February 26, 2009

Vegan Dining 101

Through the years, I have had to field many questions from friends & family who are curious about vegan dining - some of those friends are lacto-vegetarian who are anxious about dining out as a vegan. "I find it hard enough to find vegetarian foods, I can't imagine how difficult it is to find good vegan food!"

Well, you've come to the right place! I'm going to list here the tactics I use for dining out. If you have some of your own suggestions, please leave them in the comment box.

The Valley Vegan's Tips for Successful Dining

1) Do Your Research

In this exciting age of the internet, you should be able to access any restaurant's website - including downloading or viewing a menu. Scan the menu for vegetarian and vegan options. Read online reviews of specific places you want to visit; find other vegans in the area for their opinion; find out just how vegan the place you want to eat at is. Showing up to the restaurant prepared makes all the difference in the world.
2) Call Ahead
Armed with your list of menu items, you may want to call ahead depending on the restaurant. The more upscale the restaurant, the more likely you are to talk to someone like the chef or sous. Be sure you are clear with you questions and/or requirements - don't be demanding, do be gracious for any suggestions the management or chefs give you. In my personal experience, my questions are always answered. Do ask the host/manager to make a note in your reservation that there is a veg*n in the party. Many times, I have been offered a special "off-menu" dish prepared especially for me. The best way I handle this is to accept whatever they give me! The chef is the professional here, and I have been surprised more than once by creativity, I would never dare stand in their way of putting forth a creation. Food is art, and I respect that!
3) Thoroughly Read The Menu
Once at the restaurant, you will need to take a few extra minutes to read the menu (compared to the others in your party). Look for even the slightest mention of dairy or eggs, but most important, you need to ask about the base of all sauces & soups. An item may appear to be vegetarian, when in fact there may be cheese or ground beef in the tomato sauce.

*Also, be aware, that sometimes "seafood" is not on your server's radar as an animal food.
4) Be Creative!
Vegetarian/Vegan does not equal boring! Don't settle for salad or pasta w/a fewovercooked vegetables slopped on top. Scan the menu for things you may have gravitated toward anyway then ask to remove the meat and dairy. Don't see anything that is already veg*n or can be easily altered? Then start looking for items already on the menu that can be put together to make something new! Or, better yet, ask the server if thechef can suggest anything for you to eat. I have met many chefs, and they tell me any chance to get creative in the kitchen is a welcome change!
5) Be Clear With Your Server
Remember, the Chef & manager are invested in your satisfaction & eventual return to their establishment. In more cases than not, they will bend over backward for you. Unfortunately, you have to get the messages past the server first... someone who may be impatient with your special needs or your constant questions!
During the ordering process, be sure that your server is absolutely 100% crystal clear with your requests. I like to reiterate the dairy part with a polite thank you: "thanks for taking out the cheese." I'm a teacher so I'm in the habit of always turning things into compliments. It works on grown-ups just as successfully as on kids.
6) Thank Your Server
At the end of the meal, you will be faced with tipping your server. Now that I'm Vegan, I tip generously to those servers who are polite & helpful (usually 20-22%) while those that roll their eyes or add their own negative opinion get 15%. I don't withhold tips, I don't tip under 15% unless something has gone horribly wrong (which I can't say has ever happened to me). If it's a place where you plan to return, keep in mind that there is a chance the server will recognize you - and you may get a less-than-vegan item next time...
7) Follow Up

One of the most exciting parts of this blog has been the response from themanagers/chefs of the restaurants I've featured here. I'm not a professional writer or food critic, I'm just a woman trying to find good food. One vegan's word spreads fast in this town and in the blogosphere - and good words travel far & fast!

Every restaurant I visit, which receives a 4 or 5 sprout rating, I will contact within 24 hours with an email entitled: "You've Been Visited By The Valley Vegan!" I direct them to their "review" and usually include a few more personal words of praise that are not posted here on the blog. Owners, chefs & managers are so gracious and it's been a pleasure to be in contact with them.

Kindness & Compassion are at the heart of veganism & vegetarianism. You are an ambassador for veg*nism whether you like it or not. I try to remember that I'm not the first or last vegan to go to these restaurants, but if I can change attitudes and stereotypes of what we are, then my job is done!

Good luck! And Happy Dining!!

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Paul Green, Temporary Chef said...

That's a great list of tips. The vegan diner has, as you've noted, often been served whatever starch and vegetables are available, as an entree.

I posted a short article linking to this post, on a restaurant industry website as a guide for restaurateurs in adding quality alternatives to their menus.


The Vegas Vegan said...

Thanks Paul! I really appreciate that!

Anonymous said...

Help lol seriously im lost. I have plains to switch to vegetarian. Im on a ouch kinda no room to squeak fixed income. I dont know how to learn what i like an dont like. I havnt alot to spend on food if i try someo thing an dont like but have to eat any way im a bit concearned its gonna creat a fear of trying more. I can go on an on here got other concern you can contack me michele ( amberdreams44@gmail.com ) i live wright here in vegas