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Psychology, Sustainability

How much of a menu needs to be vegetarian?

If you aren’t vegetarian or vegan do you look at the vegetarian section of a restaurant menu? Would you be more likely to choose vegetarian or vegan if those items are mixed in with similar meat based dishes? How about choosing an item from a section called “Environmentally friendly main courses for a happy planet”?

Krpan and Houtsma (2020) examined these conditions and found that both the positive environmental framing and mixing the dishes in with other meat based dishes resulted in more people choosing vegetarian dishes than when they were listed in a section labelled vegetarian dishes. Meat and other animal products are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Using menu design to support vegetarian choices is important because vegetarian meals are still generally considered a niche choice: something people only eat if they are a true vegetarian but changing even one meal a day for a vegetarian one makes a difference.

Bacon and Krpan (2018) also found that listing items under a vegetarian section can reduce how often those items are chosen, even among people who frequently eat vegetarian. On the other hand, listing vegetarian dishes as the chef’s recommendation increased how often a dish was ordered.

Both of these studies looked at how vegetarian dishes were presented and how that influenced customer choice but there is another question about how much of the menu is vegetarian. This is what Parkin and Attwood (2022) investigated. They found that a menu had to be three quarters vegetarian to encourage meat eaters to choose a vegetarian item.

These studies all illustrate how restaurants can actually help to lead a transition to healthier food choices. All of them contribute to normalizing making vegetarian choices which is important. It is also easier to make vegetarian choices when you have choices to make. Having more menu items to choose from makes it more likely that you can find something that appeals.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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