How can I cater better for Muslim guests?
Catering for religious dietary requirements
“Halal secret of Pizza Express” blared a 2014 headline in The Sun. It refers to the fact that all Pizza Express chicken is Halal – a fact which the Pizza chain does actually boldly display on its website.
Despite tabloid headlines, Halal-serving restaurants aren’t new, and are very common. Selected Subway stores have used Halal meat in their sarnies since 2007. Nearly a fifth of Nando’s are Halal only. These chains show their Halal status in their windows and on their menus and website. (KFC and Nando’s both also say they only set up new Halal locations if there is a non-Halal one nearby.)
Restaurants have, for a long time, been adapting their menus to suit Britain’s population.
This article goes through some ways you can tap into this expanding market. Britain’s Muslim population is growing: 5% in the 2011 census and an estimated 8.2%, or around 5.6 million people, by 2030. Making your restaurant Halal-friendly will unlock a substantial proportion of the population – and get new customers eating your food. It will get people talking and introduce your diners to new world cultures and beliefs.
Since some people would choose to abstain from eating Halal meat, it may be that you choose to open a store which caters to, but is not solely, Halal. Alternatively, it could be that you decide which stores serve Halal meat depending on the demographics of the local area.
Either way, it’s useful to get to grips with the steps it would take to make your stores available to 8% of British people.
What does Halal mean?
Halal means permissible in Arabic. Halal rules are pretty complicated. But the simplest way to explain it is that there are foods you can’t eat (Haram), like pork and shellfish, and food you can eat only if they’re slaughtered, cleaned, cooked, and served in a very specific way.
Milk and most dairy foods are all Halal. But Muslims can’t eat non-Halal animal-derived additives such as gelatin. Alcohol is forbidden too. For a full list of Halal food guidelines, see the Department of Halal Certification.
What can you do to make your restaurant Halal?
As is the case with many religions, there are degrees of adherence within the Muslim faith. It may be that you only want to provide Halal options. But to serve those who are very devout, you may need to become a Halal certified restaurant (which requires cutting out a lot of stock entirely, like not serving alcoholic drinks). No alcohol = no potential for cross-contamination.
1. Serve Vegetarian options
All fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, eggs and most dairy products (depending on additives) are automatically Halal, as long as they don’t come into contact with non-Halal foods. Make sure that your veggie dishes don’t contain gelatin, stock or some emulsifiers & additives which may not be Halal.
2. Offer Halal meat for Muslim customers
For Muslims, a key concern is the way that the animal has been killed. The conditions for Halal slaughter are laid out in the Qu’ran. ‘The Islamic form of slaughtering animals or poultry, dhabiha, involves killing through a cut to the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe’, the BBC explains. The person doing the killing also says a prayer to Allah.
Whether this form of slaughter is the most humane is much debated amongst animal rights campaigners.
Halal food regulators say the animals should be healthy and happy before they are killed. For example, ‘the animal must never see another animal being slaughtered nor must it ever see the blade being sharpened’, according to Premier Halal Butchers. The vast majority of animals killed by Halal methods are stunned before slaughter.
You could change your restaurant’s meat supplier to a Halal meat supplier. This would mean your supplier follows Islamic principles as well as adhering to strict EU standards on animal welfare. Their livestock are stunned and slaughtered in halal abattoirs. This is easy to do and many restaurants have turned to wholesale Halal meat suppliers already. On a commercial level It makes no sense to have halal and non-halal production lines when there is such a significant sector of your consumers that care one way and few who care the other way.
But your restaurant or café may only wish to provide a few Halal food options rather than overhaul all your meat supplies. You can buy pre-packaged Halal foods from most UK supermarkets.
3. Set aside a Halal food cooking area
Cross-contamination is an issue when it comes to preparing Halal dishes. To be properly Halal, it can’t touch anything which is non-Halal. Halal foods should be stored, prepared and served in a different area in your kitchen. To avoid Halal food or veggie dishes cross-contaminating with non-Halal products:
– Use a separate counter, chopping board and utensils for all Halal food prep.
– Ensure all utensils, crockery, cutlery and surfaces are cleaned and sanitised before use.
– Store and cook Halal foods separately to your other foods – especially your meats, like pork. Ideally, use a different fridge and oven.
– Store Halal foods on the shelf above non-Halal foods to prevent contamination by dripping.
– Clearly label all Halal dishes in your kitchen.
4. Become a Halal certified restaurant
Even though Pizza Express only serves Halal chicken, they are not a Halal-certified restaurant, because the chicken comes into contact with non-Halal foods like pork. You can register to become a Halal certified restaurant. All of your food is Halal safe this way. To become Halal certified, you must eliminate the risk of alcohol, or forbidden products or by-products, mixing with the food that you serve. Therefore, Halal certification offers reassurance to very strict Muslim consumers. Contact your local Halal certification body for further assistance (their job is to clarify what is Halal and what is not, and to certify food for consumption by Muslims). Some Muslims therefore regard Halal certification as an assurance of the Halal status of food.
At the moment there are more than 12 unregulated Halal Certification Bodies (HCBs) within the UK. These operate according to varying Halal standards, because of the differences in opinion regarding how some Islamic laws should be interpreted.
5. Spread the word!
Social media is a great tool to help you create a culture of transparency around your Halal restaurant. Restaurant-goers today are clued-up about what they eat – knowledge of their food’s source interests consumers. The ethics around animal welfare are becoming more and more transparent and people feel rewarded when they’re making positive, conscious choices. Who are your farmers? Where is your meat coming from? Who grows your vegetables? Be proud of your suppliers, and the high quality produce you’re serving. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but disclosing some information openly on your websites or social media in a fun, well-meaning way can actually strengthen your reputation among your customer base.
It’s important for your non-Halal consumers too – make sure you declare what’s Halal and what’s not to everyone.
Getting your restaurant out there in general will reap benefits. Word-of-mouth is huge in the Muslim community. If someone they trust is tweeting that your certain restaurant is serving great Halal food, or sharing photos of your dishes, people are more likely to take notice, and there’s a chance they’ll check it out. Another reason to increase your social media marketing!
The UK’s biggest Halal food website, Halal Girl About Town, reviews Halal restaurants in the UK, seeking out the most romantic Halal restaurants in London or the best Halal places for brunch. The demand for Halal food has driven similar ventures such as the Halal Dining Club. Consider reaching out!
For many Muslim restaurant-goers, it will be enough that you simply provide Halal dishes diligently prepared, cooked and served. For others, they need the Halal certificate of approval. It’s your choice how far you want to take things, and the scale of the market you’re targeting. But given the rate that the Muslim population is expanding, serving this community can be lucrative. Beyond that, you’ll be able to warmly welcome a diverse variety of people into your restaurant.
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