The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

TIPS FOR RESTAURANTS CATERING TO A VEGAN DIET

Posted on February 22, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

GEDC0313

By Angie Riccio

Since working in kitchens and eating out at kitchens has consumed my life, I have seen the best and worst scenarios when it comes to an allergen or vegan friendly kitchen, and have put my experiences into what I hope helps your establishment get on the right track to a friendly dining experience for all.

Working at a restaurant is one of the most stressful and satisfying jobs you can take on. You are not only in-charge of producing a delicious meal in a timely manner, but you are also in charge of making or breaking a relationship with a new customer. Catering to a customer’s needs can be a challenge when your kitchen and staff are not prepared, but easy when you have the right tools and mindset. In 2016, the world is changing at a rapid pace where each customer who walks in the door could have an allergy, a lifestyle choice, or a religious devotion to why they need your help while ordering.

To aid in keeping your business vibrant, taking a few steps so your kitchen is vegan friendly can help you prepare for whatever curveball is thrown your way Sunday morning during the brunch rush.

SANITATION:
When you start cooking at home, you make sure you start with a clean kitchen in order to produce the best product. When you go to a restaurant, you hope for the same, or an even better environment. The idea of going out to eat has become the idea that you are taking the night off from cleaning and want someone else to get their hands dirty. The customers judge an establishment from the moment they walk in. Are the tables dirty? Is the staff well kept? Are the floors clean? And most of all, if I can see the kitchen, is it clean? If any of the answers are no, society begins to question how they are producing a non cross contaminated meal if the sanitation standards are so low. I know for a fact I am not the only person who feels this way. Living with a carnivore means I am on constant clean up, but never afraid of cross contamination or somehow eating meat when I was supposed to be eating a veggie burger. Sanitation can be difficult and the last thought on your mind during a busy Friday night rush, but a few simple rules to keep in mind will keep your guests happy and healthy and the kitchen in great shape for when customers arrive.

1. Clean as you go. Just like at home, clean every surface as you cook.

2. Use separate tools for separate needs. A meat cutting board, versus a vegan, a meat frying pan versus a vegetarian friendly one, etc. Although it can become expensive for the kitchen it will erase any doubt that the meal is not vegan friendly. The money will be earned back in no time if your customers are happy and continue to come back.

3. Separate sanitation buckets for non vegan and vegan clean up. If you are cleaning off a counter with a rag recently cleaning up blood from steak, there is a chance of leaving a trace. Keeping it separate erases all stress.

4. Never, rush. If you rush a meal and have any doubts of cross contamination, start over. The guest would most definitely rather wait than feel like their lifestyle is disrespected.

5. Keep the overall kitchen and restaurant clean. A clean environment is a great way of showing that you are careful when producing your dishes.

6. Do not be afraid to be honest. Most people want to hear if you use the same grill, cutting boards and utensils for each dish. Let the customer be the one to decide if they want to dine there.

Show me what you’re working with:
When you place your order at a restaurant you are leaving your order in the hands of another human being to produce completely vegan friendly. When kitchens such as As220 in Providence, RI have an open kitchen where you are able to watch your meal be prepped and cooked before your eyes, you feel a sense of reassurance. As220 is a small local restaurant, show venue, and art gallery which ties in local beer, wine, produce, and meat from New England with an alternative twist. With a relatively small menu, they offer a separate completely vegan menu cultivated from comfort food such as mac and cheese, to a fancy seitan cutlet served for two. As220 cooks all of their food on a line that is visible for guests to see. During a slower lunch service the chefs will ask you to come over to the line, to see if you would like to add any other fresh toppings to your burger or salad and to show you just what you are about to consume. With labeled pans, sectioned off grill areas for vegan friendly dishes, you are able to feel a sense of respect. Every meal has a description of just what is going inside of the dish, including any micro-ingredients. The cooks are always willing to substitute, make suggestions, give explanations, and make your dining experience out of this world.

Other restaurants will have an open grill, showing you what they are adding to the food, as well as how it is prepared; however, they often forget to only cook vegan or vegetarian food in one restricted area causing cross contamination. Chain restaurants and hibachi bars will have open grills but due to the volume of food they are producing and the time frame they are expected to get dishes out, your meal is being cooked alongside meat dishes or on a grill that may not be clean enough to consider your meal vegan. If a restaurant is looking to step up their game when it comes to showing the guest how they work and what is going into their food there are a few options to consider.

1. Table side service. If the dish is simple like preparing guacamole, a salad or sauce, bring it to the table to prepare causing not only a vegan meal but a show helping you get a more impressed, returning customer.

2. If your grill or open kitchen cannot be vegan friendly, considering cooking on a separate pan on top of the grill, labeled. This one extra step takes no time at all, and will keep customers happy.

3. Keeping the open kitchen clean shows the customer that you care about them. Working on a dirty grill should never be acceptable, not just because I can see it, but because it is careless.

4. If you do not have any open kitchen, make sure you are willing to help your customer order a delicious meal and what ingredients you are putting inside the meal, what the work station looks like and that you are willing to go through the measures to make sure the meal is 100% vegan friendly.

Helping your guests will only help you have happy repeat customers!

ATTITUDE
When you first walk into your favorite restaurant, what is the vibe? Are you greeted by an inviting staff member, or walked promptly to your table with a smile? Whether it’s a seat yourself, order at the counter, or host setting, you are still invited in with certain care that keeps you returning. Whether it’s a special you have questions on or the everyday menu, typically if this is your go-to-establishment they have all the answers, suggestions, and know what you need to help satisfy your hunger. The other side of the spectrum however is filled with a staff and a restaurant that gives you an attitude that is unexplainable and unforgivable. People go out to eat in all different moods: happy, hungry, running late, upset, and while celebrating. No matter the mood, they often want great service and to leave in a better mood than when they arrived. Customer service will either make or break your company. Owning a business, or managing a restaurant means you are in control of the attitude. Making sure each staff member understands the importance of treating every customer, vegan or not, like royalty is your job will set the bar higher. When you are catering to your guest, no amount of needs, questions or complaints should cause you to give a bad attitude if you want repeat customers. When it comes to having the right attitude:

1. Hire the right staff. Not everyone belongs in the industry. Make sure you spend time getting to know your staff and your new hires to make sure they are a right fit before letting them in front of your guests.

2. Train the staff properly. Businesses typically do not spend enough time training their staff on the ins and outs of the restaurant. Giving your employees the right tools to make the right choices will only help your guests feel more at home.

3. Do not be afraid to hire, and rehire staff. If someone who was wonderful leaves your place of business, it is ok to hire them back. If someone is not cut out for the job, it is ok to let them go. Having the power to control your restaurant will only give you the power to keep your doors open longer.

4. Set by example. Do as you want done, and do not be afraid to express your dreams. This is your place of work. Make the best out of it.

5. Encourage your staff to take on the role of personally making each guest’s day better. As I like to say, go above and beyond. It is your paycheck, your tip, and your business that the customer controls. Don’t mess it up!

SHOW ME YOU CARE:
I have had multiple experiences when after I inform the restaurant where I am dining at that I am vegan and will need to avoid certain foods and by-products, the manager has arrived at my table within minutes to inform me that they are taking my request into great care. Showing your guest that you cared enough to not just enter in your dietary restrictions into the POS system, but went the extra mile to inform your manager of the concern, shows me you care. Most of the time the manager comes over to the table when there is an error with the food you have received. The idea that the manager comes over before a mistake happens really shows the team went the extra mile to ensure my happiness. When the wait staff takes the time to ask questions, talk to the kitchen or another staff member about what a meal includes, that shows they care.

When it comes to a vegan lifestyle, at least for myself, if I were to accidentally eat animal products I feel emotionally upset. For someone to take you serious without an allergy, really shows the restaurant’s values. There is a pub local to Boston, titled The Yard House. They have an entire vegetarian menu using meat substitutes from Gardein. Every time I order off of the menu, they make sure to ask, am I vegan or vegetarian and if there are any questions I have about the menu while ordering. My meal is then brought over by the manager to ensure me what I ordered is what I am receiving. I am now very loyal to the Yard House and have never been disappointed with a visit. I have a number of experiences at other establishments where I am ignored, my requests are not entered in the POS, and the wait staff ends up feeling guilty and I end up sick. The restaurants that put the effort and time into every guest are the ones I feel confident recommending to my vegan and non vegan friends.

KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK:
After hiring and training a happy staff, keeping your kitchen clean and professional and showing care for your clients, you are on your way to a well-run restaurant! The rest of it relies on passion. Throughout my years of working in the industry and school I have found a number of people with a love for food. By being a true foodie, you must love all food, causing you to challenge yourself to eating all food groups and preparing meals that satisfy all needs. One of my housemates throughout college was a meat eating, butcher with a love for food. He to this day, will venture to any vegan restaurant with me, and prepare me meals that are better than I could make myself. His love and commitment to creating perfect meals has helped him throughout his career. He has taught coworkers and classmates how to work with allergen friendly, vegan, and vegetarian products. With the passion and devotion to see all food as equal, and all guests as important, you are able to cater to everyone, including your restaurant. I am proud of my friend for paving the way in the culinary industry to ensure everyone’s meal is important, and conveying that as a chef it is your job to work with the clients to make their day the best day. I believe that the future has in store thousands of vegan friendly meals in every city, and foodies will be coming forward to help us enjoy a meal in every restaurant nationwide. As a customer, keep eating out, making suggestions, writing reviews, and speaking with the management staff on your experience. We all have a voice. Let’s use them.

For a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the country, see
http://www.vrg.org/restaurant/index.php

For more information helpful to restaurants and food services, see
http://www.vrg.org/fsupdate/index.htm

Leave a Reply


  • Donate

  • Subscribe to the blog by RSS

  • VRG-NEWS

    Sign up for our newsletter to receive recipes, ingredient information, reviews of new products, announcements of new books, free samples of products, and other VRG materials.

    Your E-mail address:
    Your Name (optional):



↑ Top