Looking up a term on Google can be an effective way to measure its relative importance in society. For instance, fresh off the championship win, searching the term ‘Kawhi Leonard’ will result in a whopping 111,000,000 hits. Thinking about food, and specific dietary requirements, the search term “kosher restaurants Toronto” yields about 3 million results. It’s important to note that this is not to say that there are 3 million kosher restaurants in Toronto, but instead that 3 million websites mention these terms in a capacity.
By contrast, a search for “halal restaurants Toronto” returns about 1 million hits. From that, you might assume that there are three times as many Jewish people in Toronto as there are Muslims. However, the truth to this, as the click-bait ads go, may surprise you.
According to the most recent data, the situation is exactly reversed: around 3 per cent of Canadians are Muslim, whereas only 1 per cent are Jewish! Statistics Canada projects that by 2036, Muslims will make up as much as 6.6 per cent of the total population. That is phenomenal growth! And yet, virtually none of those Muslims, of whom there are well over a million in Canada, can eat at your restaurant. Why?
Let’s look back at our search terms. It’s probably not a stretch to say the word kosher is widely recognized by most Canadians, and many will have at least a vague understanding of its meaning. The same cannot be said for halal. Yet.
In the simplest terms, something that’s halal is permissible for Muslims to consume, to wear, or to participate in. The rules for what is and what is not halal (incidentally, the opposite of halal is haram) are given in the Quran, the holy book of the Islamic faith.
While some things are always halal, such as fish, some things never are, like alcohol. Therefore, fish in a white wine sauce is not halal. It gets tricky as you can’t always tell if an ingredient or dish is halal by looking at it or even by knowing what it is! For example, beef might be halal, depending on how it was raised, processed, and packaged, but it looks exactly the same as non-halal beef and may even come from the same farm. So, how does a Muslim know what to buy or where to eat?
The consumer’s guarantee is a halal certification label. Since 2016, all halal claims on food products in Canada must be backed by a certifying body, of which there are many in Canada. Having halal certification from a trusted agency lets consumers know a product is okay to purchase and consume. Likewise, a restaurant can obtain halal certification, taking the guesswork out of mealtime decisions for Muslim diners.
To become halal-certified, the first step is to contact a certifying agency. Ideally, this agency will perform an audit of your operation. This detailed assessment will look at your suppliers (they must be halal-certified) and ingredients, and your prep, cooking, and storage spaces. The best certifiers will work with your business, guiding and teaching you, and helping you during the process.
Achieving halal certification may require a variety of changes on your part, from sourcing halal-certified suppliers to adding new storage to keep halal products away from non-halal items to prevent cross-contamination. Though this might seem like a lot, for many restaurants and foodservice operations, it may take little more than a tweak to an existing set-up or process. Ultimately, the return on the investment is almost invariably worthwhile.
To conclude the process, the certifying agent will return to assess the results of your efforts. Once he is satisfied that not only are you using halal ingredients and methods where you claim to be but also that you aren’t breaking any health or hygiene laws and that you and your staff are conducting business in a virtuous manner, you’ll receive your certification.
It’s important to understand that a restaurant does not have to be exclusively halal to gain certification. By the same token, an all-halal business is not for Muslims only. Muslim-Canadians like the same things other Canadians enjoy and they’d love to dine with their friends at a steakhouse, Italian eatery, or even an Irish pub! What could you do to your existing menu to tap into this demographic? You may find you’re not too far off from where you need to be already.
Offering increasingly inclusive menus is a trend in foodservice. Just think about all the vegan, vegetarian, and allergen-free offerings that are so commonly seen today, these were almost non-existent not so many years ago! Considering the size, both current and potential, of the Muslim community in Canada, adding halal to your menu is the next logical step.