What are food tribes and why are they important in the food revolution?

You have probably heard of or been part of a food tribe, a group of people coming together, online and in person, around shared values to collectively express what they want out of food. They are specific about what they do and don’t eat.

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, the percentage of American adults who follow a specific diet protocol more than doubled in one year, from 14 percent to 36 percent in 2018. This attitude shift poses a significant challenge to foodservice operators, who seek to cater to their guests’ unique and diverse dietary needs.

Sorting it out

To better understand these food tribes, here are a few of the most popular ones:


The paleo diet embraces a return to a way of eating from our ancestors’ time – hunting and gathering. It’s high in protein, nuts, seeds and vegetables – think eggs, fish, beef, shrimp and poultry.


Keto is short for ketogenic. This diet consists of up to 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs, with a focus on high-quality sources of protein, refined fats and a small amount of dark vegetables.


This diet promotes clean eating for 30 days. People who are participating in the Whole30 program eat “moderate portions of meat, seafood and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices and seasonings.”


A semi-vegetarian diet, this diet basically boils down to: eat more vegetables and less meat. Flexitarians lean toward non-meat proteins like beans, peas and eggs, fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy, sugar and spices.

Vegan and vegetarian

These diets have been around much longer and include people who don’t eat animal products, though there are many levels and types within this category. On the menu: fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh.

Don’t panic! Have a plan.

The message is clear: Having a salad bar is no longer enough. But with all of these taste preferences, how are you going to meet the current expectations of your team?

Meeting the needs of your increasingly diverse and selective guests is manageable when you have the right plan. Focus on what people eat, not on what they don’t. Consider what these dining concepts have in common. Find out how you can blast through all the confusion to make sure you have something for everyone, so they stay engaged and have fun.

Hire chefs in your cafe who understand food tribes and the variety of quality options they require. They’ll not only be dining in your facility, but also sharing how great you are on social media and within their influential circles.

Don’t fret – you don’t have to create specific meals for each group. Just have flexibility in the items that you have in your cafe. Here are some things to think about:

  • Flexibility of preparation: Grill, roast, steam, broil, bake and poach – these are all healthy alternatives to frying and sautéing. Not just for meats, but vegetables, too.
  • Rainbow of fruits and vegetables: Focus on a variety of dark and light produce from local sources and farms for peak flavor.
  • Sauces: These can offer a variety of flavors and act as substitutes for sugar, milk and carbohydrates. Try different salsas, or olive- or avocado-based infused oils.
  • Visual information: Provide signage that discloses the base ingredients in foods that might otherwise be confusing.
  • Best possible quality: As much as possible, serve locally sourced, ethically raised and sustainably produced food.
  • Spice options that pair with specialty stations: Reach beyond the salt and pepper and include options like cajun spices, herbs de Provence, turmeric, curry, basil, oregano, chili powder and cinnamon.
  • Nuts and seeds: Small bowls of nuts (like almonds, cashews and pistachios) and seeds (like sunflower, sesame or flax) offer your guests a good snacking option. You can also include single-serving bags at your registers or in your grab-and-go snack areas.
  • Dairy substitutes: Don’t forget your beverage station! Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk and soy are a few of the more commonly used substitutes.

Keeping food tribes thriving in your workplace is probably easier than you first thought. People on food tribe diets will put their plates together based on their needs on any given day, and they will have fun doing it.

Don’t forget about your guests who aren’t on a specific diet. Crowd favorites like macaroni and cheese, burgers, sandwiches, chili and soups still have a place in your dining program.

Rotating options is key – make sure you keep crowd favorites on the menu!

Want to learn more about how we delight food tribes of all types? Get in touch with us.