Plant based restaurants: a sustainable enterprise?

More people than ever before are looking to reduce their meat intake, with some 1.2 million UK residents identifying as vegan and 3 million switching to vegetarianism, which helps to improve their health and reduce their carbon footprinti.

With meat production already responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all emissions from global transport combinedii – the current shift in attitudes towards lowered meat consumption is welcome news. Particularly with the global population estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050 – requiring an extra 200 million tonnes of meat annually if consumption continues at its current rateiii.

Increased consumer awareness is no doubt a significant factor behind the shift. But we can’t underestimate the role chefs have to play. Early pioneers like Yotam Ottolenghi have been attributed with bringing plant based dining to the attention of a nation; even fundamentally changing the way people think about food. But today, he’s just one of many chefs flying the plant based banner.

Pollen Street Social, Northcote, Colette’s at the Grove, and Tredwells have all won plaudits for their plant based tasting menus. While Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron at Tredwells, has just published a vegan cook book – Planted.

Commenting on the growing shift in attitudes towards plant based diets, Nicholson said: “We need to be really conscious of the impact meat-heavy diets are having on our bodies and the planet. Plant based eating is not a trend or a fad. It’s going to keep growing and expanding. And as chefs, it’s something we need to reflect in our menus, ensuring we include a good selection of plant based dishes, as well as more traditional meat and fish based plates.”

Asked if she’d consider turning her restaurant entirely plant based, Nicholson says a shift is required in the consumer thought process and price point: "I receive a steak from my butcher, I marinate it, then cook it when it is ordered, there is no other involvement from my team, and my guests will pay £33 for that steak. For a plant-based dish, I cannot charge £33, despite the labour cost being much higher, and it being a delicious dish. In order to ensure my business survives, in the area of London Tredwells is in, there needs to be a balance to afford our operating costs.”

Chefs and restaurateurs know only too well that the price of ingredients is only one part of the equation. Once you factor in rent, bills, business rates, labour costs, and VAT, the difference in price between ingredients takes on less significance – something customers rarely understand.

However, Kirk Haworth, the cofounder and executive chef of plant based restaurant Plates, remains hopeful about the depths of customers’ pockets, commenting: “There’s certainly been a history of customers not wanting to pay the same for dishes that aren’t centred on more expensive proteins like meat or fish. However, I do think that’s changing. Provided what you’re turning out is worth the price tag.”

On whether there’s space for many more meat free restaurants, Haworth was similarly optimistic, adding: “I think there will be many more plant based restaurants opening over the next few years. Which is a great thing.”

Whether we’re approaching a new wave of entirely meat free restaurants remains to be seen. However, it’s safe to say chef attitudes towards plant based dining are radically different today to even a few years ago.

Chantelle Nicholson, who recently took part in a panel discussion with several top chefs ahead of World Meat Free Week, said: “There’s a lot more understanding among chefs today about the need for plant based dining. Particularly amongst younger chefs. There’s a lot more information and inspiration out there now, which they’re using to learn and grow from. They’re a lot more aware of what’s going on and the challenge that lies before them. And they’re embracing that challenge, learning new techniques and experimenting with ways to create delicious plates using plant based ingredients. I think that’s a very positive thing.”

The chef panel was organised to support World Meat Free Week. To get involved, simply pledge your support at www.worldmeatfreeweek.com and swap one or more meals to meat free between 11 and 17 June 2018.

i New Research by Compare the Market: http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/behavior_change/sustainable_brands/80_brits_would_give_meat_over_their_car_help_envir ii Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/livestock-climate-change-forgotten-sector-global-public-opinion-meat-and-dairy?dm_i=1TY5%2C30JL0%2CBHZILT%2CAUGSP%2C1 iii How to feed the world in 2050: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf

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