Something that I really enjoy about being a vegan teenager is experimenting in the kitchen. This experimentation has led me to try an array of foods (sweet potatoes, lentils, quinoa, and tempeh to name a few) that many of my non-vegan friends haven’t. However, as much as I love cooking at home, I also like to take a break from cooking—and avoid doing dishes—by dining out. Living in a rural community makes it extremely difficult due to the lack of options at my disposal, and asking a restaurant server to veganize a dish can be intimidating, especially as a teenager. I have received those perplexed faces when I order chicken tacos with no chicken (just the beans and avocado with salsa fresca), which is why I have learned how to order food at non-vegan eateries. Here are four tips that will help any young vegan order a cruelty-free meal with confidence.
1. Plan your order ahead of time
Going with your family to dinner at a restaurant with no discernible vegan options really sucks. To remedy this, I plan ahead by skimming the restaurant’s menu via Yelp, their website, or wherever else I can find it. Then, I look for items that I can veganized easily that won’t confuse the staff. For example, if there is a salad on the menu that contains chicken and cheese, I order this dish without the chicken or cheese (I also make sure to ask if the dressing is vegan, too). Pro tip: whenever I am planning to have a salad, I always take a small container with dressing just in case.
2. Give them a call
Asking a member of the wait staff to tell you all of the ingredients in a non-vegan dish can be problematic because there’s always the chance that he or she doesn’t know what’s in the meals. To remedy this, I always call ahead if I think there will be any issues accommodating my plant-based diet. A phone call creates anonymity, which is good for a young person who is afraid that a restaurant might not take his or her vegan request seriously. Furthermore, a phone call often allows you to talk to management, who should know what is in every menu item. For example, if you have questions regarding whether or not a restaurant cooks its beans with animal products such as manteca or lard, a manager can ask someone in the kitchen for a precise answer. Don’t forget: asking questions also works for to-go orders.
3. Make it clear
While giving your order to a server, say it slowly, and don’t rush it. Sometimes if I say my order too fast to the waiter, he or she might not have heard my order correctly. Then, when my meal comes to the table, it might have mayonnaise or cheese on it. This is because restaurants are used to preparing their meals a certain way, so if your server did not hear that you said “no cheese” or “no mayo,” then there’s a good chance you will get a plate with those ingredients. To make sure this doesn’t happen, speak slowly and clearly. For even better odds of getting your order correct, ask your server to repeat your order to you. This might sound a bit extra, but it works.
4. Be steadfast in your beliefs
You’re at the restaurant and found a way to veganize your meal when you see a server delivering a rack of ribs to the table next to you. What do you do? Don’t fret! Instead, hold firm to your beliefs, and don’t let anyone at the restaurant make you feel bad for not eating animal products. In fact, according to Human Resource Management, if restaurants want to keep their businesses flourishing, they have to accommodate the customers’ wants and needs. So, if your server makes a joke about your veganism or acts like he or she can’t be bothered to ask the chef for a plant-based meal, remind yourself are doing a good thing for the planet. Then, talk to a manager, and tell them the ways in which you feel your server has mistreated you. If they want your business—and they definitely do—someone will make sure your order comes out just the way you want it.
Ana Sofia Rodriguez is a vegan teen journalist who likes to write about fashion, culture, and anything else her mind can come up with.