I hush my voice as the waiter makes his way to my side of the table, hoping none of my friends hear the ridiculous order: “No cheese, no croutons, dressing on the side, please. Also, may I have the chicken sautéed in a separate pan with no olive oil?” The response is a blank stare from an overwhelmed and sometimes offended waiter. “OK, so basically a salad without the good stuff, right?” Rude. But not entirely unjustified. Nobody wants to be THAT girl. But after “going paleo” last year, I’ve discovered dining out can be a minefield of surprise ingredients and uncomfortable moments.
You’ve placed a high-maintenance order. You cross your fingers the chef is not too annoyed by your very specific guidelines to follow through with integrity. You take those first bites with just a bit of suspicion. And, truth be told, you resent your roommates’ carefree quesadilla order just a little.
But the restaurant experience can be enjoyed by all. Following are a few simple guidelines to help anyone with special dietary restrictions, whether you are allergic, vegetarian, vegan, or simply a health nut.
1.Choose the restaurant yourself
This guarantees you’ll be able to order something off the menu. You know what you can and cannot eat, so pick a restaurant with good options for you as well as your friends.
2. Do a little homework
Look up the menu ahead of time and decide what you’re going to order. Anticipate any necessary substitutions, so you won’t have to spend any time dissecting the menu when you get there.
3. Don't be afraid to get a little picky
You’re paying for your food, so don’t hesitate to be a little particular. It doesn’t hurt to throw in the word “allergy,” whether or not it’s the whole truth. Waiters don’t take chances with the “A” word.
4. Make it “protein style”
Ordering off the burger and sandwich menu opens up a world of options when you’re eating out. Request your order come wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun and without any condiments. This goes for tacos, too. Most restaurants will agree to prepare your tacos lettuce-wrap style. If you really want to fly under the radar, consider dealing with the bun or tortilla yourself once your meal arrives.
5. Ask for dressing on the side
Always. You never know what they put in there without a fairly aggressive line of questioning that often doesn't result in an adequate answer. And nothing ruins a perfectly good salad more than a dose of mystery dressing.
6. Eat before you get to the restaurant:
If a restaurant just won’t be compatible with your diet, eat a light meal with protein before going out. This will curb your hunger, so you can be satisfied with a side salad or small appetizer.
7. Keep it light.No one wants to hear your philosophy about GMOs while they twirl fettuccine onto a fork. Laugh at yourself before they do. You are “that girl,” but you do still have a sense of humor. Dining out is meant to be a treat. Take some precautions, make some smart choices, and expect to eat well. Then just relax… it’s only dinner.