On Wednesday, February 22, a majority of Christians started Lent, the 40-day season leading up to Easter. While Lenten observance varies across Christian traditions, one commonality is fasting and abstaining from certain foods. Fasting traditions also vary, but one of the most common is abstaining from meat on Fridays.


Approximately 23% of the population of the United States is Catholic, and nearly two-thirds of Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. According to industry publication Restaurant Hospitality, that means 14% of the U.S. population is seeking out meat-free options on these early spring Fridays. With the addition of Orthodox Christians (who tend to fast by eating vegan) and Protestants (who adopt a more individualized approach to Lent), a sizable segment of the United States will shift their eating patterns for the next few weeks.


While foodservice operators should tailor their approach to Lent to their geography and customer base, there are a few things they should keep in mind.


Focus on Fish

While observant Catholics abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, fish is ok. This led to the creation of McDonald’s staple, the Filet-o-fish. In fact, the Filet-o-fish was the first addition to the original menu and was created specifically to address the needs of Catholic customers. Who knows? Maybe a Lent dish will become a new menu classic.


If an operator is considering a seafood addition to the menu, this time of year is perfect for testing out new products, getting customer feedback on seafood items, and exploring how well the new product integrates into existing workflows. That said, operators should not expect Lenten fish sales to be indicative of year-round demand; a quarter of McDonald’s Filet-o-fish sales take place during this six-week period.


Don’t Forget Plant-Based Options

Fish Fridays is a tradition, not a rule. As consumer preferences change, the tradition may too. Foodservice IP has worked extensively on the surge in plant-based foods. While there is not much data on plant-based eating during Lent, it stands to reason that many fasting consumers—especially Millennial and Gen Z shoppers—will seek out vegan and vegetarian options. In addition, many people do not like fish, which makes plant-based protein their only choice.


Consider Protein Swaps

At Foodservice IP, we have written a lot about how simplifying workflow is critical for dealing with labor shortages. If operators add fish and plant-based options to the menu, workflow could become complicated. Consider offering “protein swapping” for a salad or pasta dish, so that fasting consumers can choose fish or plant-based options, while committed meat eaters can still get their fix. This expands your menu while keeping your workflow relatively simple.


The Bottom Line

Seasonality is a great way to test new products for a short period of time. As plant-based and meatless options become more prominent, foodservice operators should consider using this season as an incubator for fish, vegan, and vegetarian options. Promoting inclusive dining options while also responding to long-term food trends? That sounds like a win-win!