approach. Teach your staff the difference between vegetarian and vegan dishes too, so they can confidently advise your customers. They need to know that they can trust you.
So what is vegetarian vs vegan?
Vegetarian means eating plant-based foods, with no meat, poultry or seafood
- There are a few different types of vegetarians:
- Ovo-lacto (or lacto-ovo) vegetarians eat eggs and dairy
- Lacto vegetarians eat dairy foods
- Ovo vegetarians eat eggs
- Pescatarians eat fish
- Vegan means eating plant-based foods only, and is free from all meat & seafood, as well as all animal products and all animal-derived products, such as dairy, eggs and honey. Animal products can come in many surprising forms, including gelatine-based products commonly used when cooking.
- Semi-vegetarian/flexitarian means eating mainly plant-based foods, with occasional meat as well
If you have many vegetarian and vegan diners (who need to accurately identify food that meets their very specific dietary preference), include icons for these types of dishes, too.
3. Make the most of going meat-free
Meat-free is mainstream! If you want to shout about your evolving menu, you can run special events such as ‘Meatless Mondays’ or have a month where you promote (and discount) vegan dishes to draw attention to what you’re doing.
Try to include at least one vegetarian or vegan option in your specials or limited time offerings. Let them take pride of place in your main menu. Add meatless dishes to your chalkboard outside the premises to help drum-up passing patrons.
4. Push the plant proteins
‘Plant proteins’ have become a bit of a buzzword, so where you can, shout it out on your menu. You can also draw attention to other plant-based benefits such as the calorie count, or that your plant protein is low fat or contains ‘heart-healthy’ fats. This might really swing it for some diners.
5. Experiment with meat-less meat
Some diners going meat-free will still want the taste and texture of meat. There are loads of new and not-so-new 'meat-alternative' products available that make for pretty convincing meaty burgers and sausages, ‘chicken’ and deli-style ‘meats’, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, and soy chunks. This is a plus point, not something to hide – so promote it on your specials, and through your social media. You can also use ingredients with a naturally ‘meaty’ texture, such as pulses, mushrooms, eggplant and jackfruit.
Use “Powered by The Vegetarian Butcher” logo in your menu for recognition
The Vegetarian Butcher is a longstanding brand that has global recognition, especially among consumers of plant-based meat. According to a study conducted in the Netherlands in October 2020, The Vegetarian Butcher is the number one brand in its category (in the Netherlands), and is the most widely recognised of all the “animal meat replacement” brands.
This brand recognition will give your diners assurance of your plant-based meat’s safety, quality and taste.
6. Plan your menu well with creative names and great descriptions
In your menu titles and descriptions, go big on the lip-smacking tastiness of what you’re offering! Put some time into wording your dishes well – try to tease the diner with your descriptions.
Creative and witty dish names, like “Holy Cow Burger” or “English Breakfast with Little Willies” can make a dish really stand out. They’re also more memorable and more fun diners to share and talk about with friends or on social media.
Use This Language! Here’s Why: Leverage a food’s provenance, like this: “Cuban Black Bean Soup” or “Chicago Deep Dish Pizza” Studies show that consumers are more excited about food and feel it is more of experience when it describes a specific location. Focus on flavour with terms like “smoky”, ”fiery”, or “sour” The more you can give the consumer a taste of a dish, the more likely they are to order it. Don’t name the dish based on its ingredients. The more descriptive about the flavour you can be, the better. Words that demonstrate the food’s appearance or texture, like “rainbow”, “vibrant”, “melt-in-mouth”, or “smooth” Plant-rich foods are brightly colourful, and they bring fresh textures to the table. Words that convey a beautiful dining experience will contradict any concern of a bland or boring meal.1
Remember, however delicious your dish is, if it doesn’t sound appetizing on paper, it won’t convert to orders. For this reason, have an outside party review your written menu to make sure it’s as captivating as it can be.
And while the health-factor is definitely a draw for some, not everyone is looking for the low-calorie virtuous option when they eat out. Any health benefits should be presented as an added bonus.
7. Social Media & Marketing
As technology becomes an integral part of our lives, it has never been more important to have an online presence and to make sure your customers can not only find you digitally, but that they enjoy the experience as much as they would physically. Having a social media presence for your restaurant is a great first step to build your brand online, in addition to having a website, along with perfecting your food photography skills.
After all, it’s always important to implement strategies that will consistently maximise your income and ensure that the business remains sustainable.
Bonus: Extra tips on how to make your plant-based dishes sell
- Train your staff on how to sell plant-based dishes: Equip your wait staff with the knowledge to answer common questions about plant-based meats. These are usually related to taste, ingredients and health.
- Make these dishes look like their meaty counterparts: Seeing is believing. That’s why making your plant-based dishes look similar to their animal meat counterparts, can quickly convince meat-loving diners (whether they’re meat eaters or flexitarians) to give your new plant-based dishes a try. Once they’re hooked, they’ll be asking you to include more plant-based dishes into your menu!
At the end of the day, marketing your plant-based meat dishes should be similar to promoting your animal meat dishes – where you focus on great taste, texture and flavours, rather than aspects like health or being cruelty-free. You can let diners decide on those aspects themselves, you just need to whet their appetite with dishes that look, smell and taste amazing!
"The content of this article is intended for inspiration purposes only. It is not intended as clinical, medical or nutritional advice."