What’s missing from the biggest menus?

Some of the top 100 restaurant chains have majorly upped their plant-based burger game. (Yay!) Here are the plant-based dishes they should explore next.
Various plates from veggie grill

Top restaurant chains have majorly upped their plant-based burger game. With White Castle, Carl’s Junior, and TGI Fridays rolling out Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers, consumers have more delicious, planet-friendly options at the biggest chain restaurants than ever before.

However, according to NPD data from 2018, plant-based beef makes up 44% of the plant-based protein market in foodservice right now.

GFI foodservice analyst Zak Weston points out, “None of the top chain restaurants has featured a breakout plant-based seafood, pork, or egg dish. Judging by the incredible buzz we saw with plant-based burger launches in 2018, restaurant chains that expand into other plant-based proteins stand to become media darlings and consumer favorites.”

“We’re seeing continued high interest in plant-based foods from flexitarian consumers,” says Zak. “People are motivated by health, or sustainability, or the desire for something new and exciting.”

Per GFI’s restaurant scorecard analysis of the biggest 100 restaurant chains’ plant-based offerings, these brands have a lot of exciting white space to explore.

“Consumers are clamoring for flavorful plant-based foods,” Zak observes, “but a lot of restaurants are missing out by not offering any plant-based dishes at all or only offering plant-based dishes designed to appeal exclusively to vegetarians. We see a lot more upside for restaurants to go after flexitarian consumers.”

Many smaller restaurant brands already feature mouth-watering plant-based dishes that appeal to flexitarians. Here’s a little inspiration for how the biggest chains could expand their plant-based offerings for the booming veg-curious market.


Mellow Mushroom keeps it chill with plant-based pizzas featuring Follow Your Heart’s non-dairy cheese. Blaze Pizza has plant-based on lock with a Daiya option. Most recently, California-based Pieology launched three new plant-based pizza toppings: “Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds,” “Beef Meatball,” and “Diced Chicken.”

Plant-based pizza

Courtesy of Pieology


We have to hand it to Yardhouse (one of the top 100 chain restaurants) for their extensive plant-based chicken offerings, starring Gardein. No other top 100 restaurant offers plant-based chicken. This is a major opportunity. Case in point: Veggie Grill’s best-selling Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ Sandwich has us drooling. 

Veggie grill plant-based chicken sandwich

Courtesy of Veggie Grill

And Curry Up Now’s burrito featuring Hungry Planet’s plant-based chicken is—true to form—making us hungry. 

Hungry planet plant-based chicken in a burrito

Courtesy of Hungry Planet
@Top100: get on this plant-based chicken business, stat.


The plant-based seascape is small but growing rapidly. Good Catch just launched their Fish-Free Tuna, Crab-Free Cakes, and more! Ocean Hugger is currently developing Sakimi™ (carrot salmon) and Unami™ (eggplant eel). Meanwhile, Whole Foods’ sushi counters are pioneering the foodservice side with Ocean Hugger’s Ahimi® (tomato tuna).
Plant-based tuna from oceanhugger in sushi
Courtesy of Ocean Hugger Foods

Subs & sandwiches

The supply chain for plant-based deli slices is well developed, but few menus have capitalized on this robust supply with deli sandwich options. That said, we’re loving the look of fresh&co’s Impossible Banh Mi, which uses Impossible’s plant-based meatballs.
Impossible bahn mi
Courtesy of fresh&co

Breakfast sandwiches

Speaking of sammies, the breakfast sandwich is just waiting for an upgrade! Next Level Burger’s Bacon & Sausage Benny features tempeh bacon and plant-based maple sausage links. It’s not alone on the maple sausage train: the Biscuit Bomb at Seabirds Kitchen is also rocking a plant-based sausage made with maple fennel tempeh.
Plant-based tempeh sandwich
Courtesy of Seabirds Kitchen


This one is so simple! Just skip the cheese (or opt for a plant-based one) and add protein-rich toppings like falafel or chickpeas. Or get extra creative and throw on a plant-based meat, à la the Quinoa Taco Salad at By Chloe, which features spicy seitan chorizo.
Plant-based salad
Courtesy of By Chloe


And now for the BBQ finale. The soul of all barbecue is its sauce. Use jackfruit, seitan, tempeh, or whatever the plant-based vehicle of choice. The sky’s the limit. Native Food’s plant-based BBQ Brisket Burger is a double-decker moment, with two BBQ proteins: a burger patty topped with brisket-style seitan. It’s the literal height of decadence.

Seitan bbq burger

Courtesy of Native Foods

Wow. Are we all hungry and inspired? Yes. Good. These are not niche dishes for vegans and vegetarians. These are dishes for anyone who wants delicious food.

GFI has the tools and expertise to help restaurants capitalize on this consumer interest. Explore our entree database and product database to get a sense of what’s possible. GFI is ready to help to develop the next big plant-based dish.

Banner image courtesy of Veggie Grill


Mary allen

Mary Allen GFI ALUM

Mary Allen is a science writer, creative strategist, and GFI alum focused on the intersection of sustainability and emerging technology. Find more of her work at mary-allen.com.