If you are a vegan (or even a vegetarian) professional, chances are you have experienced some awkward moments around work-related meals. While the vegan lifestyle is no longer considered odd and it continues to gain in popularity, most business functions will still cater to the omnivore majority. You probably found yourself at meals with virtually nothing to eat – while expected to enjoy yourself in the midst of the “delicious pork chops” remarks.
How should you navigate through situations where you are expected to take a client to a steakhouse, or you have to attend a function with few or no vegan options? Where should you draw the line between personal views and the career demands? Here is collective advice from Vegan Leaders, successful vegan business professionals.
1. You may get your best-ever vegan meal at a steakhouse!
Say again? “One of the best vegan meals I ever had was at Tom Collicio’s Craftsteak,” says Janie Gianotsos, Marketing Director of a large non-profit, who is vegan and gluten-free. “Nothing vegan on the menu, but the special meal they made for me was spectacular and prepared perfectly. Sometimes I’ll just let the chef surprise me with something. Creative solutions that won’t compromise your values or your job can be surprisingly easy.” Guy Rittger, Assoc. Director at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, shares a similar experience: “My sailboat team recently took me to the new BBQ restaurant Swine, in Miami (yes, you can imagine my concern). While others looked at the menu, I consulted with our server and we constructed vegan options from existing menu dishes and ingredients. The resulting meal was phenomenal, and led to a conversation about veganism with one boat owner, a cattle rancher from Texas!”
2. Call the restaurant up front.
The vast majority of kitchens will happily accommodate vegans with a special dish or a menu, especially if asked ahead of time. Be courteous and appreciative, and even compliment the creativity of the regular menu before asking for vegan tweaks. Manuel Lynch, Founder of Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy in Mallorca, likes the challenge of eating at any restaurant, relying on his positive approach. “I often request to mix and match components of existing dishes, or ask for substitutions. I’ve had restaurant chefs come out and say “thank you for letting me make that special dish for you”. Some even take my card and ask how we might help them add a vegan menu!”
3. If you are hosting, do research on vegan fine dining options.
Larger cities usually have upscale all-vegan restaurants that can give your clients or colleagues un forgettable, classy experience. Candle 79 in New York, Plum Bistro in Seattle or Vedge in Philadelphia are just a few examples of posh vegan restaurants; do not overlook them! In addition, virtually any city or town will at least have some fine dining establishment with above-average vegan options.
4. Exercise your veto power.
You may be able to redirect a group reservation from a steakhouse to a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. Mark Aggar, Sr. Director of Cloud Efficiency at Microsoft and a founder of Vegetarians @ Microsoft, will at times unleash his inner activist: “When appropriate, let the restaurant know that vegans have disproportionate influence on where a group of otherwise non-vegans will eat. It is in the restaurant’s best interest to have well publicized vegan options, even though they don’t get many vegan patrons. Otherwise they risk losing revenue from large group bookings if a vegan is attending.”
5. Most of all, handle the situation with great political skill.
Acting difficult, righteous or morose will not serve your career or the vegan cause. Work-related situations are not the time or place to advocate veganism, unless invited to discuss it. “You don’t want to appear fussy in front of clients or colleagues – instead, show how easy and appealing it is to eat vegan,” says David Benzaquen, Founder and CEO of PlantBased Solutions. Theresa Czajkowski, Sr. Loan Processor at Merck, suggests with some catered meetings it’s better to eat beforehand or even bring your own snacks. She acknowledges the positive trend: “I have not yet seen tofu in the buffet but the vegan options at company functions are getting better as executives and employees become more health-oriented.”