Blog: Vegan’s guide to eating out

Food is a central part of our social existence. Throughout the ages and still today, food has represented more than just fuel for our bodies, it also allows us to spend time with those we love, enjoy ourselves and bond with the people around us.

Nowadays, these kinds of gatherings often take place at restaurants which can pose a challenge for veg*ans. I’m sure we’ve all had the unpleasant experience of perusing a menu only to realize that there are no veg*an, or very few vegetarian options available. The good news is that by being prepared, and creative, you’ll find veg*an meals are actually quite accessible in many restaurants.

Learn about different cuisines and their staples

There are many different types of cuisines that can adapt very well to veg*an diets and thanks to globalization, they have become quite accessible no matter what city you live in. While you’ll want to stay away from the obvious steakhouse and seafood restaurants, many ethnic food restaurants will have vegetarian options that can be converted to veg*an. The trick is to know what to look for and what to substitute, so do your research.

Here's a quick overview of international cuisines and how veg*an-friendly they are based on staple dishes that you’re most likely to find at a restaurant and commonly used ingredients (:-) :-) :-) = very friendly, :-( :-( :-( = very unfriendly):

  • Italian :-)

  • Middle Eastern :-) :-) :-)

  • Greek :-) :-)

  • Indian :-( :-(

  • French :-( :-( :-(

  • BBQ (Australian/American) :-( :-(

  • Thai :-) :-)

  • Chinese :-) :-)

  • Japanese :-) :-) :-)

  • Ethiopian :-) :-) :-)

  • Jamaican :-)

  • Mexican :-) :-)

Know your restaurants

If you’ve been to a restaurant in the past where they adapted menu items to your liking, keep note of it and go back. Likewise, if you went to a place that looked at you sideways when you asked whether there were eggs in the pad Thai, perhaps this is not the place for you. By asking questions and getting to know the staff, you’ll get a good idea of whether or not the establishment is willing to work with your preferences.

When in comes to casual dining restaurant chains, it could be hit or miss. Many of these restaurants simply prepare pre-frozen food, so the waiters (and even the “chefs”) may not know exactly what is in what you’re eating. Luckily, many of these publish lists of ingredients online, so research before you go.

Some fast food restaurants have begun introducing veg*an or vegetarian dishes in their menus as well. As casual dining chains, these restaurants are usually required to publish a list of ingredients online. While burger joints may have introduced veggie burgers to their menus, you may still want to research the ingredients as some contain egg whites. Your best bet for fast food is Mexican, as many of the vegetarian options can become vegan if one removes the cheese and sour cream.

Ask questions and be nice

There’s a common misconception that waiters and chefs don’t like being asked for substitutions and that is often wrong. Restaurants want to provide an enjoyable dining experience for all their guests and are equipped with several different ingredients in order to adapt to these kinds of situations. By politely explaining your restrictions and asking questions, usually restaurant staff will gladly make substitutions.

You could also call before you go to give them time to prepare. They may even give you tips on which dishes on the menu can be most easily adapted to your needs.

Get in control

If you’re going out with a group of friends, ask to choose the restaurant yourself. This will give you ample time to research (often menus are available on restaurant websites), call and choose a place where you know you’ll feel comfortable and have something to eat. Perhaps your group of friends may even be open to trying out a vegan restaurant, so check out the HappyCow app for suggestions in your area. If someone else is choosing, let them know (or remind them) of your restrictions and don’t be afraid to oppose if the chosen restaurant is very difficult for you to work with, like a steakhouse. If all else fails, have a light meal before you go and get creative with side dishes.

Have fun!

It’s too easy to let this kind of event become a source of stress or anxiety and ruin your evening. Do some research, be prepared and keep your expectations low in case you’re afraid you’ll be disappointed. Don’t forget that your objective should be to spend quality time with friends or loved ones and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy it!

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