Unless you’re lucky enough to live in an especially veg-friendly city, it can be difficult to find vegan options when dining out. While it may be possible to make a meal of appetizers or order a la carte from different parts of the menu, it’s not always guaranteed that non-vegan ingredients aren’t hiding in items that appear to be veg-friendly.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure if you’ll be able to get a good meal at a restaurant, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you won’t be stuck with wilted veggies or a sub-par salad.
Look It Up
When your friends or co-workers start tossing around the idea of an outing, offer to check out area restaurants. Having input up front can give you more control over your menu options. Even if an eatery has already been chosen, you can research it to see whether or not there are vegan items on the menu. The website HappyCow.net is a good tool for finding vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in your area.
Seek Out a Menu
Once a restaurant has been settled on, take the time to check out their menu. Many restaurants, cafes, and other eateries now have their menus available online. This gives you a chance to see all the options before winding up at a table without a clue of what to order. Read the menu carefully to give yourself an idea of how many vegan options the restaurant has, or how many would be easy to veganize.
Even if a place is listed on Happy Cow or claims to be veg-friendly, it can be a good idea to call ahead. Understanding of vegetarianism and veganism differs from place to place, and while one restaurant may realize that soup made with chicken broth is unacceptable, another may not think to mention that their otherwise veggie pasta sauce contains cream. If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to call the restaurant beforehand to have them cleared up.
Calling is also a good idea if a restaurant appears to have few or no veggie options. Many people are willing to accommodate dietary concerns and may be able to give you choices or suggestions on how to build a vegan meal at their establishment.
Getting a menu online and calling ahead should be able to answer all of your questions. However, if you still have concerns once you get to the restaurant, don’t hesitate to inquire further. It’s important that you be comfortable with your food choices, so don’t let your group make you feel like you’re inconveniencing them. Ask what you need to ask, and if the waiter doesn’t know, find someone who does. Important things to check for are fish sauces in Asian dishes, eggs or egg whites in veggie burgers, and the kind of oil or fat a restaurant uses when cooking and frying.
When In Doubt, Bring Your Own
Sometimes there will be a situation where you can’t find a viable vegan option but don’t want to miss the outing. In this case, consider bringing your own food. This may sound unconventional or even rude, but even with the growing awareness of different types of diets and food sensitivities, it can sometimes be the only way to get a good meal away from home. You can even plan to order something small at the restaurant, like a drink and salad, while bringing something more substantial along with you. If anyone asks, simply explain that you’re vegan and would love to see more veg-friendly options on the menu.
Getting a good vegan meal when dining out can take a little work, but it’s not impossible. Being willing to do your research and ask questions can ensure that your next outing with friends, family, or co-workers is less about the food and more about time spent together.