There has been a huge spike in the last two to three years in customers requesting special meals to fit in with their lifestyle food choices and I’ve noticed a lot of chefs on social media complaining about guests and all of their ‘allergies/food preferences’, saying that they were ‘sick of all of the vegans and gluten-free’ customers.
This ‘trend’ is not going to change and they need to start changing their offerings to fit in with what the market/consumer wants.
An interesting stat I found online: “Today, successful restaurant owners should focus on the changing purchasing habits of consumers. For example, today’s statistics show that 70% of adults say the availability of healthy menu options is what makes them choose one restaurant over another.”
In Cape Town, in particular, there are so many choices when it comes to dining out and if you are not on top of what consumers want, you are going to lose customers.
Another thing to bear in mind, is that when you have members of staff in senior management, especially chefs, who respond to orders with special dietary needs in a negative way, this inevitably gets funnelled through to your service staff, who take on this same attitude of resistance and pass it off onto your guests.
I, of all people know the stresses of running a busy upmarket kitchen, so I know what it’s like when these special requests come in, but if the chef just uses a little creativity (isn’t that what all chefs strive for when having to cook the same meals every day?) and goes the extra mile to do something special for that guest, not only do you win over the customer, you change the whole energy of the work place with a “can do attitude” – it becomes contagious. Going the extra mile is a win-win situation.
Gluten-free/celiac disease, lactose intolerant, shellfish and nut allergies, Banting / LCHF are all on the rise, whether we like it or not. And whether it is an actual allergy or a merely a lifestyle choice, it really doesn’t matter.
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If we, the hospitality industry, don’t start acknowledging this, we are going to see a major decrease in people eating out and an increase in people using on-demand services like uCook, UberEats, OrderIn etc, which is also majorly on the rise from a convenience and affordability perspective. Even fast food outlets are starting to see this trend and are now also offering vegetarian and vegan options. Most pizza places now offer low carb bases as part of their offerings – why should fine dining restaurants be any different?
Don’t get me wrong – I love a good steak as much as the next guy, but we have to start facing the fact that plant-based food and vegans are on the rise and are not going anywhere.
Jason Whitehead is a chef, award-winning cookbook author, restaurant consultant and ambassador of The Veggie Box Initiative.
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