As a follow up to my post, Yes, Vegans Should Eat at Restaurants That Serve Meat, I wanted to give you a few tips to ordering vegan food when eating at a non-vegan restaurant. One of the biggest struggles of becoming vegan can be finding ways to handle social situations with non-vegan family and friends. You want to be able to eat and enjoy yourself, and the last thing you want to do is alienate yourself; or worse, keep entertaining the question, “what do vegans eat?“
Review the menu before you go
Most restaurants have a menu available on their website. Before I eat somewhere new, I always look at the menu and go to the restaurant ready to order. More and more restaurants are also starting to indicate their vegetarian and vegan options. If the menu does not include a vegan indication, look at the vegetarian options and plan out your vegan substitutions.
Be prepared to pay slightly extra for your substitutions.
Not sure if a substitution can be made? Move on to my next tip and call ahead.
If you are planning to eat vegan in a meat-eating world. you cannot be afraid to ask questions. If I am unable to find a vegan option or substitute on the menu, I call the restaurant and ask if they offer any off-menu items that are vegan. You will be surprised to know that many restaurants have something they can whip up. Thanks to the growing number of vegans, vegan options is not an outlandish request.
I once called a sushi restaurant after being unsuccessful finding vegan options in their online menu. I was told they actually have a physical vegan menu that is not available online. When I went to the restaurant, I was pleased to find the chef willing to make vegan versions of many of the restaurant favorites.
Calling ahead can also give you insight to menu items that may appear vegan, but might include dairy or milk. For example, I was dying to try a new burger restaurant with some co-workers. The menu had a homemade veggie burger that did not include eggs. JACKPOT! I called the restaurant to order for pick-up. The staff member informed me that though the burger did not have eggs, it was cooked with parmesan cheese crumbles. Ughhh!
Ask for a vegetarian/vegan menu
Most restaurants have started designating vegan and vegetarian menu items with a small symbol. Some restaurants have separate menus, whether for vegan/vegetarian options or allergen information. If you having trouble finding suitable options, be sure to ask the waitress if there is a separate menu.
Don’t be afraid to ask how a dish is made
You are paying for the food! You have the right to ask how it’s made! And believe me, restaurants want you to have a great experience and they are usually willing to cater to that. No need to make a fuss either. Just politely ask the waitress if a menu contains a certain item or is cooked with a certain item. Is this menu item cooked with butter or oil? If it is cooked with butter, can you cook it in oil?
Create your own dish
Sometimes you have to let your creative side shine through. I find this most useful when I have to go to meat-centered restaurants, such as steakhouses. I usually order multiple sides to make a dish or substitute a meat entree for a side dish. If the salad is my only option and that salad comes with lettuce, tomato, and onion, I ask the waitress to add more vegetables to the salad.
Search the Internet
The easiest tip of all: Search “Vegan at ____________(insert name of the restaurant.)” The internet community can be your best friend when it comes to finding vegan options! I have been able to find many new favorite dishes by searching the internet!
BONUS: Here are a couple of my favorite menu items to order, when I go out to eat.
Chipotle – Veggie Bowl with Brown Rice, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, Mild Sauce. Corn Salsa, Guacamole, and Lettuce.
*All sauces are vegan. Sofritas is a vegan protein.*
Sushi Restaurant – Avocado Roll, Veggie Gyoza (Dumpling cooked in oil), Veggie Roll
Any Chinese Restaurant – Tofu Lo Mein
*Substitute Tofu or veggies for meat in any dish and ask for no fish sauce.*
Papa John’s Pizza Delivery – Original Crust, No cheese, extra sauce, bell peppers, pineapple, onions, Roma tomatoes, and mushrooms.
*Thin crust is NOT vegan.*
Which Wich Sandwich Shop – Hotwich with White Bread, Black Bean Patty, Avocado, Veggies, Salt, Pepper, Oregano
*Only white bread IS vegan.”
Cheesecake Factory – Veggie Burger w/o Cheese and Mayo, Add Avocado
*Also has vegan pasta.*
Panera Bread – Mediterranean Sandwich on Ciabatta bread w/o feta cheese, Seasonal greens salad w/ apple crisps, avocado, southwestern corn blend, and a summer fruit cup. (I add my fruit into the salad for a taste bud party!)
In the comments below:
What are you favorite vegan meals to order at a non-vegan restaurant?