The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

How Do I Dine Out as a Vegan?

Posted on August 13, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Anne Custer

The dreaded, “Where do you want to go to eat?” question might make you
panic if you are worried about finding something to eat at a restaurant
in a carnivore’s world. Or the panic can be from being indecisive, like
me. Either way, eating out as a vegan is surprisingly easy and I’ve been
able to find something almost everywhere I’ve been.

First of all, tell your waiter you are vegan! Emily Moss has found that
being upfront with your server before ordering really helps. She
explains, “Since they know more about the menu than you do, they’re
normally willing to point out the things that are already vegan or that
can be made vegan.” Moss works at a restaurant as a host and she has
discovered that the chef is willing to prepare a whole different menu
for vegans. “I’m always worried that everyone will hate me for changing
things in a dish,” explains Moss, “but a lot of the time people are
happy to accommodate.”

When I first get a menu, I look for a vegetarian section. If I don’t see
one, I start at the beginning looking for any vegetable or hummus
platter in the appetizers. If I can’t find anything besides a fried
vegetable or if I want an actual meal, I move on. I quickly glance at
the salad section. Most salads are laced with cheese, meat, and
milk-based dressings so I’m never very hopeful. In my experience, I have
been stuck eating a lame meal of iceberg lettuce with two slices of
cucumber. If you are craving a salad, Josephine Trombadore suggests to
not be afraid to ask for menu alterations. If there is chicken on a
salad, ask them to take it off and substitute it with sliced avocado or
more veggies. After the salad portion of the menu, I make my way through
the sections of chicken, steak, and fish to the pasta section. When in
doubt, pasta is usually a safe bet. Before ordering, verify with your
waiter that the pasta is not made with eggs. If it’s not on the menu,
you can always ask for spaghetti noodles with marinara sauce and no
parmesan. To make it pasta primavera, order a side of steamed vegetables
and make your own. If I’m not in the mood for pasta, I look at the
sandwich/burger section. A surprising number of restaurants offer some
type of veggie burger or roasted vegetable sandwich. When all else
fails, there will likely be some type of vegetable side dishes or
grains. Order a few of those to make a satisfying meal.

“Finding something vegan on the menu is only half the battle,” explains
Josephine Trombadore, “It’s difficult to find healthy vegan options.
Often times, eating vegan means having to settle for a plate of fries,
which isn’t exactly a healthy option.” When finding something is at its
worst, it may be best to just eat after. It is possible to come across a
menu where there are no viable options. This happened to me traveling
down south to the beach one year. We stopped at a burger joint and I
perused the menu to find nothing I could eat. Instead of ordering fries,
I waited until my family was finished, then went to Subway and ordered a sub.

Not that I doubt my ability to find something vegan on a menu, but I
always look up the menu for wherever I am going. If I am craving a
particular dish and they don’t offer it, I like to be primed to eat
something else. I always like to be prepared and know what my options
are. If you don’t find anything at first glance, you can always eat
before you go. People mainly eat out to socialize so look at it from
that angle and not, “I’m miserable because I can’t eat anything.”

Next time, ask your friends or family if they want to try a vegetarian
or vegan restaurant, or at least a veg-friendly one. You might be
surprised how willing they are to try new things! Here is a full list of
veggie restaurants nationwide and in Canada:

Anne Custer wrote this piece while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.

1 to “How Do I Dine Out as a Vegan?”

  1. Bill Koehnlein says:

    Sorry….but there are reasons I opt out of eating in most restaurants. I’ve been scammed too many times in meat-serving places by waiters who tell me what they think I want to hear–that something is vegan when, in fact, it’s not. I’ve often had to insist on seeing the ingredient list, and only then have I discovered that the supposedly-vegan course contains animal ingredients. Ditto the veggie burgers, ubiquitous in meat-serving establishments (the restaurants’ means of placating vegans and vegetarians with one token item). Ask the server if these veggie burgers are cooked on a dedicated grill, or if they are they cooked on the same grill (or in the same frying pan) as regular hamburgers, steaks, sausages, etc. I’ll bet that 99 out of 100 times they are cooked in meat grease, rendering them (pun is deliberate) non-vegan. I’m sure that almost everyone who lives a vegan life has heard–when deciding with non-vegan friends on an eatery to visit–the stale refrain “But you can have a salad”. For me, it no longer works that way. I simply won’t go into most places that serve meat and dairy. Fortunately, more and more people are becoming more and more accommodating and are willing to dine in veggie restaurants, forgoing animal ingredients for one meal. Some of them even like and enjoy their vegan meals! Of course, this is easy for me to say, living in a place (New York City) with plenty of vegan bistros; but folks in places without would probably do well to follow Ms. Custer’s advice. Then again, maybe the best option of all, though, would be to invite your friends to your house….and make sure that you do all the cooking. Bon appetit!

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