As more diners turn to healthful options and meatless meals, vegetarian fare is shifting from supporting role to star of the show. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, the incidences of vegetarian menu items on restaurant menus jumped a significant 22 percent from the January–March 2012 to the January–March 2013 time periods. (Details for several menu categories are illustrated below.)
Base: Jan-Mar 2013 – 1,181 items on 240 restaurant menus; Jan-Mar 2012 – 964 items on 227 restaurant menus. Note that items in the Dessert, Kids’ Menu, Non-Alcoholic Beverages and Senior Menu categories do not appear in the chart.
Source: Menu Monitor, Technomic
Recent introductions of vegetarian and veggie-focused offerings on chain menus include:
This spring, Noodles & Company introduced a limited-time menu featuring dishes that each highlight asparagus as the main ingredient. The chain is not only offering the asparagus dishes as entrée options, but also as flavorful appetizer and snack choices.
The Garden Pesto Sauté features asparagus in a lemon Genovese pesto, red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, pecans, feta and spinach on gluten-free fusilli noodles. Other asparagus-focused dishes introduced at Noodles include the Springtime Flatbread topped with asparagus, mushrooms, melted Parmesan and bacon, and the Asparagus Stack featuring asparagus topped with feta and bacon crumbles with a lemon wedge.
Noodles & Company’s asparagus items promote seasonality, which also brings a sense of freshness and healthfulness to the fast-casual chain’s menu. The popularity of fresh, local and healthful fare continues to gain steam, allowing for vegetables to take their place at the center of the plate.
As vegetarian options continue to grow in popularity, restaurants are also beginning to introduce flavorful meatless alternatives to traditional menu items like burgers. Ram Restaurant & Brewery, a traditional casual-dining chain offering classic American pub fare, offers such an alternative with its Three Vegetarians Walk Into a Bar sliders. The sliders feature radish sprouts, sliced red onion, zucchini, red bell peppers and garlic mayonnaise.
Similarly, Burger King recently rolled out a veggie burger at all of its locations, featuring a MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patty topped with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, ketchup and mayonnaise on a toasted sesame-seed bun. Both of these chains’ veggie burgers serve as ideal meatless options on largely beef burger-focused menus, appealing to both health-conscious and vegetarian diners.
As operators continue rolling out veggie-focused dishes, consumers will grow more comfortable choosing them over meat options. These types of dishes not only offer great nutritional value, but also introduce curious diners to a new variety of ingredients, preparation methods and flavors.