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Special Diets: Eating Out

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raw foods

Lunch Date!

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend Sarah.

I’m often asked by people on special diets (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.) for advice on going out to eat with others who don’t follow any specific diet. As far as being a vegetarian or vegan, it’s actually pretty east once you get the hang of it! Below are a few ideas that work for me as a vegan; hopefully some of the tips will be useful for those of you who follow any sort of special diet:

Eating out on a Special Diet

  • If you get to choose the restaurant, ethnic places are usually a safe bet. Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Thai… these establishments tend to be more vegetarian-friendly than your average burger joint, so you don’t even have to do a special order.
  • If it’s not up to you to pick the place… In my eight years as a vegan, I’ve learned that the best way to ensure you’ll get some vegan food, hassle-free, is to call ahead. This is a good strategy for three reasons: One, you don’t have to call attention to yourself or seem “high maintenance” when the waiter is taking orders. Two, if they can’t accommodate your diet, you have time to make different arrangements. Three, it’s courteous to give the chef a heads-up so he/she can be better prepared. Plus, you’ll probably end up with something yummier if the chef knows in advance about your diet and is therefore able to brainstorm a meal for you. Often, my meal turns out to be the best thing at the table, since it’s prepared by the head chef, him/herself.
  • Get creative: combine side dishes, breakfast items, or even parts of different dishes to make a meal. For instance, if a restaurant offers broccoli pizza, you know they have broccoli.
  • If you end up at a fast-food place, or any laid-back establishment, you can always pack something from home and eat it when everyone else’s meal arrives so you’re not left out.
  • And on the rare occasion that you do end up at a place where there is absolutely nothing you can eat, sit back and enjoy the company of your dining companions. There is more to life than food, and you can always eat later.

Thankfully, restaurants are becoming increasingly more aware of dietary restrictions as more and more people adopt special diets. I’ve gotten some great meals by eating out.

If interested, you can see more here: My Restaurant Reviews

Of course, sometimes you’re lucky enough to have an adventurous friend who wishes to tag along with you to a place that only serves your “special” food. In my case, that special food would be vegan food. And the adventurous eater is my friend Sarah, who’s been a vegetarian for almost a year now (“All your fault,” she tells me). I took her to Bliss Café for the first time, and she loved it! Below, her coconut curry soup before she licked the bowl clean:

raw coconut soup

Sarah’s photo, too. She was very proud of it Smile.

raw lasagna

I went with a tried-and-true favorite: Raw Lasagna

Question of the Day:

Do you eat out often?

Or do you prefer to cook your own meals? I don’t really eat out very often, simply because the restaurants around me offer things I can easily (and more cheaply) make at home.

But I might eat out every day if they open a Dallas branch of this place.

Tomorrow: How about a chocolate recipe?

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Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 

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  1. I rarely eat out because of cost, but it’s pretty rough for me. I found out about 5 months ago that I can’t have gluten or soy, which makes things difficult since both can be hidden in things! I end up eating a lot of salads with olive oil and vinegar… But luckily gluten free dining is becoming more popular so there are some great places popping up that accommodate my needs!

  2. I could tell from that first photo that you were at Bliss! 🙂 Love that place.

  3. AikoVenus says:

    I rarely eat out, honestly, so I don’t have to worry about what to eat. Since I make a lot of yummy food I do have to worry about others eating mine though! ^^

  4. One of my really good friends and I have made a habit of trying a new restaurant every Friday. I know, I know. That seems like I go out a lot – but I make a point of allowing room for it in my budget, and we try to only go to places that are locally owned (no chains!). It’s been a great opportunity to try new cuisines – I’ve had Korean, Guatemalan, and Afghanistan in the last couple of months!

  5. I’m lucky that I don’t HAVE to eat in a specific way but my friends and husband are very aware that I eat very differently…..I go in knowing that there is always a side salad or a baked potato for this girl to eat.

  6. i prefer cooking at home, but nothing bets a yummy meal at any of my favorite restaurants. i’d love to see a chocolate recipe tomorrow, chocolate covered Katie! 😉 PS: LOVE your necklace in your first picture. 🙂

  7. Darlene says:

    A hint about eating out from the restaurant staff’s perspective…
    I’m still a server as my second job. It’s common for people to change up orders and especially nowadays for people to request vegetarian, vegan and gluten free. Noone changes up and order like a server ordering his/her own food so don’t worry about it. We don’t need 50 excuses about why you eat your way. Also, don’t treat your server like and idiot and repeat your order 15 times and reiterate your allergies while everyone else is ordering. We heard you the first time. Being annoying just makes us hope the kitchen gets it wrong. It’s fine to ask questions and ask for suggestions..we’re happy to help as long as you are respectful. 🙂

    1. Sara Dane says:

      Former waitress….agreed!

    2. Stella says:

      To be honest, maybe people repeat their order/allergies 15 times because they had bad experiences. You can’t tell if your waiter understands that ordering a dish without xxxx is because you’re highly allergic to it and not just because you don’t like the taste and want to be on the safe side, so you pretend to have an allergy. I’ve ordered stuff without nuts in the past and could tell at first glance that they, in fact, did include nuts in my meal. After something like that (plus your comment about hoping the kitchen gets it wrong), you get paranoid for a reason…

      1. Yes, I’ve had this happen numerous times. Cheese in a veggie burger, cream in soup, yogurt in the sauce of a stir fry… all claimed by the server to have been dairy-free :(. I’m lucky in that my not eating dairy is a choice. But what if I’d been allergic?

        The cream soup example actually took place at WHOLE FOODS! Of all places, right?! There was no cream listed in their tomato soup recipe, but when I tasted it I knew it couldn’t just include the ingredients listed. I insisted the employee go back and check with the chef who’d made the soup, and it turned out to be an error in labeling. They were very nonchalant about the whole thing, which made me so angry! What if others who were allergic to dairy had believed the label, eaten the soup, and were now sick because of it?

        Unfortunately, I think if you are highly allergic to a certain food, the best thing to do is bring your own meal so that you can enjoy the company of your friends but not risk your life :(.

  8. alyssa booko says:

    i was so excited to read that you are a fellow Vegan. I became vegan 6 weeks ago and I LOVE IT!!! want to share recipes!!!!!! i have a few really yummy yummy yummy recipes. i am assuming you do NO animal products whatsoever right? so is that tofu on the raw lasagna? although Trader Joes has 2 really yummy soy cheeses. AND they are way cheaper than real cheese too. are your vegan recipes listed somewhere? so are all your sinful deserts vegan? sorry to bombard you with so many questions. here is my email…
    God Bless

    1. Yup, I’ve been a vegan for 10+ years now… Not just a fad for me. And yes, every single one of the recipes on my site is vegan :).

      The raw lasagna has cashew cheese. And my recipes are all here:


    2. Moira says:

      Alyssa, I would actually be careful about the Trader Joe’s soy cheeses. I love Trader Joe’s, but I made the mistake of buying it without reading the ingredients when I first went vegan. Most (if not all) of their soy cheeses aren’t actually vegan as they contain casein and sometimes whey powder as well.

    3. Karen says:

      Alyssa, I’ve had that same dish at Bliss & they told me that the “cheese” is made from nuts. It was SOO good!

  9. I grew up dining out very often with my parents – but now I like to cook at home and control what goes into my meals. I get tired of chain restaurants but I’m always up for trying a new restaurant!

  10. A. Cook says:

    Being married to a non-vegan has made me a total expert on finding things to eat at non-veg places! My favorite tip is one you mentioned–looking at the menu to figure out what veggies they definitely have, then asking for something incorporating those. I’ve had some delightful pasta dishes made this way (“pasta, red sauce, and every vegetable on your menu, please!”)

  11. I’ve been eating vegan for the past 2 months and have been shocked at the foods I can have when dining out. Calling ahead has been a great help to me – I have to echo that often my meal is the best thing a the table. Plus, how often can you say that a Food & Wine Best New Chef nominee created a dish especially for you?! (Thank you, Empire State South.)

    Another great resource in a pinch: the Whole Foods hot bar!

  12. Erin says:

    As a college student, I don’t eat out very much! I definitely prefer cooking on my own–it’s allows me to make it healthy. 🙂 I would LOVE a chocolate recipe tomorrow!

  13. Jamie says:

    My favorite place to eat out is probably Spiral Diner (especially now that I live 6 minutes away); I love not having to worry about dairy being in anything, and they are really good about substitutions for soy and gluten free options, too. (I’m not allergic, but I try not to eat either…except for their ranch, which does have soy, but is out of this world.) I tried V Spot not too long ago, and while also completely vegan, seems to be less health conscious. They do have a small raw menu, however, (they are owned by the same people as Bliss, I believe) and the raw enchiladas might be the best I’ve ever had.

    When I visit my sister in Austin I always make it a point to go to Mother’s Cafe at least once…it’s vegan and vegetarian and home to the best veggie burger I’ve ever had in my life. I really wish they would open one here, or at least agree to start air mailing me veggie burgers. 🙂

    1. Agreed about the enchildas… and about Mothers needing to open in Dallas! I adored their cashew salad dressing. And I think I remember a really good chocolate pie. But it was years ago that I visited.

      1. Jamie says:

        Did you know that Mother’s actually sells that dressing at the whole foods here?? In the refrigerated dressing section! I do wish it wasn’t so heavy on the canola oil, though, because it’s probably my favorite after vegan ranch 🙂

  14. Emma says:

    I love Bliss Cafe! And Spiral Diner- which fortunately they have one out here in Fort Worth amongst all the BBQ 🙂

  15. Miss M says:

    I never, ever, ever eat out. Partly because of the cost, and partly because my allergies are SO SEVERE and there are SO MANY of them that it just isn’t feasible.

    But I don’t feel like I’m missing anything 🙂 Except maybe stomach cramps, hives, vomiting and/or shock (sorry, probably TMI).

  16. This was a great post seeing that I’m transitioning to vegetarian. I don’t like to eat out often because of cost and too much sodium. I feel so bloated after even though it tasted good 🙁 I just prefer to re-make my restaurant favs at home 🙂

    1. Samantha says:

      I am totally with you on the sodium…honestly, we are better educated nutritionally at this point. It is amazing that restaurants often don’t make just the basic adjustments that would be better for everyone – regardless of diet!

  17. Nikki says:

    Great post! I have been vegan for about a month…and eating out has been the biggest challenge!!!

  18. Laura says:

    I didn’t realize you were vegan- I thought maybe allergies to dairy. I am definitely NOT vegan, but have liked some of your recipes. 🙂 The chocolate covered part is what drew me in. Lol I just change it to dairy stuff for my liking. 🙂 I hope to try more when I get a good food processor!

    1. LOL I think like 90% of my readers aren’t vegan.
      But some have told me they don’t even like chocolate… crazy, right? 😉

  19. Kristin says:

    I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I’ve learned that eating out too often is an unfortunate way to gain weight. I prefer to cook at home because it’s cheaper and I can eat more. I’ve worked at a restaurant and I see how much butter and oil they use! Even when going out for breakfast, I’m likely to just get an omelet or oatmeal (these are the two things that always taste better at a restaurant!).

  20. I love your tips for eating out with special dietary needs. I have a little dinner group that meets once a month and one of our member needs to eat Gluten free and dairy free. We always try to accommodate her needs when we pick the restaurant, but her tactic is usually just to say she can’t eat this and can’t eat that rather than trying some of the things you suggested. She even chose a place herself and then complained that she couldn’t eat anything off the menu. I do find that many restaurants are not catering more to Gluten free customers so we have more options that we used to, but our friend still avoids Mexican and many other types of restaurants saying she can’t eat anything there. Maybe I should send her a link to your post ;0)

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