Someone called in advance and asked if we had a vegan menu. We have a couple of vegan items and others can be modified to be vegan by omitting cheese or butter. The server took her through those options. But what she wanted was an actual separate menu for vegans. Is this a reasonable expectation for restaurants now?
– Chef, Chicago
Knowledgeable and patient servers are key in helping guests with dietary restrictions navigate your menu. If every ingredient were listed on the menu, especially those included in packaged foods, it would take longer to read the menu than to enjoy the meal.
Traditionally, servers, upon asking or hearing about dietary restrictions, steer guests to options that would be appropriate for their diets or could be easily modified in coordination with the kitchen. This kind of communication is especially important as things that seem to be vegan—for example, a crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer—may in fact not be if fish sauce or honey is used in the dressing.
Because of the fluidity of technology and POS systems, challenges recruiting and retaining skilled front-of-house staff, and the ease of launching digital menus via QR code, I’m seeing more establishments separate out menus for frequently requested dietary restrictions, including vegetarian and vegan, gluten-free and allergen friendly.
My advice is that if you have sufficient variety and quantity of menu items to warrant a special menu, that you make one available.
There are multiple benefits to these specialized menus:
- Reduces opportunity for server error. Even a modestly sized menu requires a wealth of server knowledge. A menu specific to dietary needs removes the guessing game or mistakes, especially likely to happen during a busy service.
- Speeds ordering time. While a good server can help a guest more easily navigate the menu, a specialized menu will make it quicker and easier for guests to find what they are looking for and for servers to focus on other tables and providing hospitality. The time spent “checking with the kitchen” to see if a modification can be made is time away from guest service and sales.
- Makes guests feel welcome. The essence of hospitality is lost if guests have to wade through all of the options that they would not or cannot eat to find the gems that they want. By providing these items for them, you are showing your guests that they are welcome to dine (and spend).
As always, no single solution can exist in isolation. A specialized menu needs to be coupled with thoughtful menu design, server training and good data keeping on all menu items. But it can help your operation run smoothly and help more guests feel included.
More on specialized menus here.