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Are you a new vegan or still just learning? Finding vegan options at restaurants can feel overwhelming.
When I first went vegan, I was overwhelmed. I knew the basic stuff I could eat, and I’m lucky to have a great vegan scene in Nashville, so going to vegan restaurants was a big part of it in the beginning.
Eventually, I had to start eating at non-vegan restaurants, though. If I had a meeting or my family wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t exactly vegan friendly; then I had to figure it out.
And I’m a terrible vegan, so salad isn’t usually an option. I wondered about all these questions when I first went vegan, so here are my tips for eating vegan at any restaurant.
And, don’t get discouraged – I STILL have to remember things like asking about oyster sauce at Chinese restaurants and so on.
Finding Vegan Options At Restaurants – My Best Tips
1. Call Ahead
I used to be really nervous to do this. I hate talking over the phone and being a pain in the ass, so this is horribly uncomfortable for me.
But, if I can do it, then so can you!
My first question is, “Do you have anything that is vegan-friendly?” If they either say no, they don’t know, or seem uncertain, I’ll ask more specific questions.
Sometimes by calling, the restaurant will actually prepare something special for you that may not even be on the menu. They usually will if they have time to prep (depending on the restaurant).
2. Message Them On Facebook
I also use this option quite often and have gotten great responses!
Here’s an example of where I did so. And I ended up having amazing vegan chili and some of the best fries in my life at a place where you would NEVER expect vegan options – an arcade bar.
3. Check The Menu Out Online
This is probably my go-to that I personally do the most. Sometimes, it’s really easy to spot vegan items without calling or asking your waiter.
For instance, if there is a salad with egg, bacon, cheese, or meat – you can just have it made without and ask for extra veggies.
Sometimes, you’ll be surprised that they have marked things vegan on their menu.
4. Ask If They Have A Vegan/Vegetarian Menu
Some places have a special menu, and you just have to ask! I wouldn’t say it’s super common and most chain places likely don’t, but it is becoming more common.
5. Eat Before Dinner
If you just want to spend time with family or friends or you have no option but to go, but you’re worried about the lack of options, eat before! I do this quite often.
6. Sides Are Your Best Friend
Sometimes I just order a bunch of sides – fries, baked potatoes, veggies, soup, and more! There are usually many vegan options or items that can be made vegan.
Vegans will joke that you can “just get fries.” There are many times I will get a side salad and fries, and while it may not be gourmet or anything special, it does the trick in a pinch.
7. Leave A Constructive Comment Or Review
Either let places know how much you appreciate them having vegan options (if they do and they are sufficient) or let them know that you would love to see more vegan options on the menu so that you could frequent their restaurant more.
8. Be Specific
When it comes to ordering, don’t necessarily use the word vegan. Don’t just say – “please make that vegan” – they may not have any clue what you’re talking about, and more commonly, they may think vegan is the same thing as vegetarian.
Be specific about what you DO NOT want.
9. Be Nice
Now is not the time to explain the benefits of veganism, talk about animal cruelty, be snobby, or assume everyone knows what veganism is all about.
Just ask the questions, explain what you’d like, say thank you, and be nice.
10. Use Vegan Apps
Use apps to find vegan-friendly restaurants in the area you’re traveling to or live in.
Happy Cow isn’t as helpful as it used to be when I first went vegan – I find that there are options that aren’t always on there. So, I would just use it as a jumping-off point.
You can look for vegan only, vegetarian, or places that have veg options. It’s so helpful!
11. Do Not Assume Dressings Are Vegan
Don’t assume a dressing is vegan. Many can often have egg and/or dairy in them, not just dairy-based ones such as ranch. Always ask.
12. Ask About Shared Fryers
Some places fry all of their food in the same fryer. Therefore, your fries may be fried in the same fryer and oil as chicken.
This actually isn’t something I worry about anymore. At the end of the day, unshared fryers don’t save any more animals than shared ones do, but I understand it’s a preference thing.
15. Not All Veggie Burgers Are Created Equal
More often than not, a veggie burger is not vegan. Most contain eggs, so always ask unless it’s marked vegan.
16. Look Out For Add-Ons
Buns are often buttered, parmesan is often added to a dish at the end, and bread can often have egg in it. All the little things are what get annoying, but the more you get in the habit of asking, the more it will just be second nature!
17. Make A Spreadsheet
It may seem like a lot of work but just jotting down what you ate and where will keep you from having to ask next time. So, you’ll always know what you can eat at ‘ X restaurant,’ and you only had to ask once!
Specific Questions To Ask
These are the typical things you would worry about at these types of restaurants. I would always err on the side of caution and ALWAYS ask about dairy, eggs, and stock. At Asian restaurants, don’t forget about fish sauce and oyster sauce.
Servers should speak your language and should be able to sub out dairy and egg products with no problem.
- fish sauce
- curry paste
- use tofu instead of meat
- fish sauce
- oyster sauce
- use tofu instead of meat
- fish sauce
- bonito flakes
- egg or dairy in the dough (or brushed on)
- dairy in sauce
- eggs in pasta
- dairy (yogurt specifically)
- dairy in fried food batter
- eggs in veggie burgers
- egg or dairy in buns/bread
- dairy (specifically yogurt)
- specifically, ask about dairy or egg in naan bread
- sour cream
- lard in refried beans
- chicken broth in rice
Do you have any specific questions for me about finding vegan options at restaurants? Ask in the comments!