There are some people in my life who struggle with committing to the vegan lifestyle. It's not so much because they hated giving up meat; it's more about the fact that they found veganism to be a little bland and inconvenient. A great example they would give me is the thought of eating out became so frustrating that, more times than not, they'd just stay at home.
If you're someone who is nodding your head in agreement, then this article is personally dedicated to you. Choose to see it like a cheat sheet for vegans who want to dine out. My hope is that it will provide you with enough tips that will motivate you to check out some new places, make specific requests and embrace the fact that, just because you don't eat meat, that doesn't mean that you still can't have a ball while eating out.
If You’re a New Vegan, Know What You Shouldn’t Be Eating
I'd venture to say that one of the best things about becoming a vegan is, since you're probably more sensitive about your diet, you're more comfortable cooking at home; that way, you can know exactly what is—and what isn't—going into your meals. But if you've recently decided to give veganism a shot, you like going out to eat but you're nervous about what to order, let's start with the things that are a no-no. Meat (including anything seafood-related) is a given, but remember that vegans avoid all animal products, including dairy. This means no milk, butter, cream or cheese. This also means no eggs. Or gelatin (it comes from collagen that is produced by animals) or even bee products; this means no honey.
What's up with the whole bee thing? Well, passionate vegans feel that to consume anything that bees make is a form of exploitation because bees actually make honey for themselves, not us. Yeah, that might sound a little over the top, but don't shoot the messenger. If you want to read more about this, check out this article, this article and this article.
Then Focus on What You Can Eat
I know, right? That sure is a lot of stuff that you have to overlook on a restaurant menu.
The silver lining is, think about all of the other things that are left—fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, pulses (like chickpeas and lentils), herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, condiments and plants (like seaweed).
If you really let this list sink in, that still leaves literally hundreds of possibilities.
Check Out a Restaurant’s Online Menu
I don't know about you, but nothing irks me more than making plans to meet a friend at a restaurant, hopping online to Google the eatery's website and either it doesn't have one or their site is down. First impressions are important so, more times than not, that will automatically make me want to take a pass. An online menu is not only good marketing for the restaurant and convenient for their customers, it can take a lot of guesswork out for vegetarians and vegans. These days, many restaurant owners are well aware that their business can't truly thrive without some great vegetarian and vegan options. So, definitely look online before heading out to see if the restaurant you're considering has dishes that you're actually interested in.
Or, Feel Free to Call Ahead
Unfortunately, a lot of us update our personal websites more often than businesses update theirs. That's why, if you can't seem to find what you are looking for on a particular restaurant's site, you should call ahead. Another benefit that comes with taking this extra step is you can ask if there are any new or specialty vegan items that might not currently be on the menu, along with if the chefs are willing to customize certain dishes. That way, you can know exactly what you are getting yourself into before you arrive.
Consider More Ethnic Cuisine
A lot of Americans continue to be big time meat consumers; that's a part of the reason why so many restaurants have a ton of meat options but oftentimes limited vegan and vegetarian ones. That's the bad news. The good news is many Indian, Mexican, Thai and West African (which is a big 2020 food trend) restaurants have some really delicious dishes that contain absolutely no meat. When you think about it, that can be another benefit of going vegan—you can try different foods from other cultures. Why not give it a shot?
Confirm That Non-Meat Meals Are Prepared Separately
With articles floating around in cyberspace like "Plant-based 'meat' isn't always vegan or even vegetarian, and that's a common misconception that needs to be clarified", don't you feel the least bit self-conscious or uncomfortable about asking your server if the vegan meals are prepared on a different grill or in different pans than meat-based dishes are. You'd be amazed how many aren't (especially in fast food restaurants) and a lot of places aren't going to volunteer that information. If they say "no" or "I don't know", ask to speak with a manager. Remember, you're not at your grandma's house for Sunday dinner. You are paying for your meal. You should get what you want, just how you want it.
Request That Dairy Be Substituted
A lot of sauces have some form of dairy in them whether it's milk, cream or even yogurt. If you do see a dish that you want, you like the sauce, but you don't want any dairy to be in it, ask for a substitution. Perhaps a milk substitute like hemp, oat or almond milk. When it comes to cheese, see if they've got any cashew cheese (a wonderful Brie substitute), hemp seed crumble cheese (a great Parmesan substitute) or Daiya cheese (which is a good mozzarella substitute). As far as the actual cooking goes, an oil or mashed avocados can replace butter.
As far as desserts are concerned, there are all kinds of dairy-free ice cream brands now. Or you can order a sorbet. If you want something with whipped cream on top, whipped coconut milk can scratch that itch. If something has condensed milk in it, see if the chef has any maple syrup; a blend of it and coconut milk is an awesome substitute. (This dairy point is another good reason to call ahead.)
Ask to Speak with the Manager (They Can Handle It)
If, for some reason, your server wants to give you a hard time about your requests or you've got a recommendation that you think will make it easier on other vegan eaters, please don't hesitate to ask for the manager. They are there to handle things that servers may not be able to. Also remember, if they are not able to suit your needs, go by my customer service motto—every manager has a manager.
Oh, and if the service does prove to be outstanding, make a point to tell the manager and to post an online review. This can make it so much easier for other potential customers who are looking to have a delicious vegan-friendly dining experience.
Try Something New
If y'all ever make your way to Nashville, if there's one thing we don't lack, it's places to eat. Although I've been living here since I was about four, I must admit that it wasn't until last year that I set out to try as many new restaurants as possible. Boy, am I glad that I did! It's expanded my palate and altered my perspective a bit on the place where I live. If you're new to veganism and all you do is go to the places where you once had your favorite ribs, steak or hamburger, you could easily get frustrated by the limited options that are at your disposal. But if you decide to try some new spots, you could end up being very pleasantly surprised. Start your cuisine quest by checking out articles like "50 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants In The USA", "The Best Vegan (and Vegan-friendly) Restaurants in All 50 States" and "Veg Out: 20 Top Vegan Restaurants from Coast to Coast" to see if your city made the lists. Then go to your favorite search engine and put "best vegan restaurants" along with your city and state in the field to narrow down your search.
Just because you're vegan, that doesn't mean you can't turn up a little bit. If you want to have a cocktail with your meal, do so. If you're hesitant because you'd prefer for even your alcohol to be vegan, Barnivore is a website that offers a pretty comprehensive list of beers, wines, and liquors that are exactly that.
Being vegan doesn't have to be synonymous with boring. It also doesn't have to keep you in your own kitchen all of the time. With a little research and interaction with the restaurant staff, you can have a wonderful dining experience. You might even teach them a thing or two too. Enjoy!
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