9 Keys to Eating Out as a Vegan

eating out as a vegan

Many vegans – especially new vegans – believe finding vegan-friendly foods in restaurants will be difficult. If you’re one of these people, allow me to set the record straight when it comes to eating out as a vegan.

TL;DR version: Eating out as a vegan is NOT difficult… once you have a solid understanding of vegan-friendly foods and take a few simple steps to ensure your success.

The good news is that the vast majority of restaurants want customers money and don’t actively resist vegans eating in their establishments. As a result, most restaurants in my experience, have vegan-friendly options on the menu.

I put together this guide to eating out as a vegan to ensure you enjoy meals out and don’t feel any awkwardness or like an inconvenience to your friends, family and/or staff.

1. Be Part of the Decision

First things first, the simplest way to ensure you end up at a restaurant with vegan-friendly options is to be a part of the decision-making process. This is the stage where you can definitely control a desirable outcome. If you’re going to eat out with family, friends or workmates, it’s always easiest to let people know your dietary preferences before hand – you don’t want to upset anyone by speaking up after the fact.

Don’t be afraid to speak up! If a certain restaurant isn’t suitable for you, let people know so you can decide on a mutually agreed upon place. If you’re an introvert, or someone who doesn’t like to voice their opinion, I can tell it’s much less embarrassing and awkward than sitting at a table watching other people eat while they apologize…

2. Know the Menu Before You Go

Technology is the friend of anyone who is testing out a new restaurant – not just vegans. You almost always have the option to review a restaurants menu before you decide where to go or confirm your availability and plans. Most restaurants seem to mark their vegan-friendly meals as so, along with other dietary preferences, to make them easy to identify. But, reviewing the menu ahead of time will allow you to call or email the restaurant with any questions or to receive any confirmations you may need. And, if they don’t have any vegan meals on the menu, you can always ask what options they may be able to prepare way ahead of time. I’m sure most restaurants would appreciate the heads up!

3. Network with Vegans and Share Recommendations

This is something you should do for many reasons – not just to help you find vegan-friendly meals. The vegan journey is much easier when you’re surrounded by other people who have similar preferences.

Most big chains tend to be fairly uniform when it comes to their meal offerings. For example, if you’ve been to one Chili’s you’ve been to them all. But if you’re like me and prefer small, local restaurants to big chains, things can get a bit more questionable. In this scenario, it’s always helpful to know other vegans who live in the community and can share their experiences, favorite hotspots and dishes.

If you don’t know any vegans in your local area, then take a look at review sites like Yelp and Happy Cow. Us vegans tend to be very willing to share our opinions, so it usually isn’t that difficult to find a first-hand experience! If you don’t have these apps downloaded into your phone right now, stop reading and do it immediately… You’ll be glad you did.

4. Avoid Restaurants with Set Menus

I think the vast majority of restaurants are willing to go the extra mile to ensure guests are satisfied. However, not every restaurant will be willing and/or able to meet every dietary restriction. If you come across a restaurant like this when looking at reviews or asking for recommendations – it’s best to just avoid it if possible!

Now, there are certain situations in which you may not be able to avoid meals with set menus. Many work functions, and occasions like weddings, have set menus. If you know you’re going to a function with a set menu, try to inquire with the organizer ahead of time to ensure the chef can offer a vegan-friendly option. If the chef can’t or the organizer is unable to confirm, it’s probably best to eat ahead of time so that you’re not left hungry.

I’ve been to weddings where vegan-options weren’t available. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not he end of the world. Just be prepared to roll with the punches if you end up in a situation like this and try your best to plan accordingly.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Many people with dietary restrictions take a menu at face value. But often times, menus don’t list everything about a dish. Must menus just include short descriptions and not a complete ingredients list, for practical reasons. Just because animal ingredients aren’t listed, doesn’t mean that they aren’t included. It’s probably best to ask if you have any uncertainties or if the meal isn’t clearly marked as vegan-friendly.

On the flip side, remember not to make an assumption that a meal isn’t vegan-friendly just because it isn’t marked vegan. If nothing on the menu is marked as vegan-friendly, then it’s probably safe to assume that the restaurant just doesn’t label their dishes as such. It may take a few questions to determine what’s what, but you’ll know unless you ask.

6. Get Creative with the Menu

If you’re unsure of an entrée, then you may want to consider getting creative with the menu. Almost all menus tend to have appetizers that are vegan-friendly. Skipping an entrée and ordering an appetizer or two (or three) may be the best option! Getting a little creative with the menu will ensure you don’t go hungry, if nothing else. But you could also create a well-balanced meal with a wide variety of tastes.

7. Stick with Cuisines You Know

If you’re a regular here, then you probably know that I’m a big advocate for trying new dishes and cuisines. But if you’re going out for a meal with family, friends or coworkers, it’s probably not the ideal time to roll the dice on a new cuisine you’re unsure of. If you’ve never been to a traditional Argentinian restaurant, then you’re likely not going to want to try one without A LOT of research – just for comforts sake.

If you have to try something new, then traditionally Indian, Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern restaurants are more likely to have vegan options on the menu – but whether that’s intentional or not, I’m not really sure. But it’s generally better to stick with what you know while going out.

8. Prepare for the Worst and Pack Snacks

Most vegans I know tend to take snacks with them most places they go. It’s better safe than sorry, right? I’m willing to bet that you’ll never be in a situation where you’re unhappy that you have snacks available. That just hasn’t ever happened in the history of the human existence… There have been zero documented cases.

Nothing stinks worse than being hungry and not having anywhere to go – or being unsure where to go. You never know when hunger will strike and it’s a great practice to be prepared every time you go out if you have any dietary restrictions that make it difficult to stroll through the drive through of any random fast-food chain.

9. Don’t Make Any Assumptions

As I type this, it’s 2022. I think the vast majority of people have a good understanding of what it means to be vegan. But some people may not know what being vegan means – or they may think it’s the same as being vegetarian, or get the two confused. Never assume that people know what you mean and don’t be afraid to ask questions or for clarification. Be as specific and clear as you can to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

Do You Feel Comfortable Eating Out as a Vegan?

If you’re newer to veganism, it can definitely take a while to adjust and feel comfortable eating out. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t slightly more difficult to eat out as a vegan than it is to eat out as a person without any dietary restrictions. But, with that said, finding vegan options at a restaurant isn’t all that difficult if you’re familiar with the cuisine.

I would love to hear your experiences when it comes to eating out vegan. What community do you live in? What restaurants are the best for vegans? What dishes ROCK? Click here to go to the contact page and let me know what your experience has been!

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