One of the most requested topics in my Vegan How To series is about eating out at restaurants as
a vegan. I can totally relate to your struggles with eating out. Even to this day, I find restaurant
experiences as a vegan can be very hit or miss depending on the restaurant/chef. The good news is that more and more restaurants are becoming sensitive to dietary restrictions and allergies, opening up new options on menus for those who need them. Plus, the more demand there is for something, the more change there will be in the future. I personally look forward to the day when vegan options on a menu are the norm, rather than scarce or uncommon. Oh yes, it will happen!
I’ve put together some of my tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the past few years. I hope they’re
helpful for you. As always, I’d love to hear your own tips and experiences below!
1. Happy Cow Website
Searching the Happy Cow website is probably my best tip when you are looking for a veg-friendly restaurant in your area or when traveling. You simply type in your location and a list of veg-
friendly restaurants usually pop up. I use this website almost exclusively when I travel or just looking for new options in my own area (of course, asking you on Facebook is always helpful too!). There are also reviews and ratings, so you can read what others are saying about the restaurants. Many times people will write what dish they modified to be vegan or what the chef prepared for them on the spot.
2. Plan ahead and look up the restaurant menu online
Of course, it’s not always possible to eat somewhere that’s veg-friendly. Whether it’s a family gathering or a friend’s birthday, I attend my fair share of non-vegan restaurants. Before I go to a new restaurant I always scope out the menu online to see if there are any obvious vegan menu items. Hopefully, I can find a couple vegetarian menu items that can be veganized, but vegan options are often non-existent on many restaurant menus. If there are a couple vegetarian options or dishes that might easily modify to be vegan (such as removing chicken from a noodle stir fry), I will make a note of them.
3. Call restaurant for options
If there aren’t any obvious meal options on the menu, I will often call the restaurant and ask whether
they can accommodate a vegan. Don’t feel like you are being a pain in the ass because restaurants actually like to get a heads up whenever possible, or so I’ve been told. I’ve never been turned away (not surprisingly), but I have received my fair share of enthusiastic promises (“Oh yes we can make anything you want!!”) only to get there and find out that the chef thinks a small plate of vegetables qualifies as a satisfying vegan dinner. It helps to be specific about what you would like. If there is a dish you have in mind (for example, a pizza or tofu stir-fry) don’t be afraid to ask if they can make it happen!
4. Ask if they have a vegetarian menu
Did you know that some restaurants have secret menus? What the heck! I discovered this only because my friend Heather told me that a local restaurant (Paradiso in Oakville) has a vegetarian menu. But guess what? They don’t even put the vegetarian menu on the table unless you ask for it. The horrors. I was so thankful that Heather told me about the menu because it has several vegetarian options and a delicious vegan option that I order every time I’m there (kinda obsessed with portobello steaks). I realize this isn’t the norm for restaurants to have separate menus, but it never hurts to ask and let them know that you’d love the option!
5. Get creative with sides
Sometimes vegetarian menu items can be made vegan quite easily by just replacing the butter for oil or
leaving off the cheese. If my options are limited I always ask if these swaps can be made. One thing I’ve done in the past is to order a few side dishes (asking them to hold the butter) to create a meal. A few sides of brown rice, beans, and veggies easily adds up to a balanced meal.
6. If you think options will be severely limited, eat beforehand
When I’ve done my research and suspect my options will be severely limited, I usually have a light meal beforehand to ensure that I don’t feel deprived at the restaurant. No big deal.
7. Seek out ethnic cuisines
Many cuisines have a lot of “naturally” vegan options or they can easily be modified. I absolutely love dining at Indian, Mexican, and Thai restaurants because they have so many options for me. Even dishes with cream can easily be made without impacting the overall flavour too much.
8. Try a fun beverage
Treat yourself to a fun non-alcoholic or alcoholic drink. Even if the food options are limited it will still feel
special to have a fun drink you normally wouldn’t have! [Side note: Barnivore is a good site for looking up vegan alcohol brands. Check out the apps too.]
9. Comment card or online review
As I was writing this, I asked myself…do restaurants even do comment cards these days? And then I realized, well, duh, people do online reviews! Silly me. Well, whether it’s a comment card or an online review, they are great ways to let your voice be heard. Feel free to ask for more vegan options – you can bet that most restaurant owners will be reading and taking note of common requests!
10. Don’t sweat it
I generally have low expectations when it comes to dining out at restaurants that aren’t veg-friendly, so I don’t let a less than stellar experience ruffle my feathers. Instead, I focus on the experience itself – the great company – and know that in the grand scheme of things it’s really not a big deal. Cheers to that.
What have your experiences been like eating out as a vegan? I’d love to hear any tips you may have below!