How to Start a Vegan or Vegetarian Restaurant

Wondering how to start a vegan restaurant? Now is the perfect time to join the plant-based revolution. Vegan and vegetarian dining has become increasingly popular in recent years. As more and more consumers become aware of the environmental and ethical impact of meat and animal product consumption, a huge variety of plant-based options have arrived on supermarket shelves and on the high street.

Every year, the January event called Veganuary draws more and more newcomers to a plant-based lifestyle with a record 706,965 signing up across the world in 2023.

For existing and aspiring restaurateurs, starting a vegan restaurant could be not only an ethical and sustainable business idea but a lucrative one too. Here, we look at everything you need to know about opening a vegan restaurant, and how Square’s robust suite of business solutions can help.

1. Decide: Vegetarian, vegan or plant-based

One of the first and most fundamental questions to ask yourself is whether you will be starting a vegan restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant or a plant-based restaurant. While many use these three terms interchangeably, there are some subtle differences that will have implications for your menu and the scope of your target audience:

  • Vegetarian – Vegetarian cuisine is mostly plant-based but contains some animal products like eggs, honey, and dairy products

  • Vegan – Vegan cuisine exclusively uses plant-based ingredients excluding all animal products (including caseins, gelatines and isinglass which are sometimes used in brewing or fermentation)

  • Plant-based – Plant-based foods and beverages prioritise the use of plants but may or may not also use animal products

2. Get to know your local market

Now you know what kind of restaurant you want to open, it’s important to understand what other restaurants in your area offer the same cuisine as you. Market research is absolutely essential for informing everything from your menu choices to your pricing strategy. Visit other vegan cafes and restaurants in your area. Identify their strengths and weaknesses and any opportunities that they afford you. What can you offer their customers that will make them also come to you? In what ways can you offer a different or better experience for diners?

3. Establish your niche

Opening up a vegan restaurant is just like starting any other business. Instead of trying to cater to everyone, you should focus on finding your niche and catering to it as best you can. Do you want to specialise in a cuisine that already lends itself to vegetarian or vegan dining like Indian or Chinese food? Or do you want to provide vegan alternatives to fast-food favourites like burgers and hotdogs to win over omnivores and newly-converted vegans?

4. Build relationships with suppliers

By now you should have decided on a concept for your vegan or vegetarian restaurant and how it will compare with similar businesses in your area. Next, focus on building your supply chain. For all your culinary prowess, your vegetarian restaurant business is only ever as good as its ingredients. Start building relationships with local fruit growers and vegetable farmers. Look into UK-based companies that manufacture plant-based meat alternatives. Look for quality, value for money and flexibility in terms of payment options and timelines.

5. Find a location

Now you have the perfect restaurant concept, you need to find the perfect location for your vegan or vegetarian restaurant. Areas with higher footfall will lead to more walk-in diners but will typically be more expensive. A location that’s off the beaten track might be cheaper, but you will need to rely more on marketing and word of mouth to keep your restaurant busy.

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6. Build your business plan and apply for funding

Opening up a vegan restaurant requires a great deal of overhead costs to get up and running. You’ll need to make detailed financial reporting a part of your business plan if you’re to secure funding from investors or business lenders.

As well as a detailed breakdown of all the equipment, ingredients and decor you’ll need to get started, you’ll need to do a detailed cash flow forecast, projected inventory turnover rates and an overview of the operating expenses you’ll incur while doing business.

7. Obtain the necessary permits, licences and insurance

Before starting up a vegan restaurant, you’ll need to obtain a number of licences in order to operate legally. While your business model may not require all of the permissions listed, we recommend you look into all of the following:

  • Food business registration – Mandatory for any business that prepares, stores, cooks, serves, handles, distributes, sells or supplies food

  • Food premises approval – Necessary for premises that handle meat, eggs and dairy products. Not needed for vegan restaurants

  • Premises licence – Essential if you intend to serve alcohol. Also covers the serving of food and hot drinks after 11 pm, playing live or recorded music and showing films, TV programmes or sporting events to patrons

  • Events licence – For serving alcohol on special occasions rather than as part of your daily operations

You should also get public liability insurance at the absolute minimum, although buildings insurance and employer’s liability insurance are also worth considering.

How we can help

Knowing how to start a vegan restaurant is one thing. Being able to operate one successfully is something else. Fortunately, we offer a robust restaurant POS system designed specifically for the needs of restaurants. Not only does it make ordering frictionless, but it also has integrations for online orders to improve revenues and reduce your reliance on foot traffic. It also has powerful analytics tools that provide insights that will inform and guide your business strategy. And with Square Register and card machines, taking payments is fast, secure and effortless. This can add to the perfect customer experience that will keep word of mouth strong and grow your vegan or vegetarian restaurant.

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