It’s not that I won’t pay $335 a plate at Eleven Madison Park in NYC for an all plant-based meal. But I’m worried that people who aren’t like me—committed vegans chomping at the bitless bridle for a taste of the good life—won’t walk away feeling much as they would (except better) from the former inglorious meals offered at EMP: chicken, duck, beef, and foie gras. In other words, to EMP and every other restaurant making the fantastic decision to go plant-based: I don’t care how high-end your customers are, they all want to leave feeling stuffed to the gills with mind-blowingly delicious food.
Whatever you do, don’t add some truffle oil to a bowl full of broccoli and think, “That’ll hold the little b**tards for a while.” It won’t. Look. I know the infrastructure just isn’t there yet in terms of plant-based dining, but it’s important to begin at the end and when you get to the beginning, start. The end, of course, is sleepy customers with full bellies and happy mouths willing to wag about your joint to any and every ear and eye out there. This WILL. NOT. HAPPEN. if your customers walk away from your establishment and into the nearest Micky-Ds because you failed to fill them up. I have left vegan potlucks and driven through Burger King for mayo-less Impossible Whoppers on more occasions than I care to remember. This just won’t do moving forward.
Which means the start, of course, is to plan ahead with the end in mind. If a steakhouse-cum-plant-purveyor previously charged fifty bucks for a 12-oz filet mignon and wants to charge the same for vegetal protein, that’s cool, but make sure the customer walks out with 12 solid ounces of well-seasoned seitan in their stomachs—along with a vegan-butter-and-sour-cream-drenched baked potato the size of Idaho, buttery greens, and indulgent oat milk chocolates for dessert, too. None of this ‘slice of tofu’ nonsense anymore. The herbivorous world may have boundless new offerings for diners, but the truth is non-vegan customers, who will make up the bulk of your bread and (Miyoko’s) butter, will dig in their heels and expect meatless counterparts to taste exactly the same as their fleshy doppelgängers. I’m just saying: know this, and plan accordingly. Variety is the spice of life and all, but never underestimate the value of gustatory nostalgia.
In short, skimp not on salt, fat, acid, heat—and portions, fortheloveofgod, portions!
Here are three adages I just made up to help you transform your amazing foodspace into a haven for hungry patrons looking to indulge in cuisine that doesn’t kill them (or the planet or animals).
1) Spices! Salt! Fat! Sauce! Spices again!
2) Laugh at but always remember the truth behind the old joke that a good steak sauce could make a pleather shoe taste delicious.
3) If it doesn’t dribble down the chin a little, it wasn’t a complete meal.
Now go forth and vegan restaurant!
This is Michelle Schaefer reminding you to always—be unique.