Not so long ago, plant-based proteins were considered solid supporting players – available as options for vegetarian guests tagging along to restaurants with omnivores but not necessarily tasty enough to be promoted as entrées worth seeking out in their own right. That has changed in a big way. Plant-based proteins have improved in taste and variety, consumers have become more aware of beef’s significant carbon footprint, and operators have struggled to source animal proteins. This has all resulted in plant-based proteins growing in demand for consumers and restaurant operators alike. This year, some restaurant brands aren’t only sourcing plant-based proteins but are also innovating their own varieties and testing them with guests. Chipotle, in particular, recently developed its own vegan chorizo made with peas, chipotle peppers, tomato paste, crushed garlic, Spanish smoked paprika and extra-virgin olive oil. Sean Cash, an economist with the Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Tufts University, told the Washington Post that more restaurant operators are “seeing it as a necessity” to offer plant-based proteins and that these options may help give restaurants a critical bit of extra pull with potential guests. This year, take a closer look at plant-based proteins worthy of occupying the center of the plate – whether as sourced replacements for chicken, beef, pork or seafood, or as combinations you develop in-house. Are there opportunities for you to enhance your selection and offer these proteins as customizable additions or substitutions on standard menu items?