Looking back 20 or 30 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a vegetarian choice on a catering menu, unless you considered the most basic of garden salads or something simple like a cheese omelet. And a vegan option? That wasn’t on the radar at even the trendiest spots until the early 2010s.
But as times and tastes have changed, both vegetarianism and veganism have gone mainstream. It’s estimated there are 375 million vegetarians worldwide. And while the total number of vegans is considerably smaller at 1.5 million, it’s likely that when you’re planning an event, you can expect that at least a handful of guests follow one lifestyle or the other.
This means you need to ensure your caterer can skillfully accommodate both (as well as the meat-eaters in the group).
Fortunately, preparing flavorful and exciting vegetarian and vegan cuisine is a point of pride for a growing number of chefs, and that has made it easier to find inclusive menus.
Understand Your Guests’ Needs
But before you can satisfy the preferences of vegetarians and vegans, you first have to know the difference between the two.
Despite their sound-alike names, there are some distinctions.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, shellfish, or poultry. And while it’s easy to see how that means you’ll need an alternative to pork chops or a filet mignon for some guests, you’ll also have to be on the lookout for “hidden” forbidden ingredients.
That means no French onion soup, which is made with beef broth.
No fish sauce-laden Pad Thai.
Even Caesar dressing has anchovies in it, putting it on the no-go list.
“Since there are so many nuances to vegetarian cuisine, even the most experienced vegetarian caterer should be offered a ‘short course’ in the types of ingredients you do and do not prefer to have included in your meals,” wrote the Vegetarian Resource Group in a recent blog.
Admittedly, most restaurants and caterers have more experience preparing meals for vegetarians than for vegans, whose diet is even more restrictive. On top of following the vegetarian rules, they also avoid animal products altogether. That means they don’t eat dairy (no butter or cheese!), honey, or eggs. And while that limits the choices, there are still delicious entrees and side dishes you can serve so your vegan guests aren’t forced to spend the event grazing on a fruit plate or relish tray.
The fact is, whether your guests are vegetarian or vegan, the meal you serve doesn’t have to be boring or bland.
Here are some vegetarian options to consider with your caterer:
· Eggplant parmesan.
· Vegetable kabob with Moroccan spices
· A hearty vegetable risotto with parmesan cheese.
· A broccoli and potato salad with eggs, onions, walnuts, and honey.
· Potato gnocchi with garlic sauce.
· Meatless meats. The industry has gone far beyond veggie patties. Today’s alternative, plant-based meats are so tasty they’re successfully marketed to carnivores.
And for vegan guests:
· Stews that combine a rainbow of vegetables plus lentils and other legumes in a vegetable-based broth.
· Red rice and beans cooked with vegetable broth.
· Vegetable biryani with chickpeas.
· Whole roasted cauliflower with Middle Eastern spices.
· Chinese eggplant in a spicy sauce.
Don’t be afraid to ask your caterer for what you want. By understanding what sets vegetarian and vegan lifestyles apart and working together to meet their unique menu requirements, you can ensure that no guest is left behind or feels left out at your next event.
About the Author:
Roger Igo is the founder and CEO of Houston catering service Excellent Events, along with weddings and special events venue, The Bell Tower on 34th, and the research resource, Venues in Houston. He is the author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th,” a former radio host, a graduate of CEO Space International, and an alumnus of The Disney Institute.