Let’s be honest. Dining out as a vegan can be tricky. Unless you’ve landed at a specifically vegan friendly restaurant, there’s rarely going to be many vegan or vegetarian options (that can be made vegan) on the menu. Then there’s the other part of it; being the odd one out, and perhaps being questioned for it or feeling the need to defend your dietary preferences to curious and opinionated acquaintances.
So, what do you do when you find yourself staring at a menu without a single vegan dish on it? And how can you cause the least amount of awkwardness during your dining experience? Since deciding to eat vegan, I’ve faced this predicament a couple of times. Here’s my suggestions on how to deal:
1. Don’t be embarrassed
Don’t be shy about asking for a special dish. These days people all over the world are on special diets due to allergies or health issues, you asking for something without animal ingredients is no different. Your attitude and emotion rubs off on others, so if you’re acting like you’re uncomfortable or embarrassed, then others are likely to feel that too, which will make the whole situation a lot more strained than necessary.
2. Don’t apologise for your choice of diet
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. We all have a right to choose how we lead our lives, that includes what and how we eat. Nobody else has the right to tell you what you can, can’t, should or shouldn’t put in your body. So be confident in your decision.
3. You don’t have to say you’re vegan
The word vegan can, in certain circumstances, cause some undesired looks or questions. So if you’re just not in the mood to be questioned or eyed then simply don’t mention the word vegan. You don’t owe it to anyone to explain yourself. Let people make their assumptions, and ignore them.
4. Ask your waiter to veganize a vegetarian dish
A lot of restaurants will offer one or more vegetarian dishes. Some of these can easily be made vegan by asking for it without eggs or dairy. For example, a vegetarian pizza can be made vegan if you ask them to hold the cheese. If there’s pasta on the menu, ask if you can get a simple tomato sauce to go with it.
5. Draw inspiration from the restaurant’s menu
I usually eye through the menu at non-vegan restaurants, checking what ingredients are listed in their dishes. If there’s no vegan dishes, or vegetarian dishes that can be made vegan, I point at ingredients in their other dishes and kindly ask the waiter or chef if they can whip me up something using the ingredients they’ve already got on hand.
6. Be helpful
Following my previous suggestion, not everyone knows what being vegan means. A stressed out waiter or chef might struggle to come up with something they can make for you, especially if they’re not used to cooking vegan food. So be helpful, give some suggestions of easy things they could whip up for you.
7. Don’t be a dick
Appreciate the fact that you’re asking the restaurant staff to go out of their way to make you something special that’s not on their menu, don’t complain or ask them to make it more complicated than necessary.
8. Give the restaurant a heads up
If you know beforehand what restaurant you’ll be going to, call ahead and give the staff a heads up on that you’re vegan. Ask if they could prepare something vegan for you on the particular date you will be dining at their restaurant. A lot of chefs will appreciate the forewarning, giving them time to order extra ingredients.
9. Don’t preach about your veganism
Don’t be that guy who preaches to the rest of the table about veganism or why you disagree with their choice of a non-vegan dish. We all have the freedom to chose what we eat, so just like nobody has the right to tell you that you’re wrong for being vegan, you don’t have the right to tell anyone else they’re wrong for the way they’re eating. Diet talk is never a good subject at the dinner table, it’s a sure way to make a friendly dining experience go sour.
10. A simple salad will do
I get it, you don’t want to feed the stereotype that vegans only eat salads, but sometimes that’s going to be the only option you’ve got. Most restaurants will stock fresh vegetables, so at the very least they should be able to chop up a simple salad for you. Ask them to add any beans, grains or avocado they have on hand to make it a bit more filling. Sure, it’s not going to be super exciting and might not satisfy you, but that’s what those emergency snack bars you keep in your bag are for. C’est la vie, my friends.