Almost all vegetarians and vegans I know love to eat out just as much as anyone else does. Given the growing number of people giving up meat for good, it’s hard to believe how slow many restaurants have been to keep up.
Having an omnivorous partner, family and friends, it’s not realistic for me to expect to solely visit meat-free establishments most of the time. But it does mean that I appreciate it all the more when somewhere has imaginative, creative dishes I can look forward to eating.
I’m not covering new ground here but I feel there are such small, simple things that make for more vegan-friendly restaurants, and yet the same things frustrate me over and over again, and I’m sure they have frustrated you too! So here is my list of what restaurants can do to help us out and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and if there’s anything I’ve missed off!
1. Be consistent with the rest of the menu
There’s nothing better than choosing to go for a specific cuisine and getting to sample an authentic dish or similar flavours to the rest of the table. It makes perfect sense therefore to create plant-based options in harmony with the other meals on offer.
I recently visited my hometown Worcester for a friend’s wedding, and the following day a group of us headed for a pub lunch. As everyone else ordered Sunday roast dinners, my single option was curry and rice. Whilst I’m not averse to curry at lunchtime, I wouldn’t have gone to a tradition English pub if that’s what I was after – especially slightly hungover from the previous day’s festivities.
2. Think about the time of day
This is very much connected to my previous point; it’s so good to be able to have something “breakfasty” in the morning or more than a salad at dinnertime.
For my next trip down to London, I’ve got The Gate Restaurant earmarked precisely for this reason; their weekend brunch menu is full of exactly what you’d want to eat at that time of day, including vegan “eggs” that I’m very intrigued by.
3. Do something different to your peers
It’s so refreshing to read a menu with the same amount of thought put into creating every dish.. I’d love to see more chefs go through the same process they might for their meat dishes when it comes to flavour pairing and for the veg option not to be an afterthought.
I have a suspicion that lots of restaurants out there are getting the inspiration for their vegetarian and vegan options from what other establishments are serving. How else do you explain the number of goats cheese and red onion tarts or mushroom risotto on menus? The takeaway message here is that we might not want the same thing every time we eat out.
4. At (the very) least offer variations
So many places that offer vegetarian options don’t have anything vegan on the menu, when with a few simple tweaks, these dishes could be turned into courses with vegan variations available.
If it’s a cheese-topped dish, adding cheese can be made into the last step and therefore easily skipped.
5. Label clearly
Most menus now have symbols for vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, but far less frequently for vegan options. Having a clear and consistent system of labelling make things better for everyone.
As a recent study by Ethical Consumer found, a lack of labelling makes identifying what is and isn’t vegan much more stressful than it could be. Worse still, even when restaurants use a labelling system, not all items such as sides tend to be labelled even when they are vegan.
6. Serve three courses
There’s a certain joyful feeling you get after spotting a vegan main course on a menu… only for it to be so often tempered by the realisation there is no starter and no dessert available. More chefs and restaurateurs need to commit to creating a full vegan experience – and in return they will get vegans ordering all three courses!
Let me know what you would add to the list! And for more info on UK-wide restaurants that are vegan-friendly, check out this guide from the Vegan Society.