Food, Healthy Eating

4 Tips for Ordering Vegan at Non-Vegan Restaurants

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You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. You stare at the menu and hope something pops out at you. When the waiter arrives, you quickly order the grilled veggies and a side salad, so as not to halt the group conversation. Your food arrives–the veggies doused in butter topped with grated Parmesan (which was not specified on the menu) and the simple side salad has cheese and bits of meat. Now what?

4 Tips to Ordering Vegan at Non-Vegan Restaurants

Dining out green is easier when you know these tips and tricks!

No one likes to be caught in this position especially when you just wanted to enjoy a nice meal with friends. Here are 4 tips to avoid sticky situations when dining at non-vegan establishments.

1. SPEAK UP! Communication is key. You have to be vocal with your server. Never just assume that something is vegan. Always be sure to ask about what kind of stock is used in a soup. Make sure that veggies are steamed or sautéd in oil. Double check about aioli, sour cream, mayonnaise, and other dairy-based sauces that may come on your entrée. I’ve even gone so far as to say I have a dairy allergy when ordering a cheese-free pizza. This ensures that all the veggies are chopped fresh and there is no chance of cheese appearing on my plate.

2. Do your research. Accept the fact that you will have to have a conversation with your waiter about the menu, but do your research ahead of time. Come prepared with several dishes in mind. Sometimes waiters aren’t as creative about substitutions on the spot as you may be. If you see they have hummus on the menu and they have a grilled veggie sandwich that normally comes with mayo and cheese, see if you can swap out the dairy for a scoop of hummus! Parse through Yelp reviews to see if any other vegans have found success there and once you do, share your secrets.

3. Stick to ethnic foods. It is far easier to find vegan options at restaurants that feature international foods. Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mexican restaurants can all be great. You’ll have luck assembling a meal of legumes/beans, grains, and veggies. Just be sure to make sure to ask about fish oil, lard, animal stock, and other hidden ingredients.

4. BYO. Okay, now some people may frown upon this, but if I know I am going to a very non-vegan friendly establishment where my best bet will be a baked potato and steamed veggies, I absolutely pack a mini container of vegan butter. Sometimes I bring my own non-dairy milk to brunch if I know the place doesn’t have it or my favorite vegan salad dressing to spice up the iceberg lettuce plate I will be forced to eat. I believe there’s a big difference between bringing along little condiments like this and bringing in an outside meal. That would obviously not be okay, but my mini sriracha bottle never hurt anyone. 😉

Do you have a favorite ethnic cuisine that is very vegan-friendly? Anyone else a fan of BYO? Please share! 

Also by Christina: Asian Inspired Tempeh Bowl

Vegan Chickpea Bruschetta

Related: 5 Tips for Traveling with a Non Vegan

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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling

Christina Ramirez

Christina Ramirez

Blogger at The Vegan Nugget
Christina credits adopting the vegan lifestyle as the single most profound shift in her life. She went on Weight Watchers for the first time in 7th grade; she struggled with eating habits and weight issues until college, when she finally decided to take her health seriously. Veganism has helped Christina maintain a healthy body weight and achieve peace with her body. She believes veganism is what led her to become the energetic, go-getter, healthy, holistic person. Follow Christina on Pinterest @vegannugget and Instagram @christinaramireznyc.
  • I have definitely brought my own beloved coconut milk coffee creamer to a café with no vegan creamer or milk. I almost feel like I’m spiking my drink when I pull a little bottle of my purse and pour its contents into my coffee. Really, I’m just spiking it with vegan awesomeness 😉

  • Katharine

    This is great! I would advise to check ethnic cuisines beforehand: lots of Indian dishes contain ghee and naan bread usually has yoghurt in it. Fish sauce is used in many Thai dishes, even the tofu ones. It can be hard! But I remind myself that every time I speak up, the restaurant is getting a message that this is what their (potential) customers want. Many of the vegan options available today are no doubt the result of people speaking up in the past.

    • Katharine – yes! Thanks for the important reminders! I once told a restaurant I was vegan as a last resort after I couldn’t find anything on the menu and to my surprise they said they had a special vegan meal they always made when people requested it. It was delicious and I suggested they add it to the menu!!

  • Tayler

    My boyfriend and I love trying new restaurants, so if I know where we’re eating I always try to find a menu online beforehand. Even though he’s not a vegan, he’s very considerate and supportive of my eating choices, so if we’re sitting somewhere and I’m looking desperately over the menu for a meal he feels awful. It’s so much easier when I’ve had a chance to look online first, that way we can both enjoy our meal 😉

    And the yelp! tip is my favorite go-to, especially since there’s a search function in the review section!

    • I feel the same way, Taylor! My boyfriend is super supportive too, but I always have a better time if I do my research beforehand!

  • Great tips! I’ve never brought my own butter though … the only time I would probably consider that would be at the movie theatres for topping off popcorn but I usually just sneak my own bag of vegan popcorn in! hehe but admittedly, I have gone as far as bringing my own vegenaise out! haha =D not so much now because it’s Summer and hot as hell

    • Ha, VIcky! I love it. I once had to go to a chop house for a rehearsal dinner and had no choice but to eat a plain baked potato and steamed veggies. I learned my lesson then!

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