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The Vegan Guide to Dining Out With Non-Vegans

It’s summer—the season of vacations and long, unstructured days outdoors. During this time of the year, I find my family’s schedule to be less rigid, more spontaneous, and flexible. Although I plan a weekly dinner menu during the summer months, we tend to eat out more. We’re out and about more often, stay out later with friends, and overall feel less like being inside cooking.

As the only vegan not only in my family but also in my social circle, dining out can bring on some anxiety and unique challenges. Picture this: everyone eagerly choosing a restaurant while you’re silently wondering if there will be anything more than a side salad for you. Sound familiar?

Yet, dining out should be a joyous experience, a time to connect and savor good food together, regardless of dietary choices. It’s essential to find harmony and enjoyment in shared dining experiences, blending plant-based preferences with non-vegan tastes effortlessly.

In this vegan guide to dining out with non-vegans, I share my top 10 tips for eating out like a pro. From researching the right restaurants to making modifications on the fly, these tips will help ensure that you leave the table as happy and satisfied as the non-vegans.

Table of Contents

Top 10 Tips For Dining Out With Non-Vegans

1. Research and Choose the Right Restaurant

One of the keys to a successful dining experience is choosing a restaurant that caters to both vegan and non-vegan diets. Start with some online research. Use restaurant review sites and apps to find vegan-friendly eateries. (Happy Cow is one of my favorites.) Look for places that explicitly mention vegan options on their menu.

Once you have a list, check the menus and read reviews for more insights. Many restaurants now have their menus available online, making it easy to spot vegan-friendly dishes in advance. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to call the restaurant ahead of time to inquire about their vegan options or any accommodations they can make.

2. Study the Menu in Advance

A little homework goes a long way. Before heading out, take a few minutes to study the restaurant’s menu online. Identify potential vegan options and familiarize yourself with ingredients that are typically vegan-friendly. Think about possible customizations you might need to make non-vegan dishes suitable for you. Call ahead and ask the restaurant about their vegan options or available accomodations.

3. Communicate Your Needs

When you arrive at the restaurant, be clear and polite when communicating your dietary needs to the server. Ask questions about ingredients and preparation methods to ensure your meal is vegan. Be specific with your requests, such as asking for no butter or cheese. Most servers appreciate clarity and are more than willing to accommodate.

4. Suggest Shared Dishes

Shared dishes can be a great way to make everyone feel included. Recommend vegan appetizers and sides that everyone can enjoy. Family-style dining or customizable platters and bowls are excellent options that cater to both vegan and non-vegan preferences.

5. Be Prepared to Make Modifications

Sometimes, a few simple swaps can turn a non-vegan dish into a vegan one. Substitute dairy with plant-based alternatives or request custom orders without making it too complicated. (For example, hold the cheese on the veggie tacos or pasta.) Patience and flexibility with the restaurant staff can go a long way in ensuring a pleasant dining experience.

6. Look for Ethnic Cuisines

Certain cuisines are inherently more vegan-friendly. Indian, Thai, and Mediterranean cuisines often have a variety of vegan options. Explore popular vegan dishes within these cuisines and try new ones. This can be a fun way to try new restaurants with your friends and family. 

7. Make A Main Meal Out of Side Dishes

Many restaurants offer a variety of side dishes that are vegan or can easily be made vegan. Don’t be afraid to order several sides and make them your main meal. This can include salads, roasted vegetables, grains, and more. It’s a great way to enjoy a variety of flavors and make the most of the menu options available.

8. Bring Your Own Additions

Sometimes, bringing your own small vegan essentials can save the day. Consider carrying salad dressings, plant-based butter, or even vegan snacks and protein bars in case options are limited. (If you know options will be limited, eat a small snack before heading out.) 

9. Practice Gratitude and Appreciation

Always thank the restaurant staff for their efforts to accommodate your dietary needs. Show appreciation to your non-vegan companions for their willingness to compromise and try vegan options. Reflecting on the dining experience and sharing tips with others can help build a supportive community.

Dining out as a vegan with non-vegans doesn’t have to be a stressful experience if you plan ahead. Embrace dining out as an opportunity for connection and enjoyment—remember, it’s about more than just the food. Enjoy the company and conversation. Stay positive and focus on the shared experience together.

For more tips on living your best vegan life in a non-vegan family, download my free guide.

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