So often I’m faced with the question, “isn’t it hard dining out as a vegan?”
Short answer: no. Long answer: I find dining out super easy most of the time. With the 600% surge in veganism between 2014 and 2017, restaurants responded to the demand with an increase in plant-based offerings. As veganism continues to rise nationally, the ease of ordering continues to improve. That being said as a vegan newbie, veg-curious individual, or a concerned bestie who is organizing a vegan friend’s birthday dinner, I’ve compiled a few of my go-to tips for eating stress-free vegan meals away from home.
First, I must represent the Zoo. Tip 1: Eat Local
If you live locally, Kalamazoo and the nearby cities have a ton of vegan-friendly restaurants. Our local Vegan Kalamazoo group has a great site and an inclusive list of almost 100 nearby eateries that serve vegan options.
Yes, there really is a Vegan Kalamazoo.
Tip 2: Do Your Research
If you don’t live in Kalamazoo, or access to our vegan-friendly restaurants and cafes, don’t let that stop you from researching the veggie options in your neck of the woods. Happy Cow is a free online guide to help you find vegan and vegetarian options near you. It is really easy to use and very helpful when traveling.
If you hit an area with minimal veggie presence, don’t be afraid to call restaurants in the area to inquire. Calling ahead allows for you to voice your concerns in advance but it also provides time for the restaurant to create a unique dish for your upcoming night out.
Tip 3: Navigate The Menu
- Search for a menu key. Restaurants often use keys to indicate their vegan options. Make sure the various “v’s” do in fact reflect vegan choices. Restaurants may use these for vegetarian options too, which may be modifiable, but likely contain dairy products, eggs, or honey when ordered as-is.
- If no key is present, scan the menu for plant-based ingredients. Think: stir fry, tacos, veggie burgers, salads, hummus platters, veggie wraps, panini sandwiches, cauliflower wings, and veggie-based soups: whatever strikes your fancy. These items might not be vegan when ordered as-is, but if majority of the ingredients are plant-based, can likely be modified before they reach your table.
- Make the mods. Modifications, that is. Ordering meals with substitutions is typically no big deal when dining out. And working as a server from high school to graduate school, I’ve heard it all. As long as you are kind and respectful, you will likely get what you want.
- Do the leg work. I find it is helpful to present a few ideas to the server rather than to blindly ask what they can offer you. Here’s an example:
“I’m thinking about getting a pasta dish, but am wondering if I could make a few modifications because I am vegan. I see here you have a Shrimp and Vegetable Linguine. Would I be able to omit (or “86” if you wanna talk the restaurant lingo) the cheese and shrimp, substitute chickpeas I noticed in the salad section, and add extra broccoli? I also would like to make sure that the pasta does not contain eggs and the vegetables are cooked in oil, not butter. Do you think this is possible?”
By coming up with a detailed idea of what you’d like to order you take the pressure off the server. If any questions remain the waiter can double check with the chef. This way he or she is not stuck pulling ideas on the fly, especially if they are not super familiar with veganism, which brings me to my next rec.
- Be transparent with your server. Let he or she know what you are trying to accomplish. You may want to articulate what vegan means; don’t assume your waiter knows. Even though the term is mainstream, be prepared to explain that vegan means no meat, poultry, fish, dairy (including butter – this one is sneaky at restaurants), eggs, or honey.
Tip 4: Have Back-Up Plans and Go-To’s
Ever seen this meme? As a vegan, I think we’ve all been there. But hey, who doesn’t love a salad and fried potato combo? While it’s nice to know that French fries have our back, additional go-to’s exist on most menus.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Fajitas: no meat, extra veg, prepared in oil not butter, no cheese/ sour cream, and double check that the rice and beans are vegan too.
- Hummus: check the appetizer section or a hummus platter to share (ensure the pita or bread is vegan-friendly).
- Pasta Dishes: red sauce pasta dishes without meat and extra vegetables. Again, ensure veggies are cooked in oil not butter and that the pasta is egg-free.
- Chips, salsa, and guacamole. Enough said.
- Tacos: no meat or cheese, add beans, extra veg, and paired with salsa and avocado.
- Stir Fry: no meat, extra veggies, ensure cooked in oil not butter.
- Veggie Sushi. Think: avocado rolls, asparagus rolls, cucumber rolls, etc.
- Satisfying salads: sans meat or cheese, and add extra veggies found throughout the menu. Add beans or other plant-based protein if possible. For dressings, oil-based dressings like Italian or balsamic are often accidentally vegan, but double check.
- Pizza or flatbread: no cheese + extra sauce (I promise) and all the veggie toppings you can eat.
- Veggie Burgers: no cheese, no mayo, add veggies, avocado, mustard, ketchup, or BBQ. Make sure burger is free from eggs or dairy.
- Grain bowls: no meat or cheese, lots of veggies, ensure sauces are vegan.
- Pretzel Appetizer: No cheese sub stone-ground mustard (double check pretzel itself is vegan).
By no means is this prescriptive, just some of my favorite suggestions for dining out as a vegan. What are you favorite tips for dining out plant-based?