Whether you’re a lacto vegetarian, raw-food devotee or simply trying to break up your toxic relationship with carbs, you’re going to need a few tricks to survive dining out or looking like an ungrateful guest at your foodie friend’s party.
It’s never fun being that customer at a restaurant or that person at a party who orders a plate of cabbage or nibbles on carrots and avoids the sesame-crusted duck like it’s a rabid animal. You aren’t trying to cause a fuss or make more trouble for anyone, but the waitstaff and your host can’t help but feel offended or obligated to bring you something that’s more to your liking. Meanwhile, you sit there wishing you could blend into the upholstery or disappear into the bathroom with your hummus and celery stalks until dinner is over.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are seven ways you can still enjoy yourself while dining out and ensure you aren’t blacklisted from all future events involving food:
1. If you’ve been invited to someone’s home, offer to bring a few dishes that you can eat. The best way to make your host feel comfortable is to be upfront and honest about your dietary restrictions. Make sure he or she knows how grateful you are for the invite and offer to make a few side dishes or an entrée that everyone can sample. Added bonus: It takes some of the pressure off of your host.
2. Read the menu online before you leave your house. Nearly every restaurant has an online presence these days. Take advantage of that fact by making yourself familiar with the menu beforehand, so that your guests don’t have to wait 20 minutes while you agonize over what you’re going to order.
3. Call or email a restaurant ahead of time to ask about substitutions. It can be a little embarrassing asking your waiter whether he can substitute one item for another to suit your diet, only to have him shake his head “no” with every question. Do your research ahead of time, so you know exactly what they’re willing to substitute and what alternatives they can offer.
4. Defer to the chef. Let’s say you’re on a gluten-free diet and have found yourself at an Italian restaurant — your worst nightmare — and didn’t have time to do your research. Instead of asking whether the chef can make substitutions, ask if the chef can suggest a gluten-free meal you can eat.
5. Don’t talk about your diet. I don’t say this because you have anything to be ashamed of — more power to you if you’re taking charge of your food intake. But, a funny thing happens when some folks get wind that you’re on a diet. They have opinions. Sometimes those opinions are annoying: “You need bread. Everybody needs energy from bread.” It’s fine to let everyone know you’re on a certain diet, but the less you make of why you’re ordering certain items and not splitting the gnocchi appetizer with them, the fewer questions you’ll have to answer. Also, nobody wants to be reminded of how many calories they’re consuming just because you aren’t. They just want to enjoy their damn tiramisu.
6. Be proactive in picking out restaurants. Instead of waiting for friends to make suggestions, take it upon yourself to pick out an eatery that satisfies your needs. When doing so, always consider the possibility that your dining companions may not be as excited as you are to try chipotle-grilled tempeh and find a place that accommodates their food desires, as well.
7. Don’t make a scene. This one is obvious, right? If you’re dining at a friend’s home and he or she hasn’t prepared something that meets your dietary needs, hold your tongue — especially if you are vegetarian or vegan by choice or trying to lose five pounds — and load up on salad and whatever else you can eat. There’s no excuse to make your host feel awkward or like she has to cook a new meal for you and you’ll regret you made a fuss when, just a few hours later, you’re back home snacking on foods you can eat.