How to eat in non-vegetarian restaurants

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There was a time when vegetarians dining out were restricted to the salad bar, or the ubiquitous token “vegetarian platter”. Today many establishments provide exciting vegetarian options or even whole vegetarian menus (click here for some great spots in Durban), but even those that don’t are usually accommodating to all their diners’ needs.


Try the following tried and tested tips to make the most of your dining out experience:


Research: There is an increasing number of vegetarian (or vegetarian-friendly) restaurants. Google prospective eateries and see if they display their menu online – many do.


Call ahead: Most chefs want their customers to be happy. Given a day or two’s notice, any chef worth his salt can whip up something to suit your dietary requirements (this trick also works for diabetics, allergics and even just-downright-fussy eaters).


Replace: Adapt existing menu items by replacing bacon with mushrooms, chicken with cashews, cheese with avo – anything according to your taste. Scan the menu. If beetroot is offered in a salad, for example, it can be used to replace a beef patty.


Pick and choose: Say the restaurant serves lamb with herbed mash, fish with a lentil compote, and chicken with roasted veggies. Mash, lentils and veg – sounds like dinner to me! Play around with the items that appeal to you and ask the chef to make you a platter.  


Ask: Be an informed consumer. Check whether the soup of the day contains chicken stock; enquire if the eggs are free range. Even certain after-dinner mints contain bovine gelatine (that’s cow’s feet), so reading the label will equip you with the facts to make an educated choice.


Speak up: Let the restaurant know your preferences – they might consider this feedback when they review their menu. Better still, take a business card and write to the manager telling him of your experience, praising where deserved and making suggestions where necessary.


Share: If you’re enjoying your meal, offer your non-veggie friends a taste. They may just order it in future, and the more popular vegetarian food becomes, the more prevalent it will become on menus.


Salad: Sometimes dining out is more about the company than the food. If someone else has chosen the restaurant and the vegetarian pickings are really slim, there is always the trusty salad. It’s healthy, can be really tasty, and it’s far better, say, than ruining a friend’s birthday dinner by kicking up a fuss about the catering.