Should your next event be vegan? Why event planners need to get with the times

May 9 2019


Do you care what your guests do in their private life? Does it bother you if they are a vegan activist or avoid gluten like the plague? Are their sugar restrictions a concern for you? No? Well, they should be.

Our eating habits have changed drastically in the past few years as the number of ‘free from’ diets are growing and the commitment of their followers is becoming stronger too. If you haven’t felt it already, then it’s time to start communicating with your guests about their needs before you are left with 300 beef sliders and a tap on the shoulder with a request for soy milk just before the main doors are set to open.

How many vegans will be at your next event?

Depending on where you operate, you may or may not have seen the rise of the vegan movement up close. Yet what is for certain is that veganism is no longer a niche and has officially become a mainstream diet.

Do your older clients disagree?

Studies have shown that 30% of meals served in the UK are now vegan and that the number of vegans has quadrupled in the past four years. Yes, that’s right, quadrupled in four years. A different study suggested that the number of vegans has shot up by 700% in the last two years alone, with 7% of Brits now identifying as vegan.

The food industry is catching on to the trend with the UK producing more vegan products than anywhere else in the world in 2018, and restaurants setting up vegan menus in order to keep up with the demand.

God save the cow… and the wheat

The reason for the rapid rise of veganism is most likely not due to people suddenly developing a soft spot for cows and male chickens, but rather due to the multitude of health and environmental benefits that have been linked to going vegan.

Simply put, people are becoming more mindful and responsible for their personal impact on the world and what they put into their bodies. This extends beyond being vegan as one in four Brits are also claiming to avoid certain ingredients, or have someone in their household do so, on the grounds of health, as opposed to allergies. This is compared to one in five persons, who actually have a diagnosed intolerance or allergy.

To put that into perspective, one in ten Brits are avoiding gluten, paving the way for the gluten-free industry to see a rise of 27% in sales.

Such staggering numbers must be translated into catering decisions made by event planners. If your venue or caterer isn’t able to put together a menu with more than carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus for the ‘occasional’ vegetarian, then it’s time to search for new partnerships.


Who’s still up for a burger?

The extent of people buying ‘free-from’ products is highly influenced by age. 25-44 year olds are most likely to seek out such products, with up to 64% looking into alternative foods. Just over 50% of 16-24 year olds are picky with their meals, probably because they are still influenced by what their parents are offering them. This is supported with only 40% of 45-54 year olds thinking twice about what their meals are free from. It may come as no surprise that less than 25% of over 55 year olds are bothering with free-from foods.

Location is also of importance as Londoners are the most likely to check their labels, with 62% opting to buy free-from products regularly, and those living in Yorkshire and North West are the least likely. Bristol became the most popular city for veganism in the UK, followed by Edinburgh, Manchester and London.

Keep an eye on the calendar

For those that are still dipping their toes into living a meat free life, there are several events that encourage the movement and may influence their eating habits, even if it’s only for a short amount of time.

This can include meat-free-Monday, which draws 35% of Brits to avoid the consumption of meat on a specific day each week, and Veganuary.

With the number of participants abstaining from eating meat products for the month of January doubling from those of 2018, it is clear that it’s important not to overlook such occasions. What’s also interesting is that after January, 62% of participants claimed to have continued being vegan.

Event planners should therefore be mindful of their menus during Mondays, Januaries and even February (before the cheesy pizza starts calling) and most certainly keep an eye on any other trends which may influence their guest’s eating habits at the time of the event.

Know your guests

Having the right menu or giving access to the most appreciated food, can make a big difference in having a successful event and even it’s profit margins. When running large events, plant based food can often be cheaper, when compared to seafood and quality steaks. Thus, it is important to do your research and ensure that you are not spending your budget on impressive caviar and foie gras, when it could instead be invested on cheaper alternatives that are just as delicious.

Top Tip: make sure you know your guests:

  • Ask if your attendees have any dietary needs during the registration process. You can do that as a check box (if you are limited in what you can offer) or leave it as a text field. Learn how to create custom registration forms here.
  • Offer different ticket options depending on the diet. You could even alter the price, depending on the preference - no one will get offended if the seafood option is more costly than the vegetarian one.
  • See if your client is interested in having a vegan menu, if they are already considering a vegetarian one. This saves a lot of labelling and questions about each menu item.
  • Make it clear on the registration page if certain diets are not able to be accommodated for at the event/ venue. Whether the guest is vegan or a coeliac, there’s nothing like going to an event and finding out that all you have to eat is a garden salad with weak coffee.

How to please the crowd

There are several ways to or offer meals to the ‘free-from’ crowd without alienating guests who are used to chicken wings, shrimp cocktails and cheese sticks to snack on.

  1. 92% of plant-based meals in the UK were consumed by non vegans (vegan society), so don’t worry about turning people off - as long as the food is delicious, no one will start chasing you down for the bangers and mash.
  2. One in three people opt for plant based milks so make sure you have a decent selection of milk available. This includes non-soy milks as some people are refraining from soy as well.
  3. Instead of labelling your meals as dairy free, meat free or vegan friendly, refer to them as plant based. The idea of something being made out of plants suggests health, as opposed to meat free products, which may make a person feel that they are being cheated.
  4. If you are serving alcohol at your event, ensure that several options are available there too. This can include alcohol free and gluten free beer and also non-sugary options such as club soda and cucumber water.
  5. If you can, go organic. Most guests will appreciate the gesture, or at the very least notice it. Even if it’s just for the wine, make sure to throw in the buzzword as it is sure to please a few people in the room.

Final thoughts

Changing diets are affecting the event industry and planners must stay on top of current trends in order to offer their clients the most relevant options, as well as not waste their budget on what may have been in vogue ten years ago.

Remember to talk to your guests, see the catering options available now and if need be, change your business model - catering to a niche that is rapidly becoming mainstream may be the best move that you will make this year.

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