Recently I ate out with a large group of coworkers, most of whom I had just met. Unfortunately, the restaurant chosen was one of those big chain sports and burger type places. I scoured the menu and found one item that just might work if it weren't for the cheese splattered on top.
Undaunted by the social ramifications, I dared to question the server if they could possibly make it without the cheese, and whether there were any other animal products that might show up. I had barely started when she interrupted me with, "Are you vegan?" I bit was a bit surprised as this was in the South (US), and the last time I had been by that way, I had found that everywhere I had eaten out had managed to work at least animal fat into every dish, forcing me to subsist on little more than fresh fruit and veggies. Raw-foodists may have been delighted, but I don't roll that way. True, that had been over a decade previous, but that I didn't even have to explain veganism was a nice surprise.
|Sweet, this restaurant does have something I can eat!|
She went on to explain that her college roommate had been vegan and she knew all about it. It turns out there was a hidden ingredient--the rice had Worcester sauce made with anchovies. Wow, she was good. It was pre-made that way, so she offered a safe alternative. Another server brought out the dish, and even told me they had taken pains to cook it separately for me so I wouldn't get any icky splatter on it. Very grateful, I was about to dig in when I noticed a suspiciously creamy sauce on top. It wasn't cheese, but it was some type of dressing with dairy in it.
The server apologies quite sincerely, and I apologized also. I didn't of course need to apologize myself for the mistake, but I was sorry that the food would go to waste, and that this could have been avoided if I had perhaps just asked one more question. It also pays to be gracious when sending food back to the kitchen.
They got it right the next time and it was pretty good. I managed to scarf it down before some of the others finished eating their far less appetizing dishes. Both servers and the manager came by to make sure everything was up to spec, and they also checked back with me as we were leaving.
I relate this because
people vegans "animal people" (?) saying we should suck it up and eat the occasional animal product to avoid any faux pas or whatever are starting to really torque me off. Oh, it's never the omnivores I eat out with, friend or new acquaintance. They couldn't seem to care less. It takes just a bit longer for me to order sometimes, but it's no different from someone with an allergy. It's not the waitperson either giving dramatic sighs or rolling eyes at my weirdness. Nope, it's people who seem to think the world will change with no effort, or maybe that the waitstaff will go out and kill bunny rabbits after work if a vegan had the gall to ask a few questions.
Funny thing, I tend to have very pleasant experiences eating out. Servers sometimes ask me questions out of curiosity and often react positively. But why should we expect differently, especially when there is a fat tip on the line? Even when eating in places where tipping is taboo, I've had great experiences with friendly and supportive servers and chefs. Heck, I've got one place I go to in Japan where the owner/head chef personally greets me and tries out new dishes on me. He couldn't be happier to make sure his menu accommodates vegans well.
Here are my tips for making dining out a pleasant experience:
- Be nice
- Don't be afraid to ask
- Be gracious when you can't be accommodated
- Let the server know how much his or her efforts are appreciated
- Don't sweat mistakes post-consumption when everyone made their best effort at avoiding animal products
- Tip well--leave the impression that vegans are generous!
- Thank the owner/manager
- Ask that the kitchen staff be thanked, especially for alterations
- Feel good about letting the restaurant know that vegans will eat there
- Feel even better when vegan items start showing up on the menu
- If everything fails, go to another place next time!
If it is not apparent from this, I am of the opinion that meekly eating items of questionable origin does jack squat for anyone. Oh sure, you don't cause a fuss, but why are you eating out with people who are going to be upset by something as innocuous as trying to order food you'll be happy with?
This is perhaps the easiest type of advocacy you can do. If the risk is people thinking vegans are fussy, that seems a small price to pay. I have to think that anyone annoyed by vegans dining out isn't exactly about to dive into veganism themselves anyway. Let those people deal about their own failings. I'm going to keep eating out and to keep asking questions, and having a very nice time doing so.
Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net