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2 October 2019

Food for Thought: Stimulating Vegetarian Choices in a Restaurant Menu

Excessive meat consumption is bad for the environment. But despite the growing number of ‘flexitarians’, who only eat meat occasionally, only a small number of people chooses a vegetarian dish at a restaurant. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology investigates how a menu needs to be presented to promote vegetarian choices. It turns out that people choose meat less often when it is presented as ‘extra’.

Take aways

  • When a restaurant menu offers the option to add meat to vegetarian dishes, rather than offering ‘standard’ meat dishes, customers are more inclined to eat no meat at all.
  • Indicating vegetarian dishes as ‘vegetarian’ is not recommended, because this makes it more likely that non-vegetarians opt for a meat dish.

Study information

  • Who?

    329 participants (mean age: 32, age range: 18–81, 70% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    Participants imagined they were going to eat in a restaurant and read online one of four menus: 1) a vegetarian menu, 2) a menu with only vegetarian dishes and the opportunity to add meat to these dishes, 3) a menu with an increased offer on vegetarian dishes with (V) as an indication, and 4) a menu with an increased offer on vegetarian dishes without indication. Subsequently, participants indicated how likely it was that they would eat in this restaurant, if they felt threatened in their freedom of choice or were angry (to measure reactance) and which dish they would choose.

Facts and findings

  • Participants who read the menu on which meat was an additive option, more often chose a vegetarian dish. This is probably because they considered the vegetarian dish as the ‘normal’ option.
  • It did not matter which menu participants read for their decision to eat at a restaurant or for their feelings of reactance.
  • The menu with indications of vegetarian dishes with a (V) was least effective in stimulating the choice for vegetarian dishes, possibly because it makes the vegetarian dishes look like they are less suitable for non-vegetarians.