What Do Restaurant Operators Give Up for Lent? Certainly not Sales Revenue.

Inventory Hero

According to the Pew Research Center, The Catholic Church is larger than any other single religious institution in the United States, with over roughly 51 million adults which is about one-fifth of the total US adult population. This means that during the 40-day Lent period that begins on Wednesday, March 6 and ends on Thursday, April 18, 2019, many people will give up meat on Fridays.

Compared to other religious groups, Catholics are evenly dispersed throughout the country so no matter where you live you will have quite a jump in seafood and vegetarian requests coming in soon.

  • 27% of Catholics live in the South
  • 26% of Catholics live in the Northeast
  • 26% of Catholics live in the West
  • 21% of Catholics live in the Midwest

In order to compete for lunch and dinner business, it would prove wise to create a Lent menu. Follow these nine tips and you will have customers lining up at your door during the Lent season.

  • Keep in mind that Catholics are both racially and ethnically diverse. Meat free does not have to be boring!  Using these menu additions in creative ways will keep customers coming back for more, even once Lent has ended.  Think beyond the expected fish sandwich and offer quiche, shrimp tacos, smoked salmon pizza, or spicy vegetarian black bean chili.
  • Rather than recreating your menu to include short-lived menu items – which can be pricey – promote seasonal items on table tents and special boards. If your restaurant does a lot of catering or take out, be sure to include a printed flyer listing seasonal menu items along with their order. Reminding diners that these selections are available for a “limited time only” may encourage people to try out new items.
  • If you are incorporating locally-sourced seafood and vegetables, find a reliable source with references. The last thing you want to do is create an amazing menu that is a big hit only to be unable to deliver it.  Some of your regular vendors will be able to supply seasonal items but be careful not to promote them as “locally sourced” unless you are sure of the source as diners will be interested where the food comes from.
  • Advertise through all of your social media outlets to get the word out. Diners may not think of your restaurant when it comes to Lent-friendly meals.  Be sure they feel welcomed and assured that you have new and delicious options for waiting for them.
  • Be sure that all your employees are well trained on the Lent menu items. The back-of-house-staff needs to know exactly how to execute the dishes consistently.  And, it is nearly impossible for servers to upsell items that you do not have details on.  The best way to get everyone excited is by hosting an all-employee tasting and use the words that they should be using to customers while explaining the dishes.
  • If you are tempted to try a Lent menu but still not convinced, try a singular seasonal item such as a fish or shrimp dish to test the waters. The results of the trial can let you know if it works for your concept and your customers.
  • Don’t forget about vegetarian options. Most people link Lent with meals of fish on Fridays, but fish can be pricey.  There are plenty of creative vegetarian dishes that are quite cost effective, such as eggplant parmesan, cauliflower curry, and spinach enchiladas just to name a few meatless meals that are packed with flavor.
  • If certain items are a big hit, consider keeping them beyond Lent. The new fish and vegetable options could attract new seafood loving and vegetarian customers.
  • Lastly, think beyond the obvious when creating menus. You may have the best intentions when offering Lent-friendly items, but some common restaurant items are derived from animal-based products.  Depending on the strictness of the individual diners, some may be disappointed that the minestrone contains chicken stock or that the fries were fried in oil derived from beef tallow.