Vegan Eating Out Tips

Going out to eat is probably the one thing that new vegans fear most.

You probably have visions of being the only vegan in a group, all eyes on you, as you muddle your way through an order… But the reality is typically very different, and can be a really fun, satisfying and, most importantly, delicious experience.

Collectively the Veganuary team have dined out all over the world, so whether it’s a sophisticated restaurant, a local cafe, or just grabbing a pizza, we’ve got the inside info to make your dining experiences easy and hassle-free.

  • It doesn’t have to be a vegan, or even vegetarian, restaurant!

It’s a common misconception that dining options automatically reduce when you go vegan. But this just isn’t true. Your food choices don’t have to dictate where you eat any more than they did before, especially when some of the most vegan-friendly cuisines are typically the most popular with everyone.

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Image courtesy of tibits restaurant.

Chinese, Italian, Indian and Mexican cuisines, for example, are all fantastic for vegans and, with a little extra knowledge, you should feel confident to order at most restaurants, anywhere in the world. In fact, we’ve created a series of guides to make it as easy as possible for you to eat out at a number of different cuisines – just click on your favourite below to find out more.

And remember: Don’t think you’ll be sidelined at social gatherings, or have to dictate the venue, every time you want to go out with friends or family. Because that’s simply not the reality of vegan life.

  • Don’t assume!

This has two meanings:

  1. Don’t assume that you can’t make requests at a restaurant and that, in being vegan, you’re being a bore or a burden. Customers make requests all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Allergy requests are very common and understood, for example, and these frequently include ingredients that vegans don’t eat, e.g. lactose intolerance. So don’t assume you can’t ask for a dish to be altered to suit. You are a paying customer after all, and deserve exactly the same respect and kindness as everyone else. Furthermore, chefs often relish the chance to cook ‘off menu’, and it is not unusual for them to suggest a meal for you, especially in the more swanky restaurants. So don’t assume you have to settle for a portion of fries and a salad, because if you don’t ask you might just miss out on something really tasty.
  2. Although veganism is more widely recognised now than ever before, don’t just assume that all restaurant staff know what it is. Politely explain what you do and don’t eat, take the time to answer their questions, and don’t be afraid to use the ‘V word’. You might say something like “I’m vegan, so I don’t eat eggs, milk or cheese. I was wondering whether you know if your pizza dough has any milk or eggs in it, and if I can get the Vegetariana without cheese?” Remember, you may be the first vegan they’ve ever met – so be pleasant, clear and polite.
  • You’re a Veganuary participant!
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If you’re taking part in Veganuary then talk about it when you go out! Tell the waiting staff that you’re taking part (or will be taking part and are getting some practice in) in a 31 day vegan challenge for January, and ask them to help you out.

This makes your order all about Veganuary and less about you, so is a great ice-breaker if you’re feeling really nervous.

  • Unsure if a restaurant has vegan options?

Calling, emailing or even tweeting ahead is a great idea if you know the name of the place you’ll be eating.

Typically you’ll find that those without anything specifically vegan are happy to accommodate, and will often make something especially for you. If the restaurant has an online menu, have a read over it before getting in touch – it’s likely you’ll see a few dishes that can be easily made vegan, and this will make you feel more confident about making a request.

  • The only vegan in the group?
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Image courtesy of tibits restaurant.

If you’re out with a group and feel a little self-conscious about querying menu items at the table, simply excuse yourself before ordering and have a quiet word with your waiter/waitress.

This is also a great way to ask about ingredients as the waiting staff may need to check with the kitchen, and this can delay the ordering process. You might want to know whether they cook with butter or vegetable oil, if the pasta they use is made with egg, or if the garlic mushrooms can be prepared without cream.

It is much easier to ask a few questions when you’ve not got (what feels like) a hundred pairs of eyes on you!

  • Work parties and get-togethers

Work events are often arranged by colleagues, so let them know that you’re happy to talk to the venue directly if it makes things easier. You’ll feel more confident about attending if you know there’s something there for you to eat, and the onus isn’t all on the organiser.

Email is great for this, as messages are less likely to get lost in translation.

  • Language barrier?

If you’re travelling overseas and want to feel confident about ordering then why not get yourself a Vegan Passport?

  • Have fun!
A Drink With Dinner by Daniel Lee. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.
A Drink With Dinner by Daniel Lee.

Possibly the most important tip of all…

Initially going out to eat can feel a little daunting. But, just like anything in life, you’ll find that talking about being vegan soon becomes second nature.

You’ll probably find that you have some great conversations because of it. And, more importantly, you’ll eat some really, really good food!

Ready to take the Veganuary pledge?

Veganuary is the world's largest vegan movement, inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year.