It can be difficult going out to eat with friends—you have to take into account what people are in the mood for and you have to get everyone to agree on a restaurant. When you add someone who is vegan, vegetarian, or has special dietary needs into the mix, then things can get even trickier. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your dining experience runs smoothly.
If your friends are allowing you to decide where to eat, a good option is to select an ethnic restaurant. Indian, Greek, Thai, Italian (think Olive Garden) or even Mexican joints all tend to be more vegetarian-friendly than, say, a bar and grill. If you aren’t the one deciding where the group eats, or you’re unfamiliar with a particular dining establishment, check to see if an online menu is available so you can peruse your options. If there doesn’t seem to be a good vegetarian-friendly selection, your best bet is to call ahead to see if the establishment can accommodate your dietary needs. This grants several benefits, such as giving you a better chance for receiving an extra-delicious meal (since the chef will be expecting you and thus have had more time to brainstorm ideas for your meal), keeping you from seeming “high maintenance” when your order is taken, and allowing you to make different arrangements if the restaurant is unable to accommodate you. You generally don’t have to order a salad if you don’t want one, and when mealtime arrives you may be surprised to find that your special dish is the best one at the table.
Even if you don’t call ahead, often a restaurant will have several readily available options you can select from. In my experience, I have found that when I go out to eat with friends or family I can often get creative with combining several items (or parts of different dishes) to make a meal out of them. For example, at a steakhouse my family went to I ordered several vegetable sides as well as one that was something like wild rice or a rice pilaf. While it wasn’t listed specifically on the menu, I saw that it came with one of the restaurant’s meat dishes so I knew it was available. Other common, readily-available options include pasta or soup dishes (although many places, like Panera Bread, tend to switch out their daily soups, so while you may go one day and order the garden vegetable soup, it may be replaced by another flavor the next day).
Fast food restaurants seem to be hit-or-miss with me, but many establishments have taken steps toward healthier meals and have also become increasingly aware of dietary restrictions. Whereas ten years ago I don’t think I could have eaten at McDonald’s as a vegetarian, today it is one of the few fast food establishments I feel comfortable eating at (such as when I’m on a long road trip with my family). While they don’t make for the heartiest of meals, my favorite options there include the fruit and walnut salad and fruit and yogurt parfait. While I haven’t tried them myself, I’m sure their oatmeal options would also make for a satisfactory breakfast on the go. I can make do in a pinch, but when it comes to fast food places I usually prefer to just bring my own food from home to eat. This way, I know I will be satisfied but I also won’t feel left out when other people are eating (not to mention it makes them feel less awkward than it would if I just sat there and watched while they ate).
Sadly, I’m sure most vegetarians could tell you there has been at least one occasion in their lives where there was absolutely nothing they could eat at an establishment. For me, it was at a conference/charity event I went to with my mother. The food was catered from a local business, and involved foods like green beans (with ham) and barbeque sandwiches. In cases such as that one, all I can really tell you is that food isn’t everything and that you can always eat later. While you can’t enjoy the “good food,” you can sit back and enjoy the good company of the people around you.