Plant-based diets are no longer just trending. In fact, in some regions, they’re rapidly becoming mainstream. According to Ipsos Retail Performance, a United Kingdom-based consumer insights company, in 2019 more than 9.7 million Americans ate vegan. That’s up from 290,000 in 2004.
Some attractions may only offer guests a salad, a meatless patty on a hamburger bun, or nothing vegan at all. In time, these venues may lose food and beverage (F&B) business when those who eat plant-based foods leave the attraction to find a more accommodating restaurant.
Three attractions with menus that cater to guests who don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, and other dairy items share with Funworld how they changed their F&B offerings.
Offer a Variety of Food Items
At Thorpe Park in Surrey, U.K., the team set a goal of increasing the number of F&B locations that are vegan-friendly.
“All restaurants and ‘grab and go’ units offer vegan dishes, and we continuously look at improving these menus,” says Mark Thorndycraft, head of F&B operations at Thorpe Park. “Our third-party partners have plenty of vegan offerings, including the new dedicated vegan and vegetarian unit launched in 2020 called The Veggie Box.”
The Veggie Box carries fresh falafel, wraps, meatless burgers, and fruit juice.
At the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, patrons at Gertrude’s Restaurant can savor a vegan superfood tamale that contains hemp hearts, chia seeds, quinoa, and flax seed worked into the masa. For brunch, the restaurant offers carrot hummus and smoked and fried tofu marinated in achiote and tamari. The pièce de resistance is its NextVeg burger made entirely of ingredients grown in Arizona, including the native tepary bean.
“Gertrude’s culinary team keeps close tabs on the ever-evolving menu trends and listens carefully to clientele input for direction,” explains Michelle Jacob, general manager of the restaurant. “All that information spurs menu changes each fall and spring, when key ingredients are the freshest.”
Due to COVID-19, the Safari Club at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, in Gulf Shores, Alabama, U.S., has had to pare down its vegan menu, but it still includes falafel, Korean-fried broccoli, a beet burger, and a barbecued mushroom burger.
Tori Maryott, general manager of the Safari Club, says the previous chef explained that when deciding on menu items, he took into consideration what the animals at the zoo ate and the cuisines from their countries of origin.
“We used to have a vegan BLT that used carrot bacon, and we hope to bring it back. It’s a delish replacement for bacon and doesn’t use a lot of soy fillers like most places do. It’s marinated, dehydrated carrot that provides the same filling sensation as bacon,” recalls Maryott.
Speaking of tying food into the attraction, Gertrude’s does that in spades. The lighter fare of plant-based foods bodes well to support the physical exertion needed to wander the Desert Botanical Garden grounds, says Jacob. The garden celebrates plant life, which a growing number of consumers are incorporating into their diets.
Use Food to Complement the Attraction
“Whilst not always the headline act, food is an incredibly important part of any day out,” says Thorndycraft. “It’s vital that the entire food experience positively contributes to the overall memorable visit our guests demand and deserve.”
Thorndycraft listens to guests’ comments so he and the team can strive to exceed their expectations. For them, it’s great to see a new concept succeed, particularly when its origins came directly from guest feedback, he says.
Jacob likes to think that Gertrude’s mirrors the Garden’s attributes, rendering vegan options that are deliberate and delicious.
“Our guests love it (the vegan offerings),” says Maryott. “We actually have lots of visitors who aren’t vegan yet choose our vegan options because they are so full of flavor.”
These attractions all mentioned that they didn’t have to spend a large amount of money to add vegan items to their menus. They also mostly relied on third-party vendors for researching what should be offered.
When considering changing a menu to incorporate vegan food, Maryott suggests, “Put yourself into a vegan’s mindset and consider what you would want to eat, keeping in mind the reasons people eat vegan (to save the animals and improve their health). That doesn’t mean removing flavor or compromising the quality of the ingredients.”
Experts say, there is no need to change an entire menu; instead incorporate some vegan-friendly options. Try to be a little more innovative and don’t just offer vegan-substitute products filled with soy fillers. The more creative, the better when looking to satisfy every palate.