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Vegetarians, vegans and the veto vote

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

According to the theory of the “veto vote,” groups of diners will often opt for the eatery that best serves the pickiest among them, and the picky one may well be the vegetarian or vegan in the group. Very often, that person is tired of passing up the vegetable soup because it’s made with chicken stock, settling for a less-than-satisfactory salad or smiling through the thrown-together pasta dish while their fellow guests get balanced meals that include creatively prepared proteins.

As a small-but-growing number of consumers identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, and recent surveys show more Americans are trying to eat less meat, the debate is heating up between those who advocate offering more meatless menu options and those who fall into the “you can’t please everyone” camp.

On the side of the veto vote

Advocates argue that adding tastier and more substantial meatless and vegan menu items will be good for business, drawing in families and groups looking for eateries that offer something to satisfy everyone. Huffington Post writer and “Veganist” author Kathy Freston made this argument, among others, in a column last week advocating for restaurants to heed the call of vegetarians and vegans looking for “real” restaurant meals that include creatively prepared non-meat proteins.

Freston, inspired to write the piece after yet-another meal with friends that left her hungry, also uses the cult of vegan celebrities to make her point and offers hard data on the growing number of Americans who aren’t strictly vegetarian but are opting for meatless meals more often. Further, she says, thoughtfully prepared vegan options are likely to appeal to more than just the herbivore at the table.

“In fact, I’ve noticed that when I can finagle something interesting from the chef (assuming the waiter bothers to approach him with the request) that is both hearty and healthy, nine out of ten times most of the people at the table will say, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’”

Restaurants can’t please everyone, and shouldn’t try

Blogger Kate Hopkins at the Healthy Hedonist takes issue with some of Freston’s points, starting with the concept of the veto vote and the role it should have when it comes to creating restaurant menus.  The veto vote theory can’t overcome a much older business principle – no company can please everyone, she writes.

It’s a point well understood by burger-intensive quickservice chains, the vast majority of which still can’t justify adding vegetarian protein options to the menu until demand increases or their veggie burgers or other non-meat entrees become a draw that drives traffic through the door, according to a QSRWeb story this week.

On Healthy Hedonist, Hopkins acknowledges that it often pays for chefs to get creative to come up with vegan options that are likely to appeal to a wider group, but cautions that they run the risk of turning off the majority of their guests if they try to replace meat-based ingredients such as butter with vegan alternatives.

“Restaurants are not in business to please everyone,” Hopkins writes. “It’s impossible and impractical. So that means that people whose tastes differ from the owner and/or chef of any given restaurant are simply going to have to learn to compromise or lose out on the experience of that restaurant.”

Have you added meat-free options to your menu? Are they proving popular or falling flat? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image credit: ma-k via iStock