Out of order

From: Restaurant Association of America
To: Chefs of America

Every day we hear from restaurants around the nation exasperated at having to prepare special meals for those aberrant eaters – the vegetarians.

We understand what a drain of time and money this is for you. First, the expenditure per head per vegetarian is approximately 60% of the average diner; second, you have to buy special ingredients that are only used if a vegetarian happens on your restaurant. What normal diner seeks soy protein, tofu, or seitan?

Further more, they are not a cohesive group. The vast majority will eat fish or chicken, especially if persuaded by the waiter and lack of other options. We strongly recommend wearing them down in front of their friends until they are too embarrassed to hold out.

However, if they persist with their unnatural convictions we suggest one or two choices from the following menu – developed to use up spare ingredients in your kitchen and to minimize the inconvenience to you.

Mixed green salad (Remember: To compensate for lack of meat, use three times the normal amount of dressing. If it’s a holiday, add a little grated carrot.)
Mushroom soup (Do not worry about chicken broth. They will never know and it will fortify them.)

Pasta with vegetables
Ravioli in winter: butternut squash
Ravioli in summer: goat cheese
Plate of vegetable sides
Portabello mushroom (This is positively gourmet in their world; ensure it is marinated with vinaigrette for at least three days or they won’t taste anything.)

Remember: To compensate for lack of meat use five times as much butter in all dishes. This is one of the few animal products they consume and we need to encourage them. A vegetarian dish isn’t good if it’s not greasy.

Protein: Do not brook any complaints that a dish (e.g. plate of vegetables) lacks protein—remember, you made up for it with butter and – there’s always meat!

If you want to experiment ensure that you do not stray outside of the following ingredients: zucchini, bell pepper, goats cheese, mushroom, pasta, zucchini, bell pepper, goat’s cheese, mushroom, pasta. Anything outside this group would send their taste buds into free fall like a child after 3 gallons of soda.

Some bars may feel obliged to provide a veggie burger to mimic the hearty American hamburger. These are frozen and are best cooked fast and at high temperature to remove all moisture and develop a dry chewy texture. This will help wear down their over-sharp teeth.

It is important to stick to this strategy for the following reasons:

1) The vegetarian is not equipped to handle more than one or two choices. Faced with more, they grow disoriented and cannot make up their mind.
2) If you provide variety, the vegetarian might return to your restaurant seeking new and diverse dishes. Do not encourage regulars.

We hope you find this tipsheet useful.

Next week: How to screen vegans before the hostess seats them.

10 responses to “Out of order”

  1. We were having a conversation about this the other night at the vegan pan-asian place down the block. My one complaint with the place is that they use the same sweet brown sauce on almost everything, but otherwise, it’s a bountiful menu. In fact, the food is so good there (I’ll let our resident detractor out him/herself if he/she chooses) that I wanted to get a t-shirt that says: “Here’s to My Sweet Seitan.”

    I would box up that place and ship it to DC though if I could. Better yet, move here, Stella! Then you can add “being seated next to Moby every time I go out” to your list of grievances …

  2. ks says:

    Wait, you live in DC? Because it sure sounds like you live in St. Louis! Thank heaven for the notable exceptions of Indian/Pakistani/Nepali and SE Asian, right? Oh, and Ethiopian!

    You are so right about the prejudices of people working in restaurants (on both sides of the line) against vegetarians, and their lack of respect, particularly about meat-based stocks in soups. I’m ashamed to say I was once one of those intolerant-of-vegetarians-and-their-special-needs-BS-server-types, but am now a guilt-ridden vegetarian.

    In contrast to your butter-soaked dining experiences, have you ever noticed that on airplanes the vegetarian meals are generally prepared as though for people in the hospital who have major health issues…no salt, no fat, no flavor, no teeth? (The beef/chicken folks get real butter with their rolls, and cake, while the veg meals come with some sort of heart-healthy grease and a fruit cup. WTF?) It’s as if in that one context vegetarian is synonymous with uber-healthy. I may have imagined it but I even think a flight attendant who served me a veg. meal on an overseas flight purposefully failed to offer me wine based on this assumption.

  3. A White Bear says:

    It’s funny, Stella—I became a vegetarian 12 years ago and have thought I hadn’t experienced bad vegetarian restaurants in a while, not even in Ohio. But part of that is that I simply don’t go to American/European restaurants much anymore. If I go out, it’s for Thai, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian, etc.

    For 2 1/2 years, I dated a guy who’d gone to culinary school in the European tradition, and he was totally flummoxed about how we could possibly cook together or for one another. I showed him everything I could about veg menu planning, and he still pointedly threw up his hands, and said, “Fine, you make some kind of entree then.” The hostility was really bizarre to me. So we’d have dinner parties and I’d make a second entree for everyone so I’d have something other than salad and green beans to eat.

    But the weirdest menu problems happen at the really nice restaurants that could easily afford to do a good veg entree. At a pub, I expect to be brushed off, but at a really upscale place? It’s such a gamble. Some places will even prepare something custom for you if you call ahead and say you’re coming, and you’ll end up with an extraordinary custom-made objet d’art. They sound really glad when you tell them, as if you’ve averted a crisis. But others just discourage you from coming, or say they’ve got a veg entree, which ends up being $24 for a plate of steamed carrots and beets. And you have no idea which you’re going to get.

    I’m sure part of it is that chefs like my ex are trained only in meat-centric white-person’s cuisine, and they don’t know what they’re doing, not really, around a veg entree. But most of it is that Bourdain attitude that vegetarians are horrible, self-denying, sanctimonious assholes who don’t really like food. I do know many of those people, sure. And they’re annoying as hell. But it’s no reason to take offense when we ask for something not wrapped in bacon.

  4. Scotty says:

    In a former job as a country club waiter, I served several weddings and other large parties. From our side of the floor, the vegetarian situation was always a huge bummer. Often people would insist that they filled out some special card with their invitation, requesting a veg. meal, and that it was somehow my fault that this card never made it to the hands of the chef. Of course, even if there was a card, it is understandable that in all the planning, the bride or groom or whoever put such a request among a lower plane of priorities.

    When the situation arose, however, as per their nature, the alt-eater was almost always patient about waiting and understanding that their meal (which I was every single time embarrassed to present because it was usually a slap-shod collection of under or over cooked non meat scraps from about the kitchen) would come out much later than everyone else at the table. The problem was usually the rest of the carnivorous table who understandably refused to eat a bite until everyone had their food. This put undue pressure on not only me, but the poor un-served alt-eater as well. Boy oh boy, you put some nice slabs of prime rib in front of a table of carnivores and tell them that they can’t eat while their meals gets colder and browner, and you’ve got one impatient group of people.

    Worst of all would be if a female vegetarian was a relatively new partner of a male carnivore. In this nightmare scenario, the man would invariably feel a need to show his freshly minted lady friend that chivalry was not dead. Hands would wave, wine glasses would be shaken, the entire room would me made uncomfortable, all to show that he wasn’t going to just stand by while his damsel went hungry.

    Again, the sufferer in all of this was always the alt-eater who not only had to wait, but had to remain composed in the face of a bunch of raging carnivores. I saw it time and again.

    In another note, I tried to post this yesterday as a link and it didn’t work out, so here’s the site to just paste into your browser window, enjoy.


  5. Rachel says:

    Stella, you are all too right. I remember your horror at discovering a bit of bacon in your quiche when we were at brunch once. Did the meat just hop in there? How hard can it be to keep bacon out of the vegetarian dishes?

    Last year I attended a wedding where the food was handled by a vegetarian catering firm. It was absolutely amazing. Even more amazing were the guests who couldn’t believe they were actually (gasp) enjoying a vegetarian meal.

    Going out can be tricky with some cuisines, but most good restaurants have at least one good veg entree these days. Some chefs like it–they see it as a challenge.

    We eat veg at home, and fortunately that’s not hard at all. I have a killer BBQ tempeh recipe…don’t laugh.

  6. Miller says:

    I think San Diego, CA is pretty out of the way for most of you, so the sparkling review I’m about to give will be a bit of a tease, but if you’re ever in So Cal, or live in this area, it’s well worth the drive to Hillcrest to go to Mandarin Dynasty. They have the greatest vegetarian menu I’ve ever encountered. I’m not a vegetarian myself, but I would take this food over any meat dish—I fantasize about the vegetarian Mongolian beef. On the weekends they have a lunch special: soup, egg rolls, and a vegetarian entrée for $6; then you can walk off that delicious food by browsing through the thrift stores and record shop across the street. Why, oh why, am I working today?

  7. Jen says:

    I was a vegetarian for 23 years or so – one of many reasons for becoming omnivorous again being my own lack of creativity in the kitchen. The thing that bugged me most when going out to eat was carnivore’s guilt – whenever people discovered I didn’t eat meat, they would offer up the caveat “well, I don’t really eat that much meat” as if I really cared what they ate. Being the indecisive person that I am, I never really minded the lack of choice on the menu – it sped things along nicely when it came to ordering.

  8. trixie says:

    certainly the saddest part of our recent trip to london was watching a vegan eat dinner with a table full of carnivores at the very meat-oriented st. john restaurant.
    we learned he was vegan after inquiring about his appetizer which didn’t look like anything on the menu and learned it was a special plate from the chef to cater to this young man’s dietary restrictions. the table’s other five occupants were sharing a roast quail, and various bits of offal that this restaurant has made famous.
    we felt so sorry for him sitting there watching them tear the meat off the bones of this little roast bird. but i was impressed that the chef had actually made him something quite delicious looking, considering the style of food this restaurant made famous.
    ( AWB: bourdain wants to eat his death row meal there, fwiw)

  9. Adriana says:

    Stella, I loved this — it’s just a shame more chefs can’t appreciate the glory and variety of vegetables, and I’m being completely, dorkily sincere about that. There are so many wonderful, delicious, possibilities (grains, nuts, other protein sources, etc.). I think the slow-food/locavore movement is changing that, though, and I find when I go to those types of restaurants they offer a greater variety of good, creative vegetarian dishes.

    I linked this post on my blog. Hope you don’t mind.

    I invite you to come out to Franny’s in Brooklyn next time you’re in New York!

    And now, I’m going to watch that Obama Bollywood video again.

  10. PB says:

    My sister is a vegetarian and claims it is for political reasons but she was one of those kids who found “fat” and “bones” in her coco puffs. Seriously, I think she was born a herbivore, a genetic aberation to the dominant meat proclivities of the other kids.

    And although she manages to find and prepare sometimes lovely food, she combines her dietary preference with a determination to only eat about 700 calories a day (perhaps I exaggerate a bit) which means most people who try to follow her are left feeling hungry most of the time. This association: vegetarian food = extreme hunger, makes it difficult to convert even the most intellectually desirous seekers.

    So I remain an omivore AND I soak everything in butter as well.
    But MB does make my sister this incredible stuffed squash thing for thanksgiving – hollar if you want the recipe. hmmmmm, no goat cheese in sight.