New research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has suggested that when meat and vegetarian options are presented together and mixed in on the same menu, people are more likely to choose the vegan menu options. If a separate vegetarian menu is provided, this is more likely to be neglected by consumers – unless they identify as vegetarian or vegan in the first place.
The LSE study focused on “flexitarians” – those who switch between the vegetarian, vegan, and omnivore lifestyle – noting that this demographic tends to be unlikely to choose a veggie dish if faced with separate vegetarian and omnivore menus in a restaurant. Additionally, labeling a vegetarian menu option as “recommended by the chef” or giving a meat-free meal, an appealing, fancy description, is also an effective way to coax meat-eaters into choosing veggie or vegan more frequently when eating out.
Menu “segregation,” the researchers found, is counterproductive in the bid to encourage consumers to choose a more sustainable, environmentally friendly diet.
Regardless of restaurant habits, at home, UK consumers are becoming more conscious of the types of meals they choose to put on the table. A study by Kantar World Panel in January concluded that nearly 30% of British meals were meat-free in 2017.
“Moral licensing” could be the psychological reason behind this behavior, the researchers state. In layman’s terms; a person who chooses to eat vegetarian at home on select days throughout the week may actively avoid the menu labeled “vegetarian” due to a desire to treat themselves to a meat or fish option. They feel they are “morally licensed” to do so.
“Our findings suggest that while certain restaurant menu designs can encourage some consumers to make pro-environmental food choices they can have the opposite effect on others,” Linda Bacon, one of the authors of the study, said to Food Navigator. “Restauranteurs may, therefore, need to experiment to find the design that is most effective for their specific clientele.”