I often need to attend business dinners and lunches, and often do not have a say in the choice of restaurant. I’m vegan, and many restaurants do not have food options that I can eat. How can I participate in these professional meals without going hungry or looking impolite? – Danielle in Lancaster, CA
Everyone with a dietary restriction, whether voluntary or otherwise, has experienced scenarios where an explanation must be given when they are presented with a food or a meal that is incompatible with their restriction. When presented with these situations, grace and planning are excellent solutions.
Vegan diets have a lot of recognized value, and are more common today than in the past. However, following a vegan diet means that you need to plan ahead. With any particular nutritional plan, you have to learn what to buy for your meals at home and what you enjoy eating within your established bounds. Even if you have been vegan for a long time, at one point you figured out what you needed to buy at the grocery store. When you eat out, you know how to find restaurants that work for you. If you became vegan recently, you may still be learning these tricks of the trade now.
This knowledge is important to bring into your professional life. Business lunches and dinners, or even coffee shop meet-ups with colleagues, will present an area where your personal decisions overlap with your professional life, as well as the lives of those around you. No one wants to make another person feel bad because the food available isn’t suitable for both parties. In the worst-case scenario, a costumer may even feel offended by your lifestyle choice, or frustrated that what works for them doesn’t work for you.
This is where planning ahead is the critical step, the superpower you bring to the story. Planning ahead can mean a lot of things: keeping a snack around for yourself in the event you suddenly end up in a cafe with zero options; mentioning to your colleagues at work early on that you are vegan; or looking at eateries near your place of work to establish which ones have vegan options available.
Most importantly, when it comes to an important business dinner, plan ahead and take the initiative. If you have any influence on the location of the dinner, research locations that you and others would be comfortable with, and pass these restaurants on to whoever makes the final decision. Before you give the decision-maker your list, however, ask them if they would welcome suggestions with healthy dietary options. Then give them the locales you have identified. Most people will be accommodating when you approach them early with grace and kindness. Plus, it enables them to demonstrate consideration for all of the event guests, especially those with dietary restrictions.
If you do not have control over where you will be eating, taking the initiative ahead of time is even more critical. As soon as reasonably possible, ask whoever is making the plans where you will be dining. Once you know, investigate the restaurant yourself and find out if they have vegan options. If they do not, call and ask if they are able to prepare one.
Dealing with Surprises
If the venue is a complete surprise, quietly ask the maître d if they have a menu for dietary restrictions or special needs. Many restaurants offer options for alternate dining styles and allergen-friendly meals. By handling the situation with poise and composure, you will not inadvertently cause anyone to feel bad for not anticipating the food requirements of the guests.
More likely than not, your dinner companions will not even notice your inquiry, or your meal choice. If it does come up in conversation, you can pivot and ask if any of the other guests or their family members have dietary restrictions or allergies. This will present multiple opportunities to turn the conversation to areas of common ground, family, and friends.
Enjoy Your Meal
The good news is, veganism is more common than ever, and many restaurants are eager to provide options to all their potential diners. Furthermore, by planning ahead and assuring that your needs will be met, you are proactively managing your health or lifestyle choice with grace.
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Lynn Whitbeck is the co-founder and President of Petite2Queen. She is focused on identifying and evaluating opportunities for women at work, helping them define their personal roadmap. She dedicates herself to delivering tools and insights, embracing visualization of the big picture, and identifying and implementing the minutiae of detail. Lynn aims to share lessons learned along her journey and enable positive uplift for women.