Hotel Restaurants and the Tax For Being Vegetarian

A few months ago I attended an Indian wedding at a full service, upscale hotel in Southern California.  I requested an early check-in, as I was eager to get into my room after an early morning flight, but the hotel was at 100% occupancy so that was a no-go.

Tired and hungry, I went to the hotel’s restaurant which had exactly one vegetarian main on a menu with about 30 items. This is the tax you pay for being vegetarian.

As I headed out the door to the mall across the street with several restaurants, I reflected on the missed revenue opportunity for the hotel.

{Holistic Approach to Catering Sales and F&B}

I thought, there’s a big Indian wedding happening here this weekend with a couple hundred vegetarian people staying here for one or more nights and the restaurant has only 1 thing we can eat? They’re going to lose a ton of business to all the restaurants just across the way which have more variety and more options.

I understand that Catering Sales and F&B are two different departments. But how great would it have been if the two teams had worked together proactively and creatively to maximize revenue for the hotel as a whole vs. silos?

What if they’d talked to each other about personalizing or even customizing the menu ever-so-slightly due to the large event in-house that weekend?

Many of the items could have been made vegetarian with no adjustments (assuming ingredients weren’t pre-mixed and every dish was made-to-order).

{Personalized Service and Customer Experience}

How much would it cost the hotel to print the same menu with V’s and Vg’s for “Vegetarian” and “Vegan”? Or a note that items “can be made vegetarian?”.

Some people might counter argue that I could just as easily ask for what I wanted, but is that hospitable? Does that signal that it’s a welcoming space? inclusiveness? Is that being a proactive business (moreover hospitality business) by putting the onus on the customer?

If you read Arne Sorenson and other hospitality leaders’ blogs and watch their presentations, there’s one common theme that they ALL talk about – personalization in the hospitality industry.  Personalization of service and customer experience.

Personalization and customization both add operating costs. Customization more so. But in this case the hotel could have very simply personalized their menu with a handful of minor adjustments.

{My Experience With The Specials}

On another occasion I visited a luxury resort for lunch. The server came by and took the drink orders and immediately described the specials – all of which were non-vegetarian. His description included a brief explanation of how a particular fish or meat – I don’t remember now – was sliced and cooked; and the entire time I’m sitting there trying not to visibly cringe. One person’s delicacy is another person’s….not delicacy.

I pointed out that this incident took place at a luxury resort because consumers expect an elevated level of service. It would have been really nice if the server had been trained to ask 1 simple question – any dietary restrictions?

This is the tax you pay for being vegetarian.

{Change is Happening}

As vegan, vegetarian, and plant based diets grow in popularity and permeate society, industries adjust. Bravo to Interstate Hotels which recently announced their Vegan and Vegetarian promotion at all of their managed hotels, which introduced a whopping 27 new vegetarian and/or vegan menu items!

I look forward to seeing more hotels follow suit.

Samta is the Founder and CEO of ShaadiShop: South Asian Wedding Venues which provides Indian wedding lead-gen for venues in the United States, a $5B market. She’s also the Founder of PassportPages, a world travel blog focused on the underserved vegetarian-vegan and female travel markets.