One of the questions I most get asked is how I eat out as a vegan……and where are my favourite vegan restaurants.
Now before I go any further I just want to caveat and say that I still have a lot of challenges in this area (so I totally understand your struggles and frustrations). Even today as I write this (21st July 2016), I find that my experiences of restaurants and even so called “vegan restaurants” are often hit and miss. The good news is that so many more restaurants and chefs are becoming educated on veganism, allergies and other dietary restrictions. And this will only continue to improve as demand increases over the coming years.
I very much look forward to (as I am sure you do too), when I can walk into any restaurant and be spoilt for choice. Unfortunately, this is still probably a few years away. Until then, please feel free to use some of my tips and tricks below to make eating out a little bit easier.
1. It All Starts With The Internet – Happy Cow
If you are looking for a vegan restaurant or a vegan friendly restaurant to visit, then my top tip will always be to have a look on Happy Cow. Simply type in the area you live or the area you are visiting. You will then get a nice list of vegan and veg friendly restaurants. You will also get reviews and ratings, so you can get a feel of what people are saying about the restaurant. And always feed back into the system. If you had a good or bad experience then write a review. If the vegan restaurant or veg friendly restaurant didn’t have a particularly good selection of food, then write a review. The only way restaurants will change is when they can see a demand for vegan food or vegan friendly options.
2. Plan, Plan & Plan
If you are going out with friends who aren’t vegan or vegetarian or out for a family members birthday, then the restaurant wont always be vegan friendly (and I have had my fair share of these). A good tip here would be to have a look at the restaurants online menu (most restaurants now do these). This will enable you to have a look at any menu items that can be veganized. Make a note of these.
3. Buzz The Restaurant
Sometimes looking at an online menu wont be too fruitful. If this is the case then call the restaurant in advance and ask whether they can help you with your vegan requirements. Sometimes they will just play lip service to get you through the door. There have been many restaurants I have called who have said that then can cater for all dietary requirements……and when I got there the options were very poor. My tip for avoiding this is when you call, be very specific about what your likes and preferences are.
4. The Hidden Menu
One of the most frustrating elements about some restaurants is that they have hidden menus (go figure!). So they might have a vegan or vegetarian menu but they won’t put it on the table unless they are specifically asked for it. This won’t always be the case, but don’t feel bad for asking if they have a separate menu for your dietary preference.
5. It’s All About The Sides
If you are really struggling with the main options, then have a look at the sides. This can be particularly frustrating and might mean ordering a few side dishes as a main meal, but at least you won’t go hungry or be the only one not eating at the table.
6. Worst Case Scenario
Sometimes you will look at Happy Cow, look at the online menu, phone in advance and still your options might be severely limited. If this is the case eat a light meal before you go out. I do this to ensure that I am not hungry all evening.
7. Top Tip: Indian, Thai & Mexican
I have always found that Mexican, Indian and Thai restaurants have a lot more “vegan restaurant” options as these populations tend to eat less meat, dairy and eggs compared to those countries on “standard western diets”. Even when a particular dish has an undesirable ingredient, the restaurant can usually replace this with a vegan option without compromising on the flavour.
8. Things Will Only Improve With Reviews
I have got into the habit of writing short reviews because I believe this is the only way that restaurants will improve and become more accommodating to those of us who choose to be vegan. And we all know the power that social media can have. Therefore, if you have a good or bad experience then write a review on Happy Cow. If the restaurant doesn’t appear on Happy Cow then write a review on one of their social media profiles. I can guarantee that restaurant owners will be monitoring reviews and social media profiles closely because they certainly won’t want bad reviews or to lose money because they can’t accommodate a certain group of people.
9. Focus On The People
If I go to a restaurant that I know isn’t vegan friendly then I will always have very low expectations. This is extremely frustrating at times. But what you need to focus on is having fun with your friends and family and avoid drawing attention to yourself and appearing as that “stroppy vegan”. Do your research, speak to the restaurant, read the reviews, be proactive and if necessary eat before you go out. But ultimately the most important part of the experience of visiting a vegan restaurant or a veg friendly restaurant is spending quality time with your loved ones.
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