Depending on where you live, dining out while being vegan may or may not be a huge obstacle for you. Personally, I enjoy eating out regularly - whether for a meal or a quick snack. Therefore, when I decided to go vegan back in January, I had to learn how I could continue to dine at restaurants while sticking with my vegan goals. Sure I have some vegan restaurants near me, but I also need places that will satisfy my picky children.
I can honestly say I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy eating vegan in restaurants has been. Of course, there have been some snags, but I am learning more and more each day on how to do it successfully. In this installment of Going Vegan in 2015, I am going to give you some helpful information on how you can successfully stay vegan while eating at your favorite restaurants.
I understand that there are vegans who will not eat out unless the restaurant is 100% vegan OR if the establishment states it has separate preparation areas for vegan and non-vegan foods to avoid cross-contamination. I have not gotten to that level - it just isn't realistic for me, at this time. For me it's not about perfection, but about being less-cruel. Here are some helpful tips that will help you achieve this while dining at your favorite restaurants, along with some of my personal experiences at various places.
Tip #1: Do some research before you arrive.
|Roasted Vegetable Salad at Toojay's|
**After further research, I discovered the CPK list of ingredients does NOT include honey which happens to be in all their non-dairy based dressings. Therefore, NONE of their salad dressings are vegan-friendly. Stick with oil and vinegar when you cannot confirm.
One restaurant that is worth getting special recognition is Chili's Grill and Bar. Their online vegetarian menu gives details as to which vegetarian alternatives contain dairy, egg, and honey so you can adjust your order accordingly. The citrus balsamic dressing is the only vegan option at Chili's.
Tip #2: Ask the waiter or manager for your meal to be specially prepared.
I had lunch in January at a local Italian restaurant. As a new vegan I didn't think to plan ahead. As an Italian-American I can tell you first hand - Italians love their cheese! When I sat down and looked at the menu, I noticed tons of vegetarian options, but not vegan. It came down to me having to ask them to tweak the ONE menu item that was even a close possibility for me. It was a pasta dish with oil and vegetables and I asked them to leave off the cheese. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to mention NO BUTTER. I didn't confirm one way or the other if the dish was prepared with butter, but I made a mental note to never forget to inquire about butter again.
Inform your waiter when you sit down that you are vegan. I have found they are usually very helpful. Once at CPK the waiter put the basket of bread on the table, turned to me and said, "The bread is NOT vegan." Darn it!! The staff at Chili's also goes out of their way to accommodate my needs and the chef regularly prepares special salads for me not on the menu. I don't forget little things like that.
Tip #3: Walk out of a restaurant that cannot accommodate you AND politely explain why you're leaving.
In a second attempt at Italian food, I went into Brio Tuscan Grill. While I am sure there were certain items on the menu that could have been tweaked, the waitress was less than accommodating, so I decided to go elsewhere.
Another time my family and I went to Outback Steakhouse (only because we had a gift certificate) and I knew before even sitting down that this would be a challenge. I ended up ordering a plain baked sweet potato and steamed broccoli. I wanted the sauteed mushrooms but this time I remembered to ask about butter! Unfortunately, the kitchen did use butter in the recipe and they didn't offer to prepare them separately. I won't be going back.
Probably my biggest pet peeve is with Dunkin' Donuts who still refuses to offer vegan cream alternatives while Starbucks offers both soy and coconut milk options. Yes, I have met friends for coffee at Dunkin' Donuts bringing with me my own mug of coffee. Yes, I've explained to the management why. (P.S. I have yet to uncover any vegan food options at Dunkin' Donuts, even the bagels have honey.)
Breakfast in general is difficult to enjoy out at traditional restaurants. Unless the oatmeal is prepared without milk and they offer fresh fruit salad, you won't have many choices. Plus there is the whole coffee creamer issue, so I almost always just have my coffee beforehand or bring my own.
Tip #4: Acknowledge establishments that are vegan-friendly
Every time I have had a positive experience at a restaurant, I have reached out to the manager and/or to corporate offices via social media. I think this is very important if we want to continue to see a rise in vegan alternatives. Then, make a conscious effort to frequent places that do accommodate vegan diets.
Overall, I have been so pleased with how many restaurants and chefs are on board with veganism. Where ever you live, just Google vegan restaurants and you will get lists of local places. Here is one helpful website that will assist those in the U.S. and Canada find local vegan eateries. This compilation from PETA is great for casual, quick bites out!
Read more of my series Going Vegan in 2015.