Cafes And Eateries Aren’t Doing Enough For Vegan Customers

Caffeinated Thoughts
5 min readMar 7, 2023

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Challenges of being vegan — Part one

Photo by Serge Esteve on Unsplash

This article is part 1 of a 5-part series on real world challenges one can expect to face while following a vegan diet. Read part 2 here.

Introduction

With vegan alternatives to traditional food going mainstream or gaining at least some kind of traction in many countries, a lot of people are adopting the plant-based diet and realizing its various wonderful benefits. From lowering the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, to helping one shed off the extra kilos, the plant-based diet has been given its due credit and continues to positively influence the lives of millions of people worldwide.

But for all the health benefits that the plant-based diet proffers on the individual, adhering to it 100% of the time takes a bit of proactive effort.

From being forced to read ingredient labels everywhere, the inability to accept gifts and freebies on the fly, not having the agency to choose a vegan friendly location to dine at, and everything else in between, vegans have a number of hurdles to cross before they can realize the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

The benefits of the plant-based diet should not come at the cost of dealing with the mental frustrations of living within non-vegan structures.

The world, as we currently know it, is predominantly structured towards those who eat anything and everything, traditional animal products like dairy, eggs, chicken, and seafood, to be specific. A person who doesn’t conform to mainstream diets is likely to find barriers to his/her lifestyle at every junction and plenty of psychological hurdles to jump through before they can successfully realize the benefits of their niche diet or lifestyle.

While the world has, over the years, largely made efforts to be inclusive of most diets, and to be welcoming towards every kind of people, the vegan diet remains to be within the realm of impractical, hard, and frustrating.

Here are a few structual issues you might face once you start following the vegan diet:

Part 1- Ordering at Eateries and Cafes

With the plant-based diet spreading its roots all over the world and capturing markets, a host of coffee chains as well as standalone cafes have started offering plant milk alternatives to dairy. While this may look like a good thing from afar, the move is anything but progressive to the experienced vegan.

Let’s take a look at some news articles for perspective:

Google search results for “cafes to start offering plant milk”

Notice how all the articles only talk about vegan milk ?

Now ask yourself. Is coffee the only thing available at a coffee shop? There are so many aspects of customer behaviour which haven’t been taken into consideration while trying to be inclusive towards vegans and those with allergies.

  • What about snacks and other beverages that could have been veganized but haven’t?
  • What about drinks which are vegan by default but haven’t been labelled?
  • What about evening and night time offerings, where many customers customers sensitive to caffeine might want to order something else?
  • What about festival and holiday specials? Those only come in various flavours of animal cruelty, don’t they?

This is a perfect example of coffee chains not conducting proper market research or customer surveys prior to such decisions. Its either that, or they don’t think it’s a decision worth investing much time and effort into. I suppose its more of the latte(r) than the former.

When plant milks have only been provided as options without actually making any effort to tell the customer whether the drink is vegan or not, the burden of deducing the same now falls upon the customer.

Are the choco chips vegan?
Is the strawberry syrup vegan?
Are the sprinkles vegan?
Is the whipped cream vegan?

There are so many questions running through the mind of a vegan as he/she stands at the counter scanning the menu on the wall behind the Barista wondering what to order. Plant-based milk is just the tip of the iceberg.

This happened to me only recently a few months ago as I happily sauntered into my local Starbucks over a long festival weekend. For those of you out of the loop, Starbucks started offering dairy alternatives a couple of years ago and customers now have three kinds of plant milk to make their choice from: Soy, Almond, and Oat. As I stood at the counter scanning the menu for something new to try, I was baffled by the non-existence of vegan labelling signalling whats vegan and whats not.

“When plant milks have only been provided as options without actually making any effort to tell the customer whether the drink is vegan or not, the burden of deducing the same now falls upon the customer.”

(Starbucks only recently added a vegan menu to its stores in India, and I haven’t stepped into one ever since this new development. So this entire point only talks about their pre-vegan menu era)

After racking my brains for a while, I was forced to choose from the most vanilla items on the menu, drinks that you’d have on any normal weekday, the Cappucinos and Lattes. Most vegans are similarly forced to resort to the most standard items on the menu, the drinks that contain coffee (or tea) and milk in some variation or the other, since milk would be the only aspect of the drink they’d have to modify.

No velvet vanilla lattes, no Caramel Java chip, no Java Chip Frappucinos, and definitely no holiday special drinks. Just plain old boring Cappucinos, Espressos, and Cafe Lattes. Why would anyone shell out a limb and a half for that? Especially considering a place like India, people go to a fancy place like Starbucks to excite themselves with something new and novel that isn’t available elsewhere.

I want to be able to savour and enjoy the dreamy essence of a Signature Hot Chocolate, the subtle zest of a Vanilla Caffe Latte, and the sizzling hot energy found inside the mug of a Java Chip Frappucino.

Having plant milk as optional doesn’t suffice! I should be able to order anything on the menu without as much as asking the Barista a single thing. I don’t want to waste my time standing at the counter talking about ingredients and “holding” certain elements of the drink to turn it vegan. That not only dilutes the uniqueness of the drink but alters its taste altogether. Not to speak of unnecessarily prolonging my interaction with the barista while other customers are waiting behind.

Conclusion

As can be clearly evinced from the above examples, providing plant milk is just the tip of the iceberg in ensuring inclusivity towards vegan customers, and much more can be done for them in ensuring that their food and drink is 100% vegan.

What other steps can cafes and eateries take to ensure that vegans feel included and that their menus are easy for vegans to navigate and make a selection from?

Do let me know in the comments bar to the side.

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Caffeinated Thoughts

No niche in particular. I am a keen observer of society and gain my inspiration for new articles from observation.