When I was growing up, my family would go out to dinner occasionally on Saturday night. I can recall about three or four restaurant choices. We got dressed up and were joined by my parents friends. It was a time that I learned to sit in a chair and learn appropriate behaviors. There were few entree choices, and they mostly centered around beef, fish and pasta. The portions would have been similar to what was served at home. It was a social experience for my parents, and my mother had the night off from cooking. The frequency was probably three times a month for awhile and then fell off when activities changed. Later, my parents would take it up again and usually go out nearly every Saturday night.
That was in the 1970s. The restaurants were locally owned, and everyone knew your name. There were not that many choices and everyone had their “spot” so to speak. Now, there is a restaurant on every corner and many are chains. The same food and menus are offered regardless of the location. People eat out 4 and 5 times a week. The reason is partly social but more for the convenience of not having to cook. When did we start to hate cooking? Was it the commercials on TV showing us the stress of working all day and then coming home to cook? Has our lives got that much busier with chasing kids to organized sports that we don’t have time? There has always been high school sports but now it has started in grade school since kids no longer live in neighborhoods to play spontaneously together. Is eating out the only form of social entertainment that we have? In years past there were family reunions, picnics, and cookouts that were held at peoples houses.
What is your reason for going out to dinner? Is it mainly to socialize? Does the type of food matter, or it is ok as long as you don’t have to cook? Does it make dinner less painful if everyone can have their own choice? Are you interested in fine dinning and enjoy things that you cannot make at home? Do you like to try new things so that you can replicate them at home? What are your standards? Do you mind that the food is commercially prepared and comes frozen only to be warmed up or refried in the restaurant kitchen? Are you looking for the pleasure of being served rather than cooking? How do you judge if a meal is good or not? Is it the price, the quantity, the quality, the service, or the atmosphere? If you are still reading this you may be saying; I just don’t want to cook!
I think these questions are important because becoming plant based is going to potentially change your dining experience. If your only concern is not having to cook then a salad and baked potato is available at most restaurants and you are all set. Hold the dressings, butter and cheese when you order. If you do not know how the food is prepared in a chain restaurant, I would suggest you Google the restaurant. You can find out if they use butter, oil, or dairy in entrees. You can find out if the food source is local, organic or prepared in an outside facility. Does it come prepared and they just reheat? If that is so, you will not have many options for special requests. Do they have cooks and a chef? There is a chain of command at more upscale restaurants. There are cooks that work a specific part of the kitchen like the vegetables, the salads, or the meats? The sous chef is second in command directing the progression of meals and the timing so that the vegetables are ready at the same time as the meats and so fourth. They also have a role in the menu and production of the quality of the plated foods. The Sous Chef often manages the kitchen staff. The Chef works as the kitchen CEO purchasing, overseeing, and the overall management of the kitchen. Based on the kitchen hierarchy, there may or may not be many options to order something unique and plant based. There is still the option to order sides and potentially to have cheese held. The waitstaff may or may not be educated in the nuances of the menu. They may or may not understand what it means to be vegan or plant based. So don’t assume anything which includes cheese on the entree as well as the side.
If you know what to expect, you are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to get something you can eat. Start with yourself. What are YOUR goals or desires? Don’t expect the kitchen staff to have your health as their number one priority on a busy night at a chain restaurant. Again, it is your health, and it is your responsibility. You have to decide what compromises you are willing to make. Do your homework and google the restaurant to look at menu ingredients. Call or email the restaurant and ask questions? Ask to speak with the Chef or Sous Chef. Eating plant based is an evolution for most of us so don’t expect the restaurant to be perfect at first either. However, if you find a spot that is willing to work with you and learn, be grateful and compensate them appropriately. It takes time to gather special ingredients and creating a new dish is an art. It is not just the price of the ingredients but the time and effort dedicated to create something special or not.
Perhaps we would all be a little more healthy if we thought about the reasons we go out and what how we expect food to serve us. I hope you find yourself worthy of fresh healthy ingredients that will serve your body well. By voting with your dollars and patronage to a restaurant, you are guiding the future of dining experiences. Remember, it all starts with you.