Lately as we have done our best from consuming processed vegetarian foods and continue to learn more of the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle we have ended up eliminating many of the places where we ate at.
When I first started as a vegetarian I made lots of mistakes. This site has helped as a platform to obligate me into doing more research into becoming vegetarian. Every time I do a bit more of research I find that I have even less places where I can eat outside of the house. Like I explained on a previous post we try to plan ahead when we leave the house especially now as a dad. We need to make sure the little one in our family has meal options available for her.
Over the years we have also eliminated places we ate at, because we validated that the options which where supposedly vegetarian had some type of animal protein or by-product.
Reasons Why Vegans & Vegetarians don’t eat at many restaurants.
1. No Menu Option
The first thing I hear from many restaurant owners is for their patrons to ask the chef or staff if they have a vegetarian and vegan option. In Puerto Rico mentioning you are vegetarian or vegan once you don’t see it on the menu can in many occasions get you nowhere. In some others restaurants like the overpriced, with bad service, poorly themed restaurant and named El Platanar (in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico) where the name of the place means Plaintain Grove. They don’t offer one vegan or vegetarian plate. Making me think should switch the name of the place aligned with steaks and seafood place, so what they offer goes aligns with their name.
Solution: As a restaurant owner offer at least one vegetarian/vegan option on the menu in each course. On many occasions in places like Puerto Rico that will make a vegetarian/vegan choose your restaurant over your competitors who don’t have vegan/vegetarian option.
2. Not Friendly or polite once you mention your diet restrictions.
When I visited “El Platanar” with my family I asked the waiter if they had vegetarian options. I could not believe he got annoyed at the fact that I was asking for vegetarian options on the menu El looking at the Trip Advisor review their waiters seem to have a problem with treating customers with respect. It looked more like I had kicked him in the wrong place or said something nasty about his mom. I quickly got annoyed and decided not to even order a drink at the place. While my uncle and grandma ate , I just sat in my seat waiting for the time to go by where I could leave the overpriced place where the staff was not polite enough to look for options.
Solution: Train your staff to be aware that many people have diet restrictions. I get impressed when I visit a place and one of the first questions from the waiter is asking if any of us have any dietary restrictions. It is a way for your staff to connect with clients and stay away from the risk of serving something that might even put your patrons at risk.
3. Restaurant Staff Not understanding of a vegan / vegetarian diet.
In some cases the staff at a restaurant might be polite but they don’t know what being vegetarian or vegan is about. I had a great experience at a place where they where friendly enough to offer me many options but sadly none of them where vegetarian or vegan. Different to el Platanar when I went to La Casita Blanca (Santurce, Puerto Rico) the staff had such great attitudes that even though I did not eat I invite my non-vegetarian and meat-eating friends to visit the place. It is a unique experience.
Solution: Make sure your staff understands what the term vegetarian and vegan means. This way you make sure your staff is taking care of everyone dietary needs. Even when you have no options for them you can at least have the vegetarians and vegans recommend your place for being polite.
4. Food Preparation is Not Adequate.
In many places the vegetarian meal options and vegetables are cooked in the same place where meat, seafood, and poultry are cooked. If your meal is cooked in the same place and using the same utensils as non-vegetarian meals. Your meal is no longer considered vegetarian and much less vegan. If you are a consumer keep an eye out to where they prepare your food. Pay special attention to fried foods and if you feel uncomfortable ask the management to show you where they will prepare your meal.
Solution: As a restaurant owner separate an area and use different utensils that your vegetarian meals will be prepared without being contaminated by any non-vegan/vegetarian ingredients. The volume of the meals you will prepare is usually small so a small area might do. It will pay off long term with loyal vegan/vegetarian customers which you will gain your trust from.
5. Offering Non-Vegetarian Options as Vegetarian/ Vegan Option.
In many places there is a lot of confusion as to vegetarians eating or consuming seafood. So when I visit them one of the things they offer me is a seafood option. Once I see this it raises a red flag since seafood is nowhere near a vegetarian or vegan option. This is a clear indication that the food that is being prepared might have non-vegetarian or vegan components.
Solution: As a restaurant owner make sure that you review the process and the ingredients you use in creating your meals. Validate that what people are offering as a vegan vegetarian meal option really is one.
6. Not Understanding what components or ingredients are in the plate prepared.
In some occasions there are ingredients that are not vegan or vegetarian friendly. For example if you offer a vegetarian/vegan sandwich and the bread was made with animal shortening or as I call it “Lard” then it is clearly not a vegetarian option. Look out for Gelatin in your meals and items such as marshmallows because those are not vegan or vegetarian either.
Solution: Validate that every ingredient in your vegetarian and vegan plate is vegetarian/vegan. A good example is the duck protein they put in bagels. The name is so complex you would never know the bagel is not vegetarian/vegan.
7. Smell of Meat or Fish is overpowering
The worst for me is to have an overpowering smell of meat and fish. In my hometown of Ponce there is a restaurant that my Grandma and Uncle love to visit. My problem is that they don’t have any meal options but just sitting there and smelling all the fish and meat really makes it an uncomfortable situation for myself.
Solution: If you have options on your menu that are vegetarian/vegan friendly make sure the environment at your place is pleasing enough where those smells that are not appealing to vegans and vegetarians are neutralized.
Overall I invite any restaurant owner to add vegetarian/vegan options on the menu. In most cases it will help move some of the vegetable produce a bit quicker and bring the most loyal clientele you where wishing for.
As a vegetarian/vegan any other factors that make you stay away from a restaurant or food place?