Dining out can be difficult and anxiety inducing when you’re starting out on a plant-based diet. If the people you find yourself eating out with don’t share your dietary preferences, it can be even harder.
But going out to eat doesn’t have to be daunting. With the right know-how you can find plant-based meal options even when you find yourself at a (gasp!) steakhouse 😉 Here’s how to make it work.
How to Dine Out on a Plant-Based Diet
What to do Ahead of Time:
- Call ahead: If you know where you’re going to be eating, call the restaurant ahead of time. Let the restaurant know your dietary restrictions. Ask them if they have any vegan menu options or dishes that can be made that way.
- Check reviews: Check the restaurant’s reviews on Google or Yelp. Search online for the restaurant’s website or menu. On the restaurant’s Yelp page, try typing “vegan” or “vegetarian” into the search box to find reviews that contain those keywords.
- Speak up! Let your friends know your dietary preferences ahead of time. If you already have a favorite vegan-friendly restaurant in mind, recommend it to the group.
- As a last resort: If you’ve done your research ahead of time, and it looks like the options are bleak (wilted side salad?!) try to make a point of eating a bigger meal before hand and/or bring snacks. Fruit is always a great choice! Fruit with peels you don’t eat — like oranges, tangerines, or bananas — are perfect for stashing in your bag or purse. Apples, pears, or grapes can make great snack options as well.
Once You’re at the Restaurant:
- Ask: Communicate with your server. Let them know your dietary preferences and ask them if they can recommend anything. Remember to stay positive. Tone and delivery are important. When you come in with a hostile attitude people get defensive and shut down.
- Substitute: Can that salad be made vegan by swapping out the chicken for extra beans? What if you ask for no cheese on that vegetarian sandwich? Take your time perusing the menu and see if any of the dishes can be made plant-based with a few substitutions.
- Get creative: If the restaurant doesn’t have any dedicated vegan dishes, try getting creative with sides. Steamed vegetables alone don’t sound very appetizing, but a plain baked potato with a topping of salsa or soup, and a side of steamed broccoli can be a creative and filling plant-based meal.
- Soups: Most restaurants will have a soup of the day option and these can be a great choice if nothing else on the menu jumps out at you. In general stay away from chowders and soups described as “creamy”. They usually contain dairy. Instead try minestrone, black bean, split pea, lentil, and plain veggie soups.
- Be grateful: If they offer vegan or plant-based options, tell your server how grateful you are. And if you’re too shy or the opportunity doesn’t present itself, consider leaving a calling card or note when you pay (or download my printable freebie below). This idea can also work if the establishment doesn’t offer many plant-based options and is a great way to let them know they could be doing a better job.
- Get in touch: Send an e-mail or even a phone call (during non-busy hours). Let the restaurant know about your recent visit and how happy you were that they were able to accommodate your requests.
- Pay it forward: To help others in the same position, leave a review on Google, Yelp, and HappyCow. Get specific by letting others know what the plant-based options were. This is especially helpful if their vegan options were not advertised.
What not to do:
- Don’t assume: If there are no obvious plant-based menu options, don’t assume that the kitchen can’t accommodate you.
- Don’t be rude: Always thank your server or the chef for providing options. Don’t make comments about what your non-vegan guests or host are choosing to eat.
- Don’t apologize: You don’t have to make excuses for your dietary choices. Don’t be afraid to leave a restaurant if you are made to feel uncomfortable, or they are unwilling to reasonably accommodate your requests.
While it would be wonderful if every restaurant offered healthy plant-based dishes, my hope for you is that following the above steps will leave you feeling confident when ordering plant-based and vegan food at any restaurant. And remember, the more gracious and accommodating you are, the more others will try to return the favor. Politeness and kindness can go a long way.
Bonus: Download my free vegan restaurant calling cards! Print these and leave them on the table with your tip. Use with Avery 8871 Business Card Sheets.
Now I’d love to hear from you: What have you found the most challenging about eating out on a plant-based diet? Leave a comment and let me know. And if you think others would benefit from the tips in this post, please share it on social media!