Know Your Vegetarian Clientele – They’re Not All the Same

vegetarian dish

I have been to numerous restaurants that list fish as a vegetarian option, add gelatin to desserts and assure the customer that it has no animal products, or any number of other vegetarian faux pas. If you are going to serve vegetarian guests it’s important to know and understand the differences in what they eat. Make sure your staff understands the differences, too. That way they’ll be able to answer questions honestly and knowledgeably. 

Vegan: The Strictest Type of Vegetarian

Of the types of vegetarians, vegan is the strictest. They may or may not follow a raw foods diet but all vegans eschew the use of animal products of any kind. Vegans do not eat the following foods, or any food that contains them:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy, including foods containing dairy derived products like whey.
  • Gelatin
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Meat

Sometimes honey is also avoided because a certain number of bees die during the process of gathering the honey from the hive.

Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian

This is the average vegetarian. The ovo-lacto vegetarian eats vegetables, fruit, milk and eggs. This type of vegetarian has plenty to choose from and can enjoy most of the same foods as anyone eating a standard diet with the exception of animal proteins. There are some ovo-vegetarians, those that do eat eggs but will not use dairy products. Often this is because of concern about the veal industry. The dairy industry supports the veal industry, which can be very inhumane.

An ovo-lacto vegetarian will eat the following:

  • All vegetables
  • All fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy products (sometimes ethically opposed.
  • Eggs

Gelatin and rennet are not vegetarian. If your ingredients include these things you cannot call them vegetarian.


A piscatorial eats no animal products other than fish. This is usually done for health reasons rather than ethical reasons. Sometimes people use this as a phase in moving slowly toward a completely vegetarian or vegan diet. Items on a Pescatarian diet include:

  • All vegetables
  • All fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Fish and shellfish

Tips for Accommodating Your Vegetarian Guests

If you live in an area where there are many vegetarians you may want to add a vegetable based dish or two to your menu. If you are wondering about protein sources consider using dishes that contain the following:

For the majority of vegetarians protein sources will be plant based, including:

  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan

As vegetarianism has become more popular manufacturers have created a variety of meat substitutes that closely resemble meat. You can get everything from vegetarian hot dogs to vegetarian hamburger patties.

Once you are sure you understand these diets read the ingredients in any item you do not make fresh in your kitchen. Some sauces that you might assume are vegetarian may have gelatin or meat broth in them. Substitute gelatin with agar, a vegetable based thickener and use rich vegetable stock as the base for sauces, risotto, and soups.

The key to accommodating guests with a vegetarian lifestyle is to be willing to try new things and listen to input from your customers. They’ll appreciate having an eatery that understands their unique dietary restrictions and the result could be a significant increase in your profits.

photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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