The choice of where to go for a nice meal can be tough at the best of times – but spare a thought for us vegetarians.
With major fast food retailers currently clamouring to show off their new meatless offerings, plant-based diets are a big talking point in society these days and many people have strong views on the subject.
But no matter which side of the fence you sit on, there is no denying that more people are choosing to reduce their meat consumption, or shun it altogether.
According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK soared from 150,000 in 2016 to an approximate 600,000 in 2019, which is expected to increase throughout 2020.
And then there are the veggies.
Climate change, sustainability, and the use of factory farming are some of the most common reasons people are choosing to swap their meaty meals for plant-based alternatives.
More and more companies are producing plant-based products to tie in with current consumerism, and some eating establishments are beginning to follow suit.
But with the number of non-meat eaters on the rise, tourist trap Blackpool risks being left behind.
Most places across the Fylde coast have had various vegetarian options available for years, but vegan options are yet to catch up.
The situation is definitely improving but leaves much to be desired for those of us who choose not to eat meat.
The situation was not helped by the sudden closure of the Fylde coast’s only vegan restaurant, Faringo’s, in 2018.
After adopting a vegan diet in 2017, and returning to vegetarianism in 2020, I’ve spent my fair share of time tracking down good places to eat with my family of five.
A few years ago, it was near impossible to find anywhere in Blackpool that catered for vegans at all, so we often resorted to driving out of the Fylde coast to plant-friendly towns like Kendal if we wanted to eat out as family.
Since then, as demand for vegan food has increased, some chain establishments occupying Blackpool have stepped up their game.
But there appears to be a slower shift among smaller independent businesses, perhaps missing an opportunity to move into an underserved corner of the market. Those making an effort to cater for vegans say the demand has been “massive”.
Both Frankie and Benny’s (Festival Park, Rigby Road) and Las Iguanas (opposite North Pier on the Prom) have exclusive vegan menus, with an even more extensive choice for vegetarians.
Veggies can enjoy an array of Italian classics including pizza and pasta along with meat and cheese alternatives at Frankie and Benny’s, with exotic curries and tapas available at Las Iguanas.
Many other Indian, Chinese, and Italian restaurants offer vegan versions of dishes, and plant-based eaters could ask for ghee to be swapped for oil in vegetable curries, or to lose the egg in the egg fried rice.
The problem is, busy restaurants are not always the ideal place to sit with an impatient toddler while others are trying to enjoy a peaceful meal, so we often opt for pubs.
Again, in my experience, most chain pubs have drastically improved over the last year across the Fylde coast.
As a Wyre resident, we eat at the River Wyre (Vintage Inns) pub regularly and its menu offerings are tasty and extensive, changing with the seasons.
While it can be somewhat expensive for vegetable-based dishes (such as half a butternut squash filled with beans, seeds and ariabiatta sauce for £11.50), the atmosphere is inviting and the dog-friendly bar is a bonus.
Paul Thornhill, general manager of the River Wyre pub in Poulton, told me: “Businesses have to adapt to supply and demand, no matter what that means.
“We implemented our vegan menu about two years ago and since then the demand for it has been massive.
“The vegan menu still isn’t quite as popular as our regular menu but it’s definitely increased a huge amount over the last year or so.”
A few years ago vegan options were unheard of, and many chain eateries have gone through a vast improvement to include everyone in their menus, Mr Thornhill said.
We also visit Thornton Lodge, a Chef and Brewer pub, often, which offers numerous vegetarian and vegan options within a cosy, country-style setting.
Other note-worthy chains include Ember Inns, (Castle Gardens pub, Poulton Road, Carleton) Sizzling Pubs and Greene King pubs, which have several locations across the Fylde coast.
I would also recommend visiting the Eagle in Weeton if you fancy a trip out to eat in Fylde.
We visited in December for our son’s 10th birthday, and enjoyed our vegetarian meals of feta pie, halloumi burger, and the kids were happy with their margherita flatbreads.
Unfortunately, flatbreads and pizzas are a common occurrence for our little ones when eating out.
Children’s menus nearly always offer cheese and tomato pasta, margherita pizza and, if they are lucky, veggie sausages and mash as meat-free options.
This can present issues for parents of vegan children, who are likely to be faced with tomato pasta as a lone option, depending on the brand of sausages.
It has become a running joke for me and my seven-year-old vegetarian son, as his options are always so limited he knows what he has to choose from before he looks at the menu, no matter where we eat.
Establishments need to cater for people of all ages, and it seems fruitless to offer delicious plant-based options to the parents of a party and leave the children with dry pasta and overpriced ketchup.
Of course, there are also fast food establishments like McDonald’s, Greggs and KFC who are trialling vegan burgers, sausage rolls, pasties and even a ‘veggie dippers’ happy meal.
For those wishing to support local businesses instead of corporate chains, eating out is still fairly difficult on the Fylde coast on a plant-based diet.
Most options are limited to one burger, pasta with vegetables or a coconut curry which often recurs in the same fashion across the majority of businesses.
As numbers of people adopting a meat-free diet are still on the rise, independent businesses in Blackpool and the surrounding areas need to adapt to keep up with the demand being served by chains and fast food outlets, and could be missing a trick.
There are currently no explicitly vegetarian or vegan food businesses on the entire Fylde coast, after Faringo’s vegan restaurant in King’s Hotel, New South Prom, mysteriously closed in 2018.
As a Fylde coast resident who supports small businesses, food offerings are still fairly lacklustre and uninspiring.
But hopefully with the surge in vegan and vegetarian customers across the area, independent businesses will take note and have a go at cooking with more plants, experiment with new dishes and begin to accommodate the growing meat-free masses.