Research

Whenever possible, look at the menu, on-line, before stopping.  Chain restaurants sometimes have sections, on their websites, that list ingredients.  Sometimes they have an allergen page that will also help.  Take note of any components of a dish that are vegan.  That info could be helpful, later.

Call Ahead

Call and ask what the vegan options are, or if anything can be made vegan, with small changes.  They’ll usually say something like “yes, just let us know when you get here”.  If they are unsure, but willing to help, point out the ingredients that you found while doing your research.  That  might help them think of something they can alter.  If they are reluctant, or unwilling, thank them and move on.

Go Fine Dining

In finer-dining places, you will almost never encounter a problem.  They tend to prepare food at the time of order and can easily substitute ingredients on the fly.  Here’s a fun tip that I use frequently:  If they say the chef can make something, that’s not on the menu, and ask my preferences, I always leave it up to the chef.  I ask them to relay to the chef that I appreciate them helping me and am excited to try whatever is made.  Chef’s get used to making the same items over and over again.  They’re creative people and enjoy being creative.  It’s amazing the number of times non-vegan friends, or other customers have seen what I’m served and comment on how good it looks.

Request A Menu

You don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve been seated, only to find out that there’s nothing for you to eat.  Ask for a menu, at the door, and refer to the previous tips.  Ask questions before being seated.  At Indian buffets, this is very important.  Make sure to specifically ask about butter and cream.  People are usually understanding and want to help.

Go With It

We’ve all been there.  Our friends, or family were meeting at a diner, or chain restaurant, where options can be limited.  In these times, I sometimes have to remind myself that I can grab something afterwards, or settle for fruit and a bagel.  However, more often than not, you can make it a little more interesting.  Years ago, I was at a business meeting for a few days, stuck in a hotel, in a business complex, with only a Chili’s within walking distance.  I sat, for what seemed an eternity, just staring at that menu.  There was nothing.  I almost left.  Then, I spotted the sides menu, hidden in a corner.  The waiter confirmed that my selections met my requirements.  Every day, I had my plate of rice, beans and steamed broccoli, and it was good.

Be Thankful

The restaurant business isn’t easy.  Special requests can make it harder.  Be patient, be thankful and, be generous.  Extra effort should be met with extra acknowledgement.  You’ll always get better results.  Most of the time, they’ll remember you and sometimes, the vegan options increase.

Please share your tips!