Food for thought: catering for vegan guests

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Plant-based diets have grown hugely in popularity, but many hoteliers are failing to keep up, costing them potential customers. Here’s how to appeal to this growing demographic

Traditional dairy-heavy breakfasts and meat-focused dinners are rapidly falling from favour as people all over the globe try to reduce their consumption of animal products. Whether for ethical, health or religious reasons, plant-based diets have never been so popular.

Google searches for the term ‘vegan’ have increased three-fold in the last five years, and searches for ‘vegan hotel’ have doubled in the same period. In both the US and the UK, veganism has quadrupled in four years, with more than 1% of the population fully vegan and more than 3% vegetarian, and the stats are similar in countries all over the world, from Italy to Japan. No matter who your clientele, you’re likely to now be catering to many guests who want to avoid animal products.

Butter-free breakfasts

Serving breakfast to those maintaining plant-based diets means more than just taking away the bacon. Pastries often come slathered in butter, porridge topped with honey and yoghurts all made with cow’s milk – leaving vegan guests little to eat except bread and jam.

Photo: Brooke Lark

Photo: Brooke Lark

Boutique hotel La Suite West in London noticed an increasing number of guests seeking vegan options, so in July 2018 it opened the city’s first vegan French patisserie on-site, and now all of its meals, from breakfast to afternoon tea, are fully vegan.

“Our Roasted Plum French Toast is very popular on the breakfast menu, served with vegan yogurt and vegan honey,” says James Jude, General Manager. It also offers a vegan ‘Full English’ breakfast, rice pudding made with plant milk, and a butter-free tart tatin.

Vegan cuisine and cocktails

The luxury Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong tapped into the plant-based trend several years ago, and quickly found that by offering interesting plant-based choices revenue increased. Instead of going off-site, more guests now choose to eat at the hotel.

The growth of meat alternatives has opened up a whole new way of catering

“We have definitely seen an increase in requests for our vegetarian and vegan options across all of our restaurants,” says Alessandro Baccarelli, Director of Food and Beverage. “And the growth of meat alternatives - we use Impossible Burger - has opened up a whole new way of catering to vegetarians and vegans. The quality is high and allows us to craft the meat substitute into almost any dish where we would normally use ground meat.”

Quality is crucial and can make all the difference to your bottom line. Instead of just buying in bland vegan options or replacing animal protein with carbs, do taste tests with vegetarians and vegans to find out which dishes work before adding them to your menu.

Most accommodations now offer at least one alternative milk, from soy to oat, but don’t forget about the rest of your drinks menu. In the fining process of wines, beers and ciders, for example, fish bladders and egg proteins are commonly used, while cocktails are often made with cream-based liqueurs or egg whites.

The Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa in Alabama, USA has sourced an excellent vegan wine range from Napa Valley, California - Southern Roots wines. Wait staff are trained to point vegan guests to these award-winning wines and can also advise which cocktails are suited to their dietary requirements. By training staff and indicating clearly on your menu which drinks are vegan-friendly, more guests will feel confident drinking up.

Bed, bath and beyond

Many people want to avoid animal products altogether, and that includes in guestrooms and spas. Quite a few toiletry and spa products include animal sources, such as lanolin (sheep’s wool), musk, beeswax, glycerine (often from animal fat) and collagen (from animal skin, muscles and bones), while bedding and room decorations often utilise leather, bone, ivory, feathers and fur.

Photo: Christin Hume

Photo: Christin Hume

The self-catering venue Otro Mundo is a shining example of how to go fully vegan while appealing to everyone. The site offers three glamping domes in the mountains of southern Spain.

“We first went vegan for the animals, but you soon find out about the impact on our environment and our health,” says owner Lotte Mulder. They changed their breakfast boxes to include vegan protein sources, such as peanut butter and hummus, and plant-based milks. And on Wednesdays and Sundays, the communal porch transforms into a mini-vegan restaurant.

But they’ve gone beyond food and drink to ensure guests feel comfortable in all of their surroundings. “The whole venue is vegan - no leather, wool or other animal products are used anywhere on site - and it feels much more balanced.” It’s been so successful that many guests tell them that they plan to start making similar changes back home.

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Add vegan yogurts, milks, butters and protein alternatives at breakfast, such as peanut butter, guacamole, hummus, maple syrup and tofu scrambled eggs
Create interesting dinner options to appeal to all guests
Do taste tests before adding anything to your menu. Those on plant-based diets like food just as much as meat-eaters, so bland, tasteless options will see them looking elsewhere for sustenance
Watch out for animal products in your drinks, toiletries and furnishings, too, and consider creating vegan-friendly guest rooms and spa treatments