Eating out and having a cold drink can be a great way to enjoy quality down time with others. However visiting a typical restaurant can cause a lot of vegan folks unneeded social anxiety and general stress. Have no fear, I am here to give you my best advice of surviving vegan inside a steakhouse so that you don't have to miss out on quality down time with loved ones.
Tip 1: Come prepared
Before even considering a restaurant, I find them online and scour the menu. If you have any say in where you end up- knowing what to expect will help you make a decision or prepare questions for your server. If you don't have any say in where you end up (for example you are attending a company dinner or you are a guest to an occasion) checking the menu beforehand will be essential to your preparedness.
Tip 2: Prepare for the worst
If you are a guest to the occasion and you've scoured the menu but haven't found anything that would be a suitable meal, don't go to dinner hungry. Sometimes the only option available will be a side salad or french fries, but don't let that hold you back from having any fun! The best way to be prepared for this situation is to have something somewhat filling or satisfying before heading out. A bowl of high fiber cereal, a plate of vegan nachos with black beans, a bowl of pasta with vegan protein of some kind, a serving of bruschetta on toasted whole grain bread; all of these dishes are somewhat filling and make decent appetizers.
Tip 3: Make it obvious
Tell your server that you are vegan, and that this means you do not consume meat, dairy, eggs, butter or honey (if honey applies to you). Butter and honey are two things people easily forget about which is why its helpful to give reminders. Your server should also be noting on your items "vegan" when they are rung through the computer. Personally it took me several months to feel comfortable telling my servers (for fear of judgement- silly me), but this is the best way to get recommendations from your servers, since they should know the allergen information on their menu items. Now is the time to ask your server about meals that peak your interest and what ways they might need to be modified to be vegan.
Tip 4: Ask questions
Some items (like veggie burgers) can be made vegan but are typically made vegetarian. Ask your server if their veggie burger has eggs in it. Ask if the sauces have cheese in them. Ask if the beans were cooked with animal products. These are important questions especially if you have been vegan for a long time where a mix up could result in a seriously upset tummy.
Tip 6: Don't worry about the 2%
If you have exhausted all options on the menu and nothing seems to be vegan, find the menu item with the least amount of animal products. As an example, a very simple mountain bar in my town only had one option for me as a vegan: hummus and veggies with Naan bread. Since I hadn't prepared adequately with a snack for the day before heading to the slopes and I didn't want to miss out on lunch with my friends, I ordered the hummus. I could have EASILY asked the server to swap out the bread for more carrot sticks, but I hadn't realized the bread had milk in it before it was too late. I won't make that mistake again, but I am not losing my mind over it because I did the best I could have at the time.
Some vegans do not like to eat fried foods that are fried alongside animal products like chicken tenders or mozzarella sticks. I highly encourage you to steer away from this method unless you have an extremely sensitive stomach or allergy. Lots of fried foods are vegan and sometimes, albeit the least healthy option, its more appetizing than a salad.
If the waiter brings out bread with butter on the side; eat the bread! Don't fret over the ingredients list because MOST bread is vegan (except obvious cheese bread, Naan or popovers). Ask for some oil and vinegar to have with your bread and now you've gotten a somewhat filling FREE appetizer.
Final tip: Search the sides & appetizers
In desperation, the one place on the menu I will almost ALWAYS find a guaranteed vegan option or options is the sides menu. Breakfast places often have things like potatoes, avocado, fruit cups, toast (ask for it without butter), or oatmeal (ask about butter or milk). Lunch and dinner spots have multiple fried food options, side salads, beans, baked potatoes, and various vegetables. Toast, avocado and mixed vegetables and hot sauce is my favorite combo of sides. Or fries, avocado, vegan chili and hot sauce.
Appetizers can be easily modified slightly to make a meal. Ask if you can get a salad in a wrap with some beans. Bruschetta without cheese on top is tasty and fresh. If soups are available, in recent times I have been able to find vegan soup options more and more frequently. Pub pretzels with mustard (instead of cheese) are a carb-y filling snack. If tofu is listed anywhere on the menu- it can be added to anything for increased protein.
One of the first things that came to mind after my decision to go vegan were all of my vegetarian friendly favorites at the local restaurants that would no longer be suitable for my lifestyle. Over time I realized that it is challenging but not impossible to have a decent meal at any typical restaurant. Don't miss out on quality time with people that you love because you feel there won't be anything suitable for you. The more you are able to talk about your demand for vegan options, the faster they will become available in more eateries!
Pictured is a vegan breakfast burrito that I had modified. I was nervous that my modifications were too much so I called ahead of time and got pre-approval (nervous freak)
On the menu:
Vegetarian breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, onions. Topped with vegetarian chili & avocado. Black beans, lettuce, tomato and sour cream on side.
I kindly asked if they would substitute the eggs and cheese for plain black beans. I told them I am vegan so I do not eat dairy or eggs, so leave the sour cream off the plate too, please! It was DELICIOUS.
This place is called the Log Cabin Cafe in Frisco, Colorado. I am so glad they were able to put this meal together for me because it's my favorite breakfast meal and my omni SO loves their biscuits and gravy.
It's easy to be intimidated when there aren't any options on the menu listed as strictly "VEGAN" but with my tips and tools provided today you can conquer any eatery occasion!