Eating out is a big part of my social life so naturally it was one of my main concerns when I decided to go vegan. I thought eating animal free at restaurants would be my biggest challenge. I was pleasantly surprised how wrong I actually was. Here are some tips that I’ve found help a lot when eating out at non vegan restaurants:
-If you have a choice, urge your friends and family to choose restaurants with lots of options. Suggest restaurants that are known for their seasonal menu or great fresh produce. Suggest Thai, Indian, or Mexican food which usually have lots of good vegetarian (easily made vegan) dishes and ingredients.
-Read the menu for ingredients rather than full meal options. This will help you figure out what the restaurant has in the kitchen so you can ask for exactly what you want. For example, if I see “chicken pesto pasta” on a menu, I know the restaurant has pasta, basil, olive oil and pine nuts in the kitchen that can be combined with some other vegan ingredients from other meals on the menu to form a complete plant-based meal. Thinking this way often saves me when I feel like there are no adequate menu options available.
-Repeat after me “Hold the meat and cheese, sub avocado” “Hold the meat and cheese, sub avocado”. There, you got it! If a dish or salad has meat and cheese, I always ask them to replace it with avocado and whatever nuts or seeds they have in the kitchen. That way you still get creamy crunchy texture and flavor. I ask if the dressing is dairy and egg free and if it’s not, I ask for a vinaigrette instead. If a dish is normally cooked in butter, I ask them to please cook it in olive oil. If something is already made with eggs, I find something that has easier substitutions. Always be polite and patient with the server but also remember you are a paying customer and should be able to ask for what you want.
-If you don’t see any vegan options or easy adaptations, don’t be afraid to ask for one. I was embarrassed to ask for something special at a restaurant thinking I would seem difficult (I know, since when have I been afraid to be high maintenance, right?). I’ve found that most of the time, your server and the chef are happy to oblige. Dietary preferences are very common and restaurants know they will lose customers if they can’t accommodate. The other day I was at a restaurant and there was nothing on the menu for me to eat. I politely asked the server if the chef could make any of the dishes vegan and gluten free. Just as I thought I was going to get an eye roll, she told me “The chef really cares about our vegan customers and would be happy to make you something special”. I ended up with the most delicious spaghetti squash and cauliflower dish ever and wondered why I have been so afraid to ask in the past.
-Speak up! The more demand there is for vegan options, the more variety there will be in the future. In the worst case, the restaurant may not have much for you but if they get asked enough they will eventually know they need to change and it will be better for all of us.
-As a last resort B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bar). See my post on yummy bars http://himaintenancehippie.com/my-favorite-vegan-gluten-free-bars/to ensure you never get hangry in a pinch.