How to be a Plant-Based Restaurant (+ 10 Great Examples)
As the world becomes increasingly conscious of its impact on the environment, plant-based dining has become more and more popular. Whether you're an aspiring vegan restaurateur or a long-time restaurant owner looking to add some fresh menu items, this article has you covered.
Becoming a plant-based restaurant isn't just about swapping out animal products for vegetables – it's about creating dishes that are equally delectable as they are mindful. In this article, we'll walk you through the essential steps to transform your restaurant into a place plant-based customers want to frequent. From a look at the state of the industry, to how to create a plant-based menu, we’ll discuss it all. We'll also take a look at 10 exemplary plant-based restaurants that have perfected the art of plant-based flavors.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Why Offer Plant-Based Menu Items
At the 2023 National Restaurant Show, we learned that the case for restaurants offering plant-based menu items is stronger than ever. This can be attributed to a few different reasons.
Nutritional popularity: First, many consumers are becoming more health-conscious. Plant-based dishes can be low in saturated fats and high in essential nutrients, appealing to health-conscious diners. Health and wellness are in! Capitalize on it.
Animal welfare: Second, there’s an increase in awareness of animal welfare issues. This has led many consumers to opt for plant-based alternatives. Offering these options demonstrates a commitment to ethical dining and resonates with a compassionate customer base. People care about the creatures we share this planet with, and you should acknowledge that.
Dietary Diversity: Plant-based options can cater to a wide range of dietary restrictions and preferences. This includes vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets. Inclusivity ensures that restaurants can accommodate a diverse clientele. Why not make your restaurant one that everyone can enjoy?
Next, let’s dive into plant-based foods growing popularity, and how to find the best vegan-friendly ingredients for your restaurant.
State of the Industry: Plant-Based Restaurants
So how many restaurants are offering plant-based menu options anyway? Let’s take a look at the state of the industry: plant-based edition.
Plant-based foods can now actually be found in about 48.4% of US restaurants. Since 2012, the presence of plant-based alternatives on menus has increased by a stunning 62%. This number has consistently grown – without decline – from about 30% ten years ago. In fact, almost one-third of the US population shows a strong affinity for plant-based food.
And how are sales for these eateries exploring plant-based options? According to PBFA, nearly all (95%) of operators offering plant-based foods and beverages anticipate sales to either increase or remain stable in the coming year. And a whopping four times as many foodservice operators plan to increase plant-based options in 2023 than to remove them. Essentially, we can expect vegan options to continue to grow in popularity.
How do you find the right plant-based meat or vegan products for your specific cuisine type? We’ve got you covered.
Restaurant Operator Insights Report
Vegan dishes and flavors have come a long way. Today, there are many different meatless and vegan ingredient products on the market. Thanks to brands like Impossible, Just Egg, and Temptation Vegan Soft Serve, plant-based dishes don’t have to just taste like veggies. These creations make it almost taste like you’re eating the real thing!
It’s important to do research on the ingredients that you may use daily for your plant-based recipes. Not all plant-based ingredients taste the same, and it’s essential to experiment with different options to find the ingredients that suit your vegetarian dishes best. For example, vegan cheese comes in many different forms. However, Treeline Cheese is known for being one of the tastiest options and has a selection of spreadable cheeses, whereas Go Veggie doesn’t spread quite like the real thing. Depending on what vegan meal you’re whipping up, one type of cheese may be better than the other.
Also, plant-based ingredient prices tend to fluctuate just like regular groceries do. Make sure to check out our ingredient price pages. Here you can see trends and fluctuations for ingredient prices based on proprietary Toast data:
How to Create a Plant-Based Menu for your Restaurant
Whether you’re building an entire vegan menu or just curating a couple of options for your plant-based diet customers, there are some factors to consider. Your menu is what will make your food business stand out from the competition – here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started.
Plant-Based Food Vendors
As we mentioned earlier, vegan ingredients and products have come a long way. Even the average consumer can find an array of plant-based products at their local Whole Foods or average grocery store. However, when it comes to sourcing high-quality plant-based ingredients for restaurants, several vendors stand out.
One of the leading names in the industry is Beyond Meat. Beyond Meat uses ingredients like pea protein, rice protein, and dried yeast to create some of the best meatless options on the market. They offer everything from burgers and steaks to beef crumbles and breakfast sausage.
Another exceptional vendor in the plant-based food industry is Danone, a multinational food company that specializes in dairy-free products like yogurt and Silk milk. Overall, there are many different vendors offering plant-based “meat” products, dairy-free milk and cheese, and so much more. It’s essential your restaurant business researches the best plant-based vendors for your specific recipes and budget.
Make Flavor the Primary Goal
By distinguishing your restaurant through tasty and creative plant-based dishes, you can stand out in a crowded market and capture a loyal customer base. Similarly, your restaurant can appeal to a broader customer base. Not only will you attract vegetarians and vegans, but also individuals who might simply be looking to reduce their meat consumption. Flavorful plant-based options can entice carnivores to explore plant-based choices, thereby expanding your restaurant's reach.
Competitive pricing makes plant-based menu items more accessible to a wider range of customers. It can attract not individuals who may be curious about plant-based dining. Lower prices can entice potential customers to try plant-based options without feeling like they are making a significant financial commitment.
There's also a perception that plant-based dining is more expensive than traditional meat-based meals. 36% of people said they would be willing to pay more for plant-based food products. However, this doesn’t mean you should necessarily price them higher if you don’t need to.
By pricing competitively, your restaurant can challenge this perception. This movement can demonstrate that plant-based options can be affordable. This can also help break down barriers to entry for those who are hesitant to try plant-based foods due to cost concerns. Make sure you’re turning a profit, but the industry should be aiming towards equal pricing in the future.
Menu Engineering Worksheet
How to Market your Plant-Based Restaurant
The hashtag #veganfood on Instagram has about 30 million posts. Needless to say, people are posting plant-based dishes on social media. Consider posting about your new dietary-friendly menu options on your restaurant’s Instagram account. You can effectively use social media to connect with your target audience, build a strong online presence, and promote your offerings.
Some social media tips to consider:
Use strong imagery - take some time with your photography to showcase the vibrant colors and details in your dishes
Point out the flavor - as we discussed, flavor is important when it comes to plant-based foods. Use flavorful adjectives in your captions.
Include your restaurant’s location - both in the post and in your Instagram bio. This way, if a user comes across your food post they can find where to visit you.
Tag relevant accounts - such as local plant-based content creators, sister restaurants, and foodie accounts. This will create some natural impressions on your post.
Make it interactive - by asking a question in your post or starting a contest. Giveaways are a great way to get reposts and impressions on your account.
Remember that each social media platform has its own best practices and audience demographics, so tailor your content and approach accordingly. Building a strong and engaging social media presence can help your plant-based restaurant attract new customers, retain existing ones, and contribute to your overall success.
The words you choose to convey your offerings matter more than you think. Effective messaging can help differentiate your establishment in a competitive market. Aim to communicate your commitment to plant-based principles and values, attracting a loyal customer base. Storytelling and appealing descriptions can also make plant-based dishes sound more enticing. Intentional messaging can create a narrative around your menu items, making them more appealing to a broader audience.
Because plant-based foods are relatively new, it’s also crucial that you test different messaging when listing your new menu items. For example, compare the descriptions “meatless hamburger” and “plant-powered burger”. Which one do you prefer? Most people would probably choose the second option. Consider words that highlight provenance, are familiar, and emphasize the quality.
Get your local community involved
Getting the local community involved is an excellent marketing strategy for plant-based restaurants. It can help build a loyal customer base, enhance the restaurant's reputation, and contribute to the overall success of the business. Consider hosting community events like cooking classes, tastings, or workshops that engage the local community. This provides an opportunity for residents to connect with your restaurant and learn more about plant-based dining.
Another great option is to participate in or host fundraisers or charity events that benefit local organizations. This demonstrates your commitment to the community and its well-being. You can also collaborate with other local businesses, such as breweries, or cafes, to create special promotions that contribute to local organizations. Your local community is what keeps your business afloat, and it’s important to give back.
Guide to Restaurant Social Media Marketing
10 Examples of Amazing Plant-Based Restaurants
1. Soda Club - New York City
Soda Club is a Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded Vegan Wine & Pasta Bar, located in Alphabet City in Manhattan. Their menu includes a wide natural wine selection and all plant-based Italian dishes. Soda Club is a beautiful restaurant known for providing friendly service and a date-night atmosphere.
What makes Soda Club stand out is how delicious yet simple their menu is. Offering 6 different authentic yet vegan pasta options you wouldn’t even know are vegan is perfect for the small restaurant. This flavor-packed restaurant is a must-try. Check them out on Instagram (@sodaclubnyc) for more Vegan, Italian inspiration.
2. Slutty Vegan - multiple locations
If you don’t already know about Slutty Vegan...what are you doing? Pinky Cole, CEO and Founder of The Slutty Vegan started making her vegan burgers from her apartment in 2018 via Instagram sale. She then began to fulfill orders around Atlanta from a mobile food truck and then opened up a store with a crowd of 1,200 gathered outside in 45-degree weather for the grand opening. Now, today she has 11 locations!
The Slutty Vegan makes burgers made with Impossible or BeyondMeat that are all served with “slutty fries”, french fries with their signature slut dust. What sets Slutty Vegan apart is the flavor of their burgers. They’ve crafted sandwiches that genuinely taste delicious, not just good for a vegan burger. Stay up to date with them on Instagram (@sluttyveganatl).
3. Spicy Moon - New York City
Spicy Moon is the biggest vegan restaurant in NYC and serves vegetarian Szechuan dishes- yum! Spicy Moon has three locations: Bowery, West Village, and East Village. Spicy Moon believes in defending animals because they can’t defend themselves. This restaurant hosts lots of specials that donate to animal causes. For example, in August they ran a “Ryder’s Manhattan” drink special and all proceeds from every drink went to PETA’s work to shut down horse carriages!
Spicy Moon is built on a purpose and a passion for animals, but what keeps customers coming back is their incredible food. People come from all over to try their Dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, and kung pao tofu. If you want to support a restaurant with a mission while also enjoying delicious vegetable dumplings, Spicy Moon is a must-try.
4. Vedge - Philadelphia
Located in Philadelphia, Vedge is a vegetable restaurant by James Beard-nominated Chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby that’s been around since 2011. It offers a fine dining experience inspired by seasonal vegetables and global flavors. Vedge also features a wide selection of natural wines, craft beers, and cocktails. These bar offerings have all been selected to complement the wide range of flavors from the dinner menu.
What makes Vedge unique is how much their menu changes by season. They use ingredients from local farms and as the seasons change, so do the flavors. Their menu features entrees such as their Arepa pancake with salt roasted chioggia beets, whipped black garlic, smoked tofu & cucumber chimichurri. You can go see their beautiful dishes on Instagram (@vedgephiladelphia).
5. Avant Garden - New York City
Avant Garden has been a plant-based restaurant located in the Ukrainian Village in Manhattan since 2015. Avant Garden produces some of New York’s most beloved vegan dishes with global natural wines. With an emphasis on fresh vegetables and global flavors, Avant Garden is an essential plant-based restaurant in the NYC restaurant scene.
Avant Garden exemplifies how plant-based dining can still be a fine dining experience for any type of guest, vegan or not. This beautiful restaurant is one of a kind. You can gather some inspiration from their Instagram (@avantgardennyc).
6. Ladybird - New York City
This one’s a fun one! Ladybird is a vegan tapas and wine bar located in the East Village in Manhattan. Open since 2016, Ladybird offers a seasonally rotating menu that highlights fresh produce and delicious wine cocktails.
This restaurant is just as pretty as it is delicious! Proving that vegan food can fit into any type of restaurant concept, this tapas bar is amazing. We highly recommend you check out their bao buns appetizer and vegan fried eggplant large plate. Take a peek at their colorful Instagram here (@ladybird_nyc).
7. Kate’s Ice Cream - Portland
We wouldn’t forget to include an ice cream shop! Kate’s Ice Cream is both plant-based and gluten-free. This ice cream shop was inspired by the founder’s little sister who couldn’t consume dairy. The goal here was simple, ice cream for everyone! Kate’s Ice Cream works with local makers and farmers to curate delicious flavors that all will enjoy.
Kate’s flavors shift with the seasons, bringing you the tastiest flavors year-round. For example, in the summer you can find the following flavors at their Portland store:
Peach Crisp - juicy fresh peach ice cream with housemade oat crisp and peach preserves
Cotton Candy - your favorite fluffy sweet treat as an ice cream
Berry Blast - fresh Oregon blackberries with strawberry crisp
Almond Joy - just like the candy bar! Shredded coconut, almonds, and chocolate
Uh, yes, please! You can stay up to date with new flavors on their Instagram (@katesicecream).
8. Cadence - New York City
Sometimes finding plant-based Southern comfort food can be difficult. If you feel this way too, you need to check out Cadence, located in The East Village of Manhattan. Cadence is a plant-based restaurant with Southern soul. Executive Chef Shenarri Freeman, a James Beard Award Nominee, combines her Virginia upbringing with her vegan ethos to create a delicious Southern menu while remaining healthy and sustainable.
If you’re not already obsessed with this restaurant, take a peek at their Instagram (@cadence.newyork) to see their interior. Cadence has a lovely ambiance to take in while you enjoy Southern fried lasagna, maple buttermilk cornbread, and smoked grits of course!
9. Ramen Hood - Los Angeles
For all our LA-based readers these last two restaurants are for you! Ramen Hood serves vegan ramen in Grand Central Market in LA. Developed by Chefs Ilan Hall and Rahul Khopkar, Ramen Hood features an array of soups and noodle bowls topped with faux eggs (made with soy), sprouts, black garlic, and sunflower seed broth. They also serve fusion dishes like banh mi poutine and tofu al pastor tacos.
Ramen Hood is a great example of how all different types of foods of different cuisines can be made plant-based. They also exemplify the variety the plant-based restaurant industry displays today, being located in a casual setting like this food market. Check out Ramen Hood on Instagram (@ramenhood) to learn more today.
10. Gracias Madre - Los Angeles
Last but certainly not least, we Gracias Madre. This Mexican plant-based restaurant is also located in California (they also have a Newport Beach location) and is well known for its delicious tacos. Dedicated to diffuser-free agave spirits, Gracias Madre also highlights independent producers and small-batch distillers in Mexico. This is a fantastic restaurant if you want to try delicious food and drinks, all with local flavors.
Gracias Madre was born out of love for the planet we live on, and this is reflected in their menu offerings. Some amazing items include:
Ranchero bowl: roasted garlic oyster mushrooms, spinach, rice, pasilla black beans, tomato, chimichurri, lemon cauliflower, grilled jalapeño & onions
Mushroom fajitas: portobellos, criminis, peppers, onions, cashew crema, pico de gallo, guacamole, salsa chipotle, rice, beans, flour tortillas
Be sure to follow them on Instagram (@graciasmadresocal) for some fresh, Mexican inspiration.
Built for plant-based restaurants, built for you
Plant-based restaurants have the power to transform the way guests think about food. These 10 examples showcased in this article show how plant-based cuisine can be delicious, diverse, and affordable. As the demand for plant-based foods continues to increase, consider other ethical options for your restaurant like sustainability and composting.
To further streamline and enhance your plant-based restaurant's operations, explore innovative restaurant software products such as those offered by Toast. From efficient menu management to seamless online ordering, Toast's products can help you elevate your restaurant. Set your plant-based restaurant up for success with the right restaurant technology today.
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