Growing Vegan Hospitality

Growing-Vegan-Hospitality

Meet Gareth Scurr, the plant-powered creative who has become Aotearoa’s first qualified vegan hospitality consultant.

If you’re reading this magazine, there’s a good chance you’ve been there. Your growing hunger drives you into a bustling eatery, ready to drop good money on a filling main, some sneaky sides, and perhaps a little takeaway treat (you’ve earned it). But a quick scan of the menu reveals, beyond perhaps granola or some bliss balls, they’re serving up nothing but disappointment for the hungry vegan.

It’s experiences like this that Gareth Scurr, originally from Wales now living on Kapiti Coast, is looking to clear from the table for all Kiwi vegans. Through vegan hospitality consultancy Big Sugary Dogue, he’s helping restaurants, cafes and hotels become more vegan-friendly and ensuring plant-based diners can eat their fill. 

What exactly is vegan hospitality consulting?

In today’s world, where sustainability and plant-based choices are gaining momentum, businesses in the hospitality industry face unique challenges and opportunities. Vegan hospitality consulting involves providing specialised guidance and strategies to those businesses who are committed to plant-based and sustainable practices. It’s about helping them thrive while making a positive impact on the planet. It’s also about ensuring the best possible dining experience and value for vegan customers!  From menu evaluation to staff training, recipe development to local sourcing, and dynamic menu launches, vegan hospitality consulting offers comprehensive, personalised support.

How does one become qualified in vegan hospitality?

I became qualified in 2021 and was trained by the queen of vegan hospitality, Meredith Marin. After moving to the Caribbean island of Aruba with her family several years ago and finding no vegan dining options available, Meredith single-handedly transformed the island into a vegan haven, boasting more than 40 vegan-friendly eateries and hotels! She went on to develop and launch the Vegan Hospitality program in 2019, using the same format that brought such overwhelming success in Aruba, and today there are more than 80 qualified consultants in 22 countries, helping to make the world a more vegan-friendly place.  

The course comprises a three-month program which includes live group virtual trainings and personal coaching time with Meredith. Participants learn to work with restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality businesses to help them create vegan-friendly experiences for their guests. You don’t have to have hospitality experience to be a successful candidate, as long as you have a passion for vegan cooking, great interpersonal skills, and the desire to make a difference in the world.

The course included 12 weekly live training sessions of up to two hours each, which I felt was a good balance. It takes dedication and there is plenty to be doing after each session, but it didn’t consume every aspect of my life. On the contrary, it became a high point of my week, jumping on those calls and imagining a brighter future for Kiwi diners! Each week you gain new steps and tools to equip and empower you to start your own consulting business in your region. 

What would you say to an eatery that is happy with no vegan options?

I would say, “You are burning money by not providing options —  can you really afford to miss out on that?” A staggering one million people search for “vegan food near me” each month and statistics show 34% of New Zealanders are eating less or no meat, with a 19% growth in Kiwis adopting a plant-based diet over the last two years. Even if a business hasn’t received many vegan requests to date, expanding its menu to be more vegan inclusive offers numerous advantages, including diversifying its existing customer base and enhancing the brand’s image. Becoming both vegan-friendly and vegan-informed can literally future-proof a business. 


Even so, encouraging mainstream eateries to broaden their horizons can be a challenge. Sadly, many still view vegans as an inconvenience. They don’t want to know or learn how to cater for us because they just don’t care. When the core focus of your training, your career, and in many cases your entire life has been driven by cooking and serving meat, dairy, and other animal products, it’s confronting to have someone refuse or question it. They can also be understandably protective of their image and fear introducing vegan options would scare off traditional clientele. Long-held beliefs like these and more we have to be mindful and respectful of. At the end of the day, like all forms of advocacy, we have to pick our battles. Sometimes we just have to move on and help their competition instead and reserve our energy and skills for where they are wanted.

What about a restaurant that already has a vegan item or two on the menu?

Based upon research I have conducted to date, almost 50% of Kiwi vegans have said ‘variety of options’ is the primary factor in their supporting an eatery. This percentage vastly outweighs other factors cited, such as ‘outstanding food’, ‘staff service’, and ‘unique dishes’. While having one or two vegan options on the menu or in the cabinet is to be commended, one question I would ask a restaurant like this is “How long have you had those same two options?”  Based on their reply, I would then encourage them to picture themselves for a moment in their vegan customers’ shoes.  

Imagine waking up in the morning and thinking you might like to go out to your local eatery for brunch or coffee and cake. The idea is appealing — but instead you decide not to go after all because a) there is only one token vegan cake you can actually eat there and you’ve already eaten it 20 times, or b) there is only one brunch option and too many times you have been there and tried to order it, only to find they haven’t made it today, or they’ve chosen to make more meat or vegetarian options instead.

If this was a regular occurrence for you as a non-vegan customer, would you think this was acceptable? Would you continue to give this eatery your custom? I doubt it – yet vegan customers are being met with this very scenario daily. 

Having variety on your menu can be a delicate balance of creating cost effective items and not overwhelming your kitchen with too many different dishes to juggle. As a vegan hospitality consultant, I look for ways we can enhance the current menu and open up the potential for inclusiveness. Often all it takes are a few minor swaps and changes, and all of a sudden your one option becomes four and you have the start of your very own vegan menu!

As consumers, what’s the best way we can encourage venues to grow their vegan offerings?

A great way to encourage hospitality venues is to let them know that we are here to support them. We want their business to succeed and we would love to come more often but there are certain things stopping us from doing so, like lack of options or perhaps the ten dollar pie they do is just a bit rubbish for the cost. It can sometimes help to ask if they would eat it themselves. If not, why are they serving it? 

As much as we are all tired of hearing the ‘How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you’, jokes, we do have to be more vocal. While we are quick to give positive feedback on a great dining experience, recent research shows 48% of Kiwi vegans feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback. This is something I have been guilty of too in the past. Far too many times I’ve paid full price for truly awful feeds and not said anything, because I’m vegan and I don’t want them to stop serving us. We have to remain supportive and encouraging of vegan options but if something is just completely below par, those businesses need to know. 

Vegan diners deserve the same treatment as any other. I accept it is a difficult line to walk but that’s why there are vegan hospitality consultants like myself all around the world. We are here to help businesses succeed by seeing the brilliant veganising potential already hiding on the menu, to respect their craft and bring out their creativity through plants. 

What other services does Big Sugary Dogue offer?

I’m unashamedly food-driven and have been my whole life but I’m also a creative at heart. In addition to improving the dining experience of vegans, I specialise in creating memorable brand identities to help them stand out from the crowd. There is nothing I like better than helping people to bring their visions to life. I also provide social media consulting, using my years of experience working for the fastest growing animal rights charity on social media to help other advocates amplify their voices. Through Big Sugary Dogue, I get to help ethically driven businesses and individuals reach the audience — and achieve the results — they deserve. 

What are you looking forward to in the future?

One day I would love to see Aotearoa live up to its ‘clean green image’ and truly earn its place among global leaders when it comes to our vegan options. With that, I mean across the entire country, not just Christchurch or Auckland. To do this I am going to need help, so I envisage a network of consultants across the country working together. 

Once I’ve got that job done, I can move onto the ultimate dream of combining all my passions to create one glorious Big Sugary Dogue vegan eatery/art gallery/tattoo parlour/music venue. You know… just a little dream!

To learn more about Gareth’s consulting and creative services at Big Sugary Dogue, visit www.bigsugarydogue.com.

 

Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
This article was sourced from the Summer 2024 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
Order your own current copy in print or pdf or browse past editions.

Disclaimer
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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