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Eating Out and Being Veggie Doesn't Mean You're Stuck With the Salad

Updated on June 7, 2008

Make the Restaurant Work For You

For vegetarians, eating out can be a hassle. Most restaurants cater specifically to the larger population of its meat eating patrons, and fail to acknowledge those of us who choose a meat-free diet. However, being a vegetarian customer doesn’t mean you always have to order a salad. There are several things you can do to ensure you have a pleasant, filling meal while sticking to your vegetarian morals.

Research Ahead of Time

If you know you’ll be going to a particular restaurant, research the menu on the internet ahead of time to avoid 15 minutes of question and answer with your waiter. Most reputable restaurants have detailed menus that usually include calorie content as well as ingredients.

There are several websites that can direct you to your local vegetarian-friendly restaurant.

Ask Questions

Don’t ever feel you are asking your server too many questions about how the food is prepared. It is his or her job to make sure you have a good meal. It’s like if you had a severe allergy to a food, you would want to make sure that food wasn’t in, or hadn’t touched, any of the food you were about to consume. If your wait staff went out of their way to ensure a vegetarian meal for you, be sure to reflect your appreciation in the tip.

Hidden Meat Ingredients

One of the most important factors to stress to your waiter is that you are a strict vegetarian with strict eating guidelines. In higher-end restaurants, the staff should have an in-depth knowledge of all the ingredients that go into the dishes. At faster-food corporate restaurants, the wait staff may not know exactly what goes into the meal, so you should help them with several questions:

If the meal you plan to order has beans, be sure to ask if the beans have been cooked in, or contain lard. Often, pinto beans are prepared using lard.

If your meal has any type of broth, find out what the broth’s base is. Restaurants normally use a chicken-based broth for soups, and although the dish might be minestrone soup, the broth contains chicken.

If something on your plate as been fried, ask what type of oil it was fried in. Many restaurants are now moving to 100% vegetable oil, but that doesn’t mean the oil is used exclusively for each dish. Your fries may have been sitting next to a piece of chicken in the fryer, and are obviously no longer vegetarian. Almost all fried dishes are made alongside other dishes, and even if you request your meal be fried independently with fresh oil, you can’t guarantee the chef will honor your request. The best way to avoid this situation is to stay away from ordering fried foods (they’re bad for you, anyway).

Modifying The Meal

Most meals can be modified to meet a strict vegetarian diet. For example, you can ask to substitute avocado for chicken on a salad, you can request a side salad instead of fries and if there is nothing on the menu you feel you could modify, voice your concerns to you waiter. There is often a “hidden menu” that may have a vegetarian dish on it. I have often ordered from a hidden menu and had my dinner mates tell me my dish looked more delicious than theirs. Your waiter may also be able to guide you though “custom creating” a dish that will meet your dietary and appetite needs.

Eating Out On Special Occasions

Often, nicer restaurants will have special menus on holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day. Special menus rarely contain a strictly vegetarian dish. Because the menu was created with the idea of quick service, and therefore a quick turnover, the wait staff may have trouble accommodating your needs. I was actually denied a meal at a Father’s Day brunch because I was told by the staff they could not accommodate me. I have not been to that restaurant since then. The best way to avoid going hungry is to call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if there will be vegetarian options available. The staff may not have considered their vegetarian patrons, and this will give them the opportunity to make you a happy customer.

Eating Vegetarian Away From Home

You might get to know the local vegetarian hot spots pretty quickly, but trying to stick to your diet outside of your element could be a challenge. If you’re staying at a hotel during your travels, the concierge should be able to recommend a nice restaurant with vegetarian options. You can also look in the phone book provided in your room for local health food stores. The employees there should be able to recommend a restaurant.

Patience Is A Virtue, and Will End in a Delicious Meal

It can be frustrating trying to eat at restaurant that appears to have little or no vegetarian options. Remember to be pleasant and patient when working with your wait staff to find a meal that will work for you. Keep in mind he or she did not plan the menu, and therefore shouldn’t be punished for someone else’s poor consideration of various types of patrons. And, if you’re rude to your server, your vegetarian meal may come with more than just hidden meat ingredients.


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