Posted by: conradvisionquest | May 10, 2010

A (New) Vegan’s Guide to Dining Out

When I first went vegetarian, I wasn’t too concerned with restaurant dining.  Most places have at least one vegetarian dish (where cheese is the main ingredient!).  Then I decided to cut out dairy and eggs, and I was fearful that things would become difficult.  Thankfully, I was wrong.

I was really determined to change my lifestyle, so I thought we just wouldn’t go out to eat as much (we already weren’t, thank you economy!), or I would have to eat before we went out.  In the beginning, that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s how it went:  If  friends asked us if we wanted to go to this or that restaurant, I would get online and check their menu.  If they didn’t have anything for me, I would write them off and we would suggest somewhere else that I knew had something.  Or, I would prepare to only eat fries and a side salad and eat something more substantial before we left.  What were my fears?  I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by asking the server alot of questions about the menu.   I didn’t want to feel like I was being difficult.  I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, like the chef.  But now that I am becoming more comfortable, I can say that eating out is not the nightmare that some might imagine.  It does take some effort, but it’s totally worth it. 

So may I present my tips for eating out vegan…

1) Investigate.  If you know where you’re going, check out the restaurant’s menu online (if available) or request a faxed copy and see which dishes can easily be made vegan.  This will lessen the questions when you get there.
2) Call ahead.  If you’ve checked out the menu and see some items that may be easily veganized, call ahead and ask about it.
3) Arrive early.  I’ve tried this and I think I will do it more often.  Just arrive before the rest of your party, that way you can ask your server all your questions without being the center of attention. 
4) Make friends with the staff.  If you frequent certain restaurants in your area, make friends with everyone:  your server, the hostess, the chef.  They will be more apt to accomodate you and will sometimes go out of their way to do so.  A little friendly goes a long way.
5) Don’t be shy. Easier said than done, right? But the more often you dine out, the easier it becomes.  This is becoming easier for me, and not one restaurant that I have asked has failed to provide a vegan meal.  Considering we live in a conservative, cattle raising area of the country I find this surprising.  I have underestimated people.
6) Save the heavy conversation for after the meal.  Sometimes in order to shift their uncomfortable-ness. people will try to make YOU feel uncomfortable.  I had this happen recently, where someone kept making provoking comments throughout the meal.  I just ignored it.  However, if you find that someone is genuinely curious about eating vegan, I usually say something neutral and then invite them to engage in more conversation after the meal.
7) Don’t sweat the small stuff, or do. This is where you decide how many questions you are going to ask. Are your vegetables cooked in butter? Is this vegetable soup made with chicken stock? Does the breading have cheese or eggs in it? If the staff is really on top of things, they will know what a vegan is and even alert you to dishes that may have animal products in them. You have to decide how far you want to take things and what you are comfortable with. I have knowingly consumed dairy when eating out, simply because things were pre-made and I was freaking hungry (I know, the vegan police can come now and revoke my membership). I was comfortable with this, and I am not going to beat myself up for minor transgressions. We rarely eat out, and when we do, 9 times out of 10 there are no issues. This is why I try not to get caught up in labels, and why I prefer this definition of veganism.

8.) Don’t apologize.  I still need to work on this one.  I am still fascinated by the social aspects of eating vegan.  Would someone with allergies apologize for asking questions about the menu to make sure they don’t go into anaphylactic shock?  Probably not.  So why do I feel like I have to?  Even though eating vegan is a choice and not a potentially life threatening situation, my “thinking self” knows I don’t have to apologize.  But my “feeling self” still does sometimes. 

Some quick veganizations for common menu items: 

*Pizza- Order it with a ton of veggies, just ask them to leave the cheese off.

* Ask if they will do combo plate of just sides.  Grilled veggies, salad, soup, rice, etc.

*Shrimp or chicken over pasta- Just ask if they can leave the meat off.  I did this last night, and it was fabulous! 

Restaurants are in the hospitality business, and will more often than not be happy to accomodate you.  After all, the food costs for vegetarian and vegan dishes are much lower, so they can make more money if you order a meat-less dish.

I would love to hear about your restaurant successes or failures.  Tips and stories welcome below…

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much! Check the local farmers market…that’s where I found them.

    • it took me a minute to realize you were talking about the white eggplant. hehe, thanks!
      ~w

  2. I live in the south – Savannah, where it’s Paula Deen and “put some butter on it ya’ll!” all the time. But, I still manage to eat out. I find that lot’s of people don’t know what vegan really means, so I usually ask if stuff has dairy or butter in it or if I’m at a mexican place, if the refried beans have lard in them. But, with eating out, sometimes stuff happens. I ate vegan burritos with soy cheese almost daily at this one place near my work until I found out the soy cheese was Veggie Shreds (which contains dairy). But I live to tell the tale.

    • hehe! you’re funny. 🙂 at first i was the vegan police for myself, but that was getting exhausting. eating out can be tricky in the deep south. it’s pretty much a crap shoot, but we do the best we can, right?
      ~w


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