Many of my clients who are considering a plant-based diet or a vegan lifestyle give themselves freedom to eat whatever they want when they eat out.
I did the same thing in my vegan journey - I eliminated animal products from my home, but all that would fall out the window when I was eating out with friends out of a misguided effort to be polite. We need not be so!
Here’s how I maintain my vegan diet without sacrificing my social life:
First, tell your server something along these lines:
“I wanted to let you know I’m vegan, so I don’t eat any meat, dairy like butter or cheese, or eggs. Do you have any suggestions for what I should order?”
Every time I give this spiel, I sigh deeply at myself. I worked in the service industry for many years, and delivering news to the back of the house that we had some severe off-menu ordering was cause for eye-rolling and fear. And now, in my efforts to live more kindly, I’m one of those off-menu ordering assholes! The good news is, many restaurants these days offer vegan options, whether they know it or not.
In my global travels, I’ve found about a 50/50 chance that there’s a specific vegan option or a secret vegan menu. If your server is clueless (i.e., responds, “But you eat fish, right??”), here’s how to vegan hack the menu: veggie sides! Every restaurant has (really cheap!) veg sides, usually cooked in some sort of oil. Ask if they can roast or sauté or steam whatever veg they have around. If there’s a dairy-free sauce or salad dressing that sounds good, ask for a side of that. If they offer egg-free pasta, get those veg on a plate o’ carbs. Ask politely! Graciously! Ordering off menu is a pain for the back of the house.
This process takes a few extra minutes - often, the server will have to check with the chef - but I’ve never had anyone flat-out say, “No.” That said, I have definitely been served some butter-laden meals flavored with meat broth since vowing to live a non-harmful lifestyle.
I will never eat anything out of politeness; often, I don’t notice until the terrible stomach cramps arrive later that evening, or I notice I’m breaking out the next day. That’s okay; forgive the restaurant (but maybe don’t go back there) and remember: we’re all of us doing the best we can.