Oh, the joys of being a “special” eater. Shopping for groceries as a vegan is one thing, but try ordering something at a restaurant that’s not cooked in animal fat, doused in butter or coated with cheese – it’s no easy feat.
If you’re lucky, you have a local veg-friendly place to frequent, but there’s always that time you’re out on a date or sitting through a company dinner in a restaurant that’s not savvy to your animal-friendly needs.
What’s a vegan to do?
You don’t have to starve, but you do need to be smart – and perhaps a teensy bit demanding. As long as you’re nice, however, you can usually find something to eat. Here are some tips:
1. Talk to your server first. Before you go scrutinizing the menu for something edible, just tell your server your situation. A simple line like, “I happen to eat a vegan diet – is there anything off the top of your head that you can recommend for me?” can work wonders. Even if there’s nothing vegan listed on the menu, your server should be able to tell you what dishes they can make or tweak in order to do something vegan.
2. Ask about substitutions. Let’s say you see a divine-looking pasta dish that comes with chicken on the menu. It never hurts to ask if they can substitute tofu in for meat. Some places will even do this with burgers, egg-dishes or other common staples. Just ask – it doesn’t hurt to see what they might be able to do.
3. Is that cooked with butter? Sadly, a lot of things that look vegan on a menu (like grilled veggies) are often cooked with butter. If you’re a strict vegan, ask about the cooking method of things like French fries or beans, too, as it’s not uncommon for them to be doused in bacon grease.
4. Fake an allergy. OK, maybe it’s a little juvenile, but restaurants tend to take food allergies very seriously. If you’re worried that you have a flaky server or question anything on the menu, simply tell your server you have a dairy and egg allergy. I hate to say it, but some places will judge you when you tell them you’re vegan. Saying you have an allergy, however, usually elicits more trustworthy service.
5. Be nice! I can’t stress this enough: Pour on the “please” and “thank you”. As long as you have a good attitude, a restaurant will usually be happy to accommodate you. After all, they want your business. If you get great service, make sure to tell them you’ll be writing a good review on Yelp or telling your vegan friends how accommodating they were. Nothing will please them more than a solid referral.
When all else fails, know that it’s OK to ask to speak to the chef, too. He or she may be able to answer your questions better than your server. Just make sure to smile – and don’t skimp on the tip!