5 ways operators are moving veggies center-of-plate

mediterranean bean salad
Bush's Best

Move over, nose-to-tail devotees. The long reign of animal proteins as the star of the plate is giving way to a root-to-leaf focus on plant ingredients, as consumers commit to upping their intake of vegetables and chefs figure out ways to present them in heartier, more appealing ways.

Vegetable-forward preparations hold appeal both to healthy diners and the growing ranks of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians. According to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report, consumers opting to order vegetarian or vegan substitutes are driven by a variety of factors, but the most common is health, cited by 68%. About half say they choose plant-based foods because they like them, and about the same order that way for better nutrition.

Demand has created an opening for operators to carve out space on their menu for vegetarian entrees. Successfully satisfying that demand calls for awareness of the possibilities:

Prep with perceived value in mind

Restaurants that want to charge entree prices for plates designed around vegetables need to step up their game when it comes to preparation. Treating vegetables like meat will elevate dishes to the level—and price point—of traditional entrees. Consider the likes of cauliflower “steak,” grilled eggplant, marinated veggie kebabs threaded with tofu, strudels with roasted vegetables and barbecued jackfruit.

Don’t miss photo ops

Spotlighting plant-based creations can add an unexpected lift to any menu. Dramatic, colorful, and in-season vegetables—juicy tomatoes, specialty items like striped beets, fiddlehead ferns, purple potatoes, pink lemons and other items—photograph better than any cut of meat. So do colorful vegetable lasagnas, terrines and puff pastry dishes. Options that attract social media attention accomplish two things: the beautiful plates delight guests, but they also promote your restaurant.

Pack the protein in

A sure way to create demand for more plant fare is to ensure a meal is filling, and sometimes veggies and salads just don’t cut it. Building plates around heartier plant foods such as beans, lentils, quinoa and other grains is a way to satisfy hungry guests as well as the protein-obsessed crowd. Mock meats—especially burgers made from various plant sources—are a way to satisfy customers who want to enjoy the taste and experience without the guilt.

Go the bowl route

Lunches built around bowls are tailor-made for plant-based ingredients—typically leaning heavily on greens, beans or grains, they form a healthy foundation for seasonal vegetables or protein-packed bean salads, tofu and other toppings.

Leverage vegetables for other audiences

Diners who opt for gluten-free dishes or are concerned about carbs will embrace substitutions that allow them to enjoy their favorite dishes without worry, and plant foods can enable that. Noodles made from beets, carrots and zucchini can take the place of wheat-based pastas; cauliflower “rice” mimics the real thing; and lettuce wrapped around taco filling, spring roll ingredients and other ingredients can replace tortillas and flatbreads.

The possibilities for promoting vegetables and other plant-based ingredients to center stage are endless, and the time is right.

This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best®


Exclusive Content


Why Wingstop isn't afraid of Popeyes' chicken wings

The Bottom Line: The fast-casual wing chain says its sales improve when another brand pushes the product. Here’s why that might be.


Mendocino Farms masters a meaty Philly cheesesteak sandwich—without the meat

Behind the Menu: The fast casual uses a mushroom-based meat alternative for its Philly Shroomsteak Sandwich, a new menu item targeted to flexitarians, not just vegans.


Pay hike for couriers shakes up food delivery in NYC

Customers are paying more, and couriers are working less. What it all means for restaurants is still unclear, but some fear it could get ugly.