A Vegan's Guide to Dining Out
Yes, you can be vegan AND enjoy restaurants!
There are some incredible restaurant offerings out there for vegans. Depending on your location, you may even find strictly vegan restaurants!
in all my years of being vegan, I think I've only encountered one or two restaurants where there was NOTHING for me to eat, and those were little places where you would expect very limited menus.
It's safe to say that just about every restaurant at least has a simple salad, pasta with marinara sauce, or other basic dish. It may not be particularly fancy, but you should be able to find something to eat. Italian and Chinese restaurants always have options!
Most places, though, offer more extensive choices for vegans. Some of these dishes appear on the menu, but others do not.
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The Waiter Is Your Friend
Your server is your ally in getting a delicious vegan meal
When dining at a non-vegan restaurant, I find that talking to the waiter prior to ordering is very helpful. Explain to the server (with a smile and kind attitude, of course) that you are vegan and what, exactly, that means.
Servers can often make excellent recommendations. They are usually quite happy to check with the chef to make sure all of the ingredients in a dish are vegan or that something typically made with animal ingredients is prepared as a vegan meal for you.
Vegan Dining Guide
Always Ask About Ingredients...
...or you may not know which menu items are vegan and which are not
It is important to ask about the ingredients in a dish, even if the selection sounds perfectly vegan. Verify the ingredients in salad dressings, breads, soups, and sauces. Butter and cheese are particularly notorious for "sneaking into" dishes where you might not expect to find them.
Some restaurants have meat, cheese, or eggs in their house salads or don't realize that vegetarians and vegans don't eat chicken or fish. There are often fish ingredients hidden in sauces in Thai restaurants. Some Japanese miso soups are vegan, while other have fish ingredients in the broth. Indian dishes may have ghee (clarified butter), cheese, or other dairy products in certain menu items, though others are perfectly vegan.
In some cases, you can ask if a dish normally served with butter can be made using olive oil instead. This is a good option for a pasta dish or steamed vegetables. You can also dip bread into olive oil as a substitute for butter.
My Favorite Tip!
Below is my all-time favorite tip for finding a good meal even when there are NO vegan options on the menu!
Don't See a Vegan Dish on the Menu?
If you're looking at the menu and feeling disheartened because you don't see anything that looks good, don't despair! You can create a magnificent meal by "inventing" your own dish using ingredients found in various menu offerings.
For example: the chicken and broccoli dish sounds good, except for the chicken; the pasta with olive oil and garlic would be fantastic without the shrimp; the rice with beans would be appealing, if only it didn't come covered with cheese; and the beef with mushrooms and onions would clearly better without the beef.
Tell the server (again, with a smile so he or she knows you're not intentionally trying to make life difficult!) you would like pasta with broccoli, mushrooms, onions, and beans in a light olive oil and garlic sauce. You know they can do this because you have the evidence in your hands that they have all the ingredients!
After your delicious meal, thank the waiter profusely, send your thanks to the chef, and leave a good tip.
You May Also Be Interested in Reading The Vegan Traveler
- The Vegan Traveler
Travel can present certain challenges to vegans or others with special dietary needs. Here are some tips, tricks, and strategies to help you enjoy your trip without worrying about your food.
Your Vegan Meal Should Be Great
But if there is a problem...
Should there be a mistake and your "eggplant-no-parmesan" is placed in front of you with cheese, send it back. If it returns and you see that the chef has just scraped the cheese off, send it back again. (This actually happened to me once!) Having to send a dish back a second time is not a typical occurrence, but it can happen. Any significant complaints should be addressed to the owner or manager of the restaurant.
If you feel like the waiter really doesn't care or isn't paying attention, you do have the option of presenting your diet as being related to a food allergy. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a person thinking you have a health issue to be appropriately diligent. It is rare, though, that you would have to resort to this tactic, since most waiters really are trying their best to serve you a good meal.
Online Guides to Vegan Restaurant Options
Extensive listing of vegan restaurants and restaurants with vegan options. A VegDining membership entitles the cardholder to discounts at participating restaurants.
Thorough descriptions of vegan restaurants and restaurants with vegan options.
- Vegan Eating Out
Fast food options for vegans.
- Vegan Eating Out
Vegan options at chain restaurants that aren't in the fast food category.
Vegans Dining Out
Some issues you might want to consider
I would argue that whenever you dine out at a non-vegan restaurant there is the chance for contamination.
Even if your meal is technically vegan, it may well be prepared using the same grills, pots, pans, and utensils that touched meat or dairy.
The bread may not be vegan, even though the waiter sincerely thought it was. The fries could have been made in non-vegan oil. Perhaps you didn't bother to ask about the Italian salad dressing, which turned out to have whey in it.
You need to decide for yourself if dining out is an "acceptable risk" or not. If it is, then there are plenty of options for great restaurant dining experiences.