Vegan Wonder

Unlock the Secrets of Dining Out as a Vegan

For many of us, dining out at restaurants is a treat we look forward to. Whether it’s a quick lunch with colleagues or a romantic dinner with your significant other, eating away from home can be a welcome break from the routine of cooking and cleaning up.

But for vegans, dining out can be a bit of a minefield. Not every restaurant offers vegan options, and even when they do, it can be tough to decipher what ingredients are off-limits.

Fear not, fellow vegans! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to confidently explore the culinary landscape and enjoy delicious and satisfying meals without compromising your dietary preferences.

Understanding the Vegan Landscape in Restaurants

The first step to dining out as a vegan is understanding the vegan-friendly landscape in restaurants.

Identifying Vegan-Friendly Establishments

There are a few ways to go about finding restaurants that cater to vegans. One is to do some research ahead of time. Read online reviews and check out the menus to see if there are any vegan options. You can also look for restaurants that have a “vegan” or “vegetarian” designation in their name or branding.

Even in restaurants that aren’t specifically marketed as vegan or vegetarian, you may still find vegan options. Many mainstream restaurants are offering more plant-based options in response to growing consumer demand. So don’t be afraid to venture into restaurants that don’t advertise themselves as vegan-friendly.

Decoding Menu Terminology

When reading a menu, there are a few things to look out for in order to identify vegan-friendly options.

First, familiarize yourself with some key vegan-friendly keywords. These include “tofu,” “tempeh,” “avocado,” “hummus,” “lentils,” and “chickpeas.” Vegetables are also a safe bet, as long as they’re not cooked in animal fat or broth.

Unfortunately, some animal-derived ingredients can be hidden in the names of menu items or in the descriptions. For example, “chicken” or “beef” dishes are obviously off-limits, but “parmesan cheese” or “butter” may not be as obvious. Be sure to ask your server about any ingredients you’re unsure about.

If you’re dining at a high-end restaurant or one with a multi-course tasting menu, you may want to communicate your dietary needs to the restaurant ahead of time. Many chefs are happy to accommodate vegan diners, but they need to know well in advance to plan their menu for you.

Some vegans choose to carry a “cheat sheet” with them, listing common animal-derived ingredients and their vegan alternatives. This can be a helpful reference when dining at unfamiliar restaurants.

Navigating the Menu with Confidence

Now that you know how to identify vegan-friendly options on the menu, let’s take a closer look at what you can order with confidence.

Appetizers and Starters

Many appetizers are naturally vegan, especially if they’re vegetable-based. Look for salads, soups, and vegetable-forward dishes like hummus or guacamole. If you’re dining with a group, consider ordering a few appetizers to share.

Just be sure to ask your server about any ingredients that may not be obviously vegan. For example, some soups may contain chicken broth, and some salads may be topped with cheese.

Main Courses

The main course is where things can get a little trickier. While some restaurants will have explicitly marked vegan options, others may not.

If there are no explicitly vegan options on the menu, you may want to consider ordering a plant-based entrée and asking your server if it can be made vegan. Many restaurants use plant-based meat alternatives like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, but they may still cook the dish with animal fat or broth. If you’re unsure, just ask.

Another option is to order a vegetable-forward dish, such as a vegetable stir-fry or a plate of roasted vegetables. Again, just be sure to ask your server if the dish is prepared with any animal fat or broth.

If you’re dining in an international restaurant, you may find that certain cuisines are more vegan-friendly than others. For example, Indian and Thai cuisines often have many vegan options, as do Mexican and Ethiopian restaurants.

Sides and Accompaniments

Sides and accompaniments are another area where vegans can find plenty of options. Look for vegetable-based sides, such as roasted vegetables, sautéed greens, or rice and beans.

Starch-based sides, such as potatoes or pasta, are also a safe bet. Just be sure to ask about any sauces or toppings, as they may contain animal-derived ingredients.

Desserts and Beverages

Desserts can be a bit trickier for vegans, as many of them contain dairy. However, there are plenty of vegan-friendly sweet treats out there, including sorbet, fruit-based desserts, and vegan ice cream.

When in doubt, just ask your server if there are any vegan dessert options. Many restaurants offer vegan ice cream nowadays, so you may be in luck!

As for beverages, most restaurants offer a variety of non-dairy milk options, including soy, almond, oat, and coconut. Just ask your server what options are available.

Communicating Your Dietary Needs

So you’ve found a restaurant that has vegan options, and you’ve perused the menu. Now it’s time to order. But how do you communicate your dietary needs to the staff?

The first thing to remember is to be polite. When you tell the server that you have dietary restrictions, it’s not their fault that the restaurant doesn’t offer vegan options. So be nice!

When asking about ingredients, be specific. Don’t just ask if something is “vegan.” Ask if it contains “chicken broth” or “butter.” This will help the server give you the most accurate information possible.

If the restaurant doesn’t have any vegan options that you’re excited about, consider giving the kitchen some creative freedom. You might be surprised at what they can come up with! Many chefs enjoy the challenge of creating a delicious, vegan meal, so don’t be afraid to ask if they can make you something special.

If you have a severe food allergy in addition to being vegan, be sure to let your server know right away. Many restaurants have protocols in place for dealing with food allergies, so it’s important to let them know so they can take any necessary precautions.

As a vegan, you have the power to advocate for more vegan options at restaurants. So if you’re not pleased with the selection, let the restaurant know. You might even consider leaving a review online, either praising the restaurant for its vegan options or offering constructive feedback on how they could improve. Many restaurants are eager to expand their vegan offerings and will take your feedback seriously.

Dining Out with Confidence and Enjoyment

Now that you know how to navigate restaurant menus as a vegan, it’s time to enjoy your meal!

One of the best things about being vegan is the opportunity to try new foods and flavors. So don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never had before. You never know, you might discover a new favorite dish.

When dining with non-vegan friends or family, be gracious and appreciative of the vegan options that are available to you. You might even be able to convert them to the plant-based side!

And if you’re celebrating a special occasion as a vegan, consider it an opportunity to indulge in a vegan-friendly treat. Many restaurants offer vegan cakes and pastries, and there are plenty of delicious, vegan-friendly dessert options available at grocery stores and online.

The world of vegan dining is vast and varied, so don’t be afraid to explore it. With a little knowledge and a lot of curiosity, you’re sure to find plenty of delicious, satisfying meals that will make you glad you went out to eat.