Terry McDowall on Creating a Vegan-Friendly Experience at TGI Fridays | Guest Post

Terry McDowall, Head of Food and Drink for TGI Fridays UK, looks at how the popular high street chain has broadened its menu to include a vegan-friendly offering that doesn’t compromise on taste.

TGI Fridays is known for being a famous American bar and grill. And while our grills will always be a key part of our heritage, we are very focused on delivering our Fridays experience to all. Whether you’re avoiding meat and dairy altogether or cutting back – our menu offers a great selection of vegan food, so everyone can enjoy the famous Fridays flavours and experience.

For us, catering to vegans isn’t a tick box exercise. Vegan food is now a core part of our menu and an area that is set to grow further. Our aim is to offer some of the best vegan food on the high street, and this is a mission I am taking on personally – in fact I followed a strictly vegan diet for three months in order to put myself in the shoes of our vegan guests.

Something I quickly became very aware of during this time was the lack of choice at many restaurants – often just one option. As a result, we offer four different vegan starters and four vegan mains – our guests deserve plenty of choice and we plan to continue to expand this selection.

During Veganuary this year, we gained a lot of attention for launching our first vegan burger. Burgers are one of the most popular items at Fridays, so a vegan burger may have been an obvious choice for us to complete our burger selection. However, our expanded vegan offering also includes dishes some may be surprised to see on a Fridays menu, such as Pineapple and Jalapeno Edamame Beans, Roasted Vegetable Alfredo Pasta and Avocado Houmous.

Moving Forwards

We have been on a journey to increase Friday’s vegan-friendly credentials for some time. For example, we tweaked the recipe for our famous Jack Daniels Glaze several years ago to a vegan recipe. It has always been important for us to take consumer needs into consideration.

We are now taking this idea further. With our current menu, I have looked at every dish to see if it is possible to replace a non-vegan element with a vegan one. If this maintains – or even better, improves – the flavour, then we switch. It’s that simple.

For example, we have been trialling vegan buns for our new vegan burgers – and they are so good, we plan to move to vegan buns as standard for all our burgers this year. Likewise, we plan to change the mayonnaise in our burgers to vegan burger sauce within the next six months. It tastes better. With our vegetable fajitas, sour cream has been replaced with a hot sauce and vegan avocado cream. As well as adding extra flavour elements, it also reduces the fat content of the dish.

We will do this for all food items where there is no discernible difference in quality and taste because, quite simply, why wouldn’t you?

One issue we do have to navigate is supply – a lot of vegan suppliers are smaller operations.  In some cases, they simply can’t fulfil the order sizes we would need to make. However, this will become less of a challenge as the vegan eating out market grows – something that in my view it certainly will – and suppliers respond.

Food For Everyone

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is how popular the vegan items have been – including with non-vegans. Our vegan burger has sold incredibly well and our vegan tomato bruschetta has become one of the most popular appetisers on our menu, full stop.

As well as small changes to the menu that will help make more of our dishes vegan-friendly, I am also working on lots of all-new vegan dishes, developed from the ground up in our test kitchen. By next January, we’ll have an even bigger and better selection available. Watch this space!

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