Dining out is always a matter of trust

As you can tell by the number of restaurant reviews on our blog, we have visited quite a lot of restaurants over the years. Yes, even as vegans (I stress this because some people think that is impossible) and even in restaurants where at first glance this may not be so obvious.
Yes, we have had some bad experiences. I’m not referring to the the rabbitfood that we’ve sometimes been served, but to dishes that are not vegan. For example a dish containg oystersauce, although explicitly labelled on the menu as vegetarian (and yes, also having checked whether it didn’t contain any eggs or dairy). But on most occasions, we have enjoyed a vegan menu. At least that is what we think (and hope)!

Dining out always involves a risk. One can try to minimise that risk, for example by clearly informing the restaurant beforehand on what vegan means, explaining what you do and do not eat. But nevertheless, the risk that some dishes may contain animal ingredients cannot be taken away completely.

Although we realise that dining out always involves some degree of risk, we still like eating out

Dining out with a reassuring feeling greatly comes down to trust (not only for vegan matters, but also for hygiene matters and the use of quality products). And unfortunately sometimes that trust is breached. We’re under no illusion that all the food that we have been served at restaurants has always been vegan. Despite having asked for a vegan menu and clearly mentioning what that means, and it being communicated to us as being vegan when served.
These mistakes may have occured by accident, because the chef did not check certain products for animal ingredients, or maybe because he does not realise that using cow or chicken stock is not okay. Or perhaps because some think that a ‘little bit of egg’ or ‘a little bit of honey’ does not matter, or maybe – perhaps even worse – when they knowingly and intentionally use animal products, thinking that the client will not be able to tell the difference. I sincerely hope that such instances are far and few between, although it cannot be ruled out completely. Just the fact of making a special request (vegan) is sometimes enough to have the food treated ‘specially’.
It always makes me think of this video of ‘Le petit Chef‘, although I hope this is more fiction than reality!

 

Despite the realisation that dining out always involves a risk, and requires placing trust in the catering staff, we still go out for dinner. Because we like discovering new places. Because it is a pleasant surprise to discover a chef who sees it as an exciting challenge to make a vegan menu, who puts in the effort and presents a culinary delight. If nobody ever asks for a vegan menu, the catering industry does not know there is demand for it, and they will not adjust their offer and include vegan options.

Do you trust that everything is vegan when dining out? Or maybe you prefer to not go dining out anymore?

lasagne
vegan lasagne at Restaurant Réliva, Bruges

 

Smoked seitan with carrots and sjalots, 17,5€
Smoked seitan with carrots and sjalots, restaurant Mykene, Leuven

 

Le petit chef, 1998, UK ad for playstation
Le petit chef, 1998, UK ad for playstation

Based on a post I previously published on my Dutch blog: op restaurant gaan is een kwestie van vertrouwen.

10 Comments

  1. Found your site through wanderingwives. This is such an interesting post. I eat out infrequently but when I do I will default to salad with oil and vinegar precisely because I don’t have trust. However, if I get a gut feeling that they can make a real vegan dish or whatever the case may be and I decide to order something else then I will just accept that it’s going to be out of my control at this point. But, you are completely correct in that if people don’t ask for things specially prepared then restaurants won’t feel pressured to offer vegan food. Thank you for an interesting and thought-provoking post.

    1. I completely understand. It’s very rare that we enter a restaurant ‘out of the blue’ (that is, without having had prior communication about what vegan means, and getting confirmation they can handle a vegan menu). Unless they of course have vegan options standardly available.
      And even then things can go wrong (for example in vegetarian restaurants, where some think ‘ a little bit of egg’ doesn’t matter).
      But the more vegans speak out in restaurants, the more knowledgeable catering staff will become and the more options they will offer (let’s hope 😉

  2. I don’t trust it always, but I will still eat out. Because I like eating out and don’t want to miss it just because I may eat something non vegan. I accept the risk, knowing it mostly won’t do harm if I do eat something non vegan. Apart from that, it’s a good thing that restaurants receive request for vegan food of course.

  3. My little cousin has severe allergies (anaphylactic) to a lot of animal products milk (dairy) products, eggs, fish, shellfish, meat, and gelatin. She also can’t eat wheat, soy, peanuts, corn, buckwheat, or coconut and is anaphylactic to them as well.

    Once her mum (who by the way was abusive) took her to a restaurant when she was five and had ordered something off of the vegan menu, and this was a regular restaurant where the people clearly understood English and knew what vegan meant. Anyway, so they gave her the food and she had an anaphylactic reaction to it. Later found out the food had turkey, chicken stock and fish oil in the main dish and the vegetables literally had butter in them.

    The restaurant was clearly aware of her allergies but assuming that they did not believe that she had them.

    She is still a kid but luckily is able to say that she does not want to eat out even though everyone else usually makes a big deal out of it except for tow family members.

    Eating out can be a huge risk especially if you are allergic to foods that are not common food allergies. When you tell a restaurant that you are allergic to meat they usually don’t believe it. While peanuts, tree nuts, and fish and shellfish are taken slightly more seriously. Or if you are allergic to wheat and/or milk (dairy) products then they usually think it’s only minor issues such as someone who has stomach issues from the milk or wheat or someone just avoiding them completely. Really hard to make a restaurant understand that no, this is NOT a intolerance or a choosing of avoidance. She is anaplylactic to these foods and it’s life threatening.

    The other risk of course, is you don’t know how clean the kitchen is or the refrigerator or freezer or the things they are cooking on. Even places that seem clean have a different story when it comes to the kitchen. If you have a different diet that is by choice such as vegan, vegetarian, organic or WFPB pretty much 99.9% of the time they are not going to clean the stuff just because a food that you do not eat/are disgusted by was cooked on it. The same goes for many places when it comes to food allergies especially when 99% of the menu contains things you are allergic to.

    Other factors such as where you live and the quality of the restaurants are also factors. If you live in the US then most of the restaurants are filled with preservatives and a bunch of toxic ingredients. Some fast food places microwave the burgers and such so you can’t trust the way they cook/handle food especially in fast food places. While here in the UK there is much less of that but still some ingredients that just shouldn’t be in food or aren’t needed in the food.

    Another thing to worry about if the allergen is not in the top 14 (at least here in the UK and most countries in Europe) or within the top 8-10 if you live elsewhere then there is the chance the restaurant might not tell you. Especially if it’s a place that is shady about the ingredients, meaning that they aren’t on the website, or they only post some of the ingredients online (so not the full list of ingredients), or they just don’t want to tell you everything that is in the food if you ask. I’ve even heard of one place that wants a doctor note if you are asking about ingredients that are not in the list of top allergens.

    I myself have allergies and I choose to not eat out either. I stick to eating mostly vegetables including beans, lentils, fruits and such. I help my cousin in finding these things too and make sure that where these are made/produced doesn’t contain any of her (or my) food allergies.

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