No one can finagle a custom entree from a restaurant like a long-practiced vegan, vegetarian or pescetarian. I know because I’ve done it many times. My husband is even better at it. Custom ordering involves inquiries of the server best left for the last order if you’re dining with friends—it’s the considerate thing to do if you want to ask about each item in the entrée. While it may be uncomfortable or embarrassing to ask questions about how a dish is prepared, it’s in your best interest to question your server about food you want to eat. Do you see yourself in this scenario?
You: “I’d like to order the cheese enchilada entrée with house salad…”
Server: “OK, got it!”
You: “Er, but I’m wondering if there’s any pork in the refried beans, any chicken broth in the rice, or any bacon bits on the salad?”
Server: “Uh. No, I don’t think so.”
You: “Can you check?”
Server: “Just a sec.” (Server goes and returns in 20 minutes. Good thing you have those chips and salsa to munch on.) “Sorry, there is pork in the beans and chicken broth in the rice, but you can get that salad without the bacon bits!”
You: (sighing) “No thanks. I’ll just have the enchilada with a plain salad and a baked potato.” (You realize there’s a refrigerator-raiding session in your not-so-distant future.)
Fellow pescetarians, vegetarians, and all who are committed to mindful food consumption, you can avoid or minimize the unintended “light” dinner. By doing a bit of research and by gently interrogating your food server, if necessary, you can avoid the aforementioned scenario. There’s nothing to apologize for, because if you’ve made a commitment to a specialized diet, then you absolutely should have your food prepared thoughtfully and creatively. Here are a few suggestions to help you have a successful dining experience:
|Stock Photo Courtesy of Microsoft|
- Get the server’s advice before you order. This way, you involve the server in your food selection and can avoid sending a dish back to the kitchen (which the kitchen staff dislikes). Experienced servers know how to help diners plan a dish to avoid unwanted food elements.
- Ask to have the restaurant manager stop by your table. Share your dietary preferences with him or her and communicate that you’re open to suggestions. Restaurant managers want your repeat business and will often (in my experience) personally ensure that your meal is satisfactory. You may feel this is too much fuss to make, but remember that you deserve to eat out occasionally (or more often if you can afford it) and you shouldn’t have to compromise your diet to do so.
- Think in basic terms about the food described on the menu. Practice ordering without sauces, which may contain hidden meat products. Order simply prepared and seasoned broiled or roasted vegetables and seafood.
- Take advantage of the restaurant’s website. Chain restaurants generally post their menus online with nutritional and allergy information, which can help to inform your choices later. Finer restaurants (again, in my experience) welcome inquires about their dishes and will do more to invent a satisfying entrée for you.
- Work to develop a discerning and suspicious palate to help you recognize even hints of a food element that you’re trying to avoid. This will be easier if you have eaten the now-excluded foods at some point in your life. As soon as you detect unwanted food elements in your dish, call the server over and ask his/her advice about getting a similar dish without the food item you’re trying to avoid.
- Use the phrase “meatless options” when asking about menu items. It saves you from having to pronounce or confess your dietary preference. I use this phrase often and make discoveries about dishes that aren’t obvious by reading the menu. For example, Chevy’s Fresh Mex offers meat-free black beans as one of their sides. According to a spokesperson from the restaurant chain, “Chevy’s black bean recipe has always been a vegetarian recipe. No pork or other meat is added to the black bean recipe…[which is] is considered vegan as well.” An extra serving of vegetables or roasted potatoes can substitute for the chicken-broth-infused rice available at many restaurants.
- Be inquisitive about desserts as well. Lard may lurk in the crust of that slice of apple pie. Pork gelatin may be hiding in that slice of cheesecake.
If you approach your dining-out experience with forethought, humor, and empathy for your busy server, you will, sooner or later, become an expert entrée finagler at your favorite food haunts and impress your dining companions with your “influence.”
I welcome and encourage hearing about your ordering experiences and, especially, about successful meals that resulted from engaging your food server.