Should I apologise for my “Special Diet” when eating out? Is this Culinary Racism? What do you do?

Once again, I am travelling and today I am taking clients out to lunch.

The clients chose the restaurant and suggested that I check in advance what veggie options they have as they know that I eat a WFPB (whole food, plant-based) diet.   I checked online and whilst the menu had some choices on the starters that work for me, the main courses were all meat and fish with only a few salads and side dishes that looked ok for me.  So, I called the restaurant and realised during the call, that I was actually apologising for my diet and food choices and any inconvenience that it may cause them.

Why did I do that?

  • Is it my natural British politeness (not always evident, especially when tired from travelling)?
  • What was I apologising for?
  • As a paying customer, why should I apologise for what I choose to eat?
  • What is the worst that they can do – Make me a salad?  Serve me vegetables?

If I am a meat eater and I do not like red meat or I do not like lamb, I do not call up ahead and apologise, or grovel to the waiter.  I just make another choice that suits me.  My issue is that due to not eating fish, meat or diary there are occasions when there is nothing suited to me, listed on the menu.  I guess that I may be seen as an oddity by the staff and so I typically apologise that I have a “specific diet” and explain that I do not eat meat, fish or diary.

I actually think that by asking for something specific you are driving a change in what is provided.  I am happy to apologise if I am being an inconvenience but maybe I am being an “inspiration”?  Maybe, I am leading the way in what the eating out public will be wanting in the future – I believe so.  Just look at vegetarian options.  For many years there were few options for vegetarians on menus, now almost everywhere in the UK offers numerous vegetarian options on their menus.  I have noticed a trend with some younger chefs particularly to offer some interesting whole-food, plant-based options too.  (To much applause from me).

I also hate the idea that seems to be more prevalent in the US than the UK, that if you are vegan or vegetarian, then you should go to a specifically vegan or vegetarian restaurant.  Isn’t that “culinary racism”??? Should Lebanese food only be eaten by the Lebanese or Indian by those from the sub-continent?  Of course not, then why should vegans and vegetarians not eat with their friends at any restaurant of their choosing?

My tip….

What I have found is that if I say what I do or don’t eat ahead of time, the kitchen team and chefs are usually happy to provide me with something that works for me.  Calling ahead certainly avoids any embarrassment especially when I am entertaining clients.  A lot of chefs are happy to make something special as long as it is not asked for with a minutes notice during a busy service.  Calling ahead is polite and respectful and with most places having either their full menu or sample menus online you can easily check if you need to call ahead.

As Audrey, my darling Mother used to say, “You can’t get if you don’t ask” and “What’s the worst thing that can happen?  They might say No!”


Just don’t upset the Chef!

So what do you do and have you experienced culinary racism?

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