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“That is not what I ordered” – Getting Plant-Based food in restaurants

I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite some time.
The longer I leave it, the more information and more disappointment, I have to share. It is not difficult, I do not eat meat, fish, or dairy.  in other words anything that has a face or mother. When I eat out, which I do quite often, I make this perfectly clear and ask very politely for either something on the menu that suits my dietary choices or for a small modification to a dish in order that it works me.

Increasingly, I found that this seems to be too much to ask in many situations. I don’t know why, but certain organisations seem to make very heavy weather of providing me with the food that I’m looking for. Here’s some recent examples:

ITSU (http://www.itsu.com/) -the well-known food chain in the UK. It promotes itself using the tagline “eat beautiful” with pictures of lithe half naked bodies and also through their sponsorship of England Beach volleyball tour 2014-2017. Despite this, they seem unable to provide clear training to their staff and clear labelling on a number of their products. Mr G and I have bought this to their attention and to be fair they are doing something about it. However, be really careful as the miso soup that is used in some of the noodle pots has fish in it, so be sure to ask a vegetable miso.  There is even fish seasoning in their rice sidedish. This is a bit disappointing for a company with the tagline eat beautiful!
Some time ago, I suggested that they change the rice used in the hip and healthy salad to brown rice rather than using white rice. I was told, at the time, that they would use the existing supply of rice and then look to replace it with brown rice. I think that was about 2 years ago.  When I bought one of the salads last week, it still contained white rice. It does seem as if my suggestion had fallen on deaf ears.
The next company that seems to ignore my requests is EAT http://www.eat.co.uk/index.php). Again it’s a chain, and provides some really appealing products to its customers. Eat’s tagline is “the real food company”. So it may be, but what I want is the food as promised on the pot. I was at Paddington station some weeks ago, when I ordered one of their vegetarian dumpling and noodle pots. Imagine my surprise and disgust,  when eating the 1st dumpling, I discovered that rather than the tofu that I’ve been expecting, that it was actually chicken. I went back to the counter and reported this and was greeted with a mixture of derision and incredulity. It was implied that I must be wrong and that the contents must be vegetarian. I explained that I have very good taste buds and I can tell the difference between tofu and chicken. After some remonstrations, I was eventually assured that the offending pot would be sent back to head office for analysis, and the other pots would be removed from sale and that I would be hearing from them.
I did hear from them, however in the letter to me, I was basically called a liar. The company outlined its totally infallible processes to ensure that it was quite impossible for me to have eaten a chicken dumpling when I purchased a tofu/vegetarian one. I obviously must be an idiot and have no sense of taste whatsoever. I persisted in following this up, only to be told that the offending item had been destroyed, (rather conveniently), rather than being sent back to head office for analysis, as I had been promised. This dialogue took place over the last 3 to 4 months. All I wanted, was an apology, and an admission that they are fallible and the mistakes can happen. This seemed all too difficult for the “real food company” who are obviously infallible and frankly think their customers are idiots, liars, or both, as in my case. After several exchanges of emails, I did get a rather tepid apology although it came in a letter that was headed “without prejudice” as they were obviously concerned that I was planning to sue for some kind of compensation.
I can understand chain organisations such as itsu and Eat, who produce food in vast quantities for their outlets potentially making mistakes.  What astounded me was to visit one of my favourite Indian restaurants in London and to order a vegetable masala only to discover that what been cooked and served was (you’ve guessed it…) a chicken dish. I find this really irritating that people don’t bother to check thoroughly what has been ordered. Fortunately, I don’t have some kind of terrible allergy to meat that would result in anaphylactic shock.  Regardless, the same care should be taken when taking an order from somebody who is vegetarian or vegan, as it would if they were allergic to nuts or gluten, which can have very serious implications indeed.
It’s not just getting the order wrong or making mistake with the food sometimes, as I found out a week ago, you can order something that you think is going to be healthy and suitable only to be disappointed by what is put in front of you.  I was at a restaurant with some colleagues in Swindon – The Weighbridge Brewhouse, (http://www.weighbridgebrewhouse.co.uk/). It’s place I’ve been too many times before and have always really enjoyed the ambience and the food. I ordered a vegetarian dish from the menu and asked that the goats cheese that was an ingredient listed should be removed. I was really looking forward to a beautiful medley of sauteed mushrooms and slices of Jerusalem artichoke with a plum tomato sauce. Imagine my disappointment to be faced with a plate that was swimming in approximately a quarter of an inch of fat, mushrooms that had absolutely no flavour and a sauce that had split so badly and resembled a masala sauce rather than anything to do with the tomato and again, very high in fat. Whilst I appreciate that I hadn’t asked for “no fat” the ingredients didn’t list “half a pound of butter and a cup of olive oil” as two of the ingredients, it simply said that the vegetables would be sauteed. I ate some of the dish, as I was hungry and rather than make a fuss at the time, as I was with some colleagues and rather pressed for time, I called and gave my feedback in the evening.  It was cordially received, but no one bothered to take my email or phone number to follow up which seemed to indicate to me that they did not really give a damn. That was a shame and bad staff training as I am loathed to go back to somewhere that doesn’t really care about it’s customers.
It massively disappoints me that organisations such as those listed above cannot simply provide food for all of their diners as requested.
What’s been your experience? Please feel free to sharing comments on the community.
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1 reply
  1. jacqui
    jacqui says:

    I have found it very hard to eat a plant based diet whilst dining out. Most of the vegetarian options are covered with cheese. Even a local and popular salad bar restaurant only had one salad available that was totally meat or dairy free! There are some specific vegan restaurants but when you are dining with a group of people that are mainly non vegan it is not always a popular choice. To be honest, I just find it easier to eat at home these days.

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