Handling Business Lunches as the Only Vegetarian

work - dietary restrictionsWhat if you’re at a lunch meeting or other work event and there’s nothing you can eat as a vegetarian? What should you do, and how can you take steps to ensure you don’t find yourself in the same awkward situation again? In general, how should anyone with dietary restrictions handle a business lunch? Reader M wonders…

I went to a meeting today with a catered lunch. The options were turkey or chicken sandwiches. I am a vegetarian. This put me in the awkward position of not eating when the other four people in the room (all males of varying ages) were eating lunch. My question is: How should one deal with dietary restrictions at work or at events with work colleagues? Should I have contacted the assistant in charge of the lunch? My dietary restriction is voluntary, but there are many people out there who will literally become ill if they don’t follow certain dietary guidelines. I can usually find something, but there are the occasional times when I cannot. I also hate being an inconvenience. When I was interviewing for jobs, I actually ate dishes with meat a couple times to avoid an awkward situation or risking coming across as a picky eater.

Yikes — I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been put in such a tough situation. We sort of discussed this when we talked about how to stick to your gluten-free diet at a business lunch or how to diet while working a corporate gig, but that was a while ago. What is the best way for anyone with a dietary restriction to handle a business lunch? I can’t wait to hear what the readers have to say.

I have a few ideas for how to deal with this:

  • Abstain from eating. As you’ve noted, this isn’t the best approach because it makes people feel like you’re being standoffish or fussy — but it is always an option. (Or, only eat the salad or the fruit, or something like that.) Bring snacks for yourself such as nuts or a bar if you’re in for a long meeting.
  • Talk to the secretary doing the ordering. “Thank you so much for ordering lunch! Not a big deal, but may I request a vegetarian option next time? I’d really appreciate it!” If you can, get a hold of the menu so you can be specific in your suggestion.
  • Offer to do the ordering yourself. This is definitely not the best, and normally I would advise women to stay miles away from office “housework” like this — but it is an option.

Readers, how do you handle a dietary restriction at an office function like this? Particularly for those of you following a voluntary diet: how do you walk the line between being true to yourself and your diet, without seeming fussy?

Psst: We’ve also talked about what to avoid at a business lunch, as well as general business lunch etiquette.  

Further reading:

Pictured at top: What Do Humanitarians Eat?, originally uploaded to Flickr by LexnGer. Social media picture credit: Salad, originally uploaded to Flickr by Natalie Maynor.


How to handle business lunches as the only vegetarian: it's never fun to be the one nibbling on salad at the steakhouse. What are the best dishes to order, the safest alterations to request -- and what the heck do you do when it's a CLE or other seminar or conference and it's nothing but meat sandwiches?


  1. In my office culture, absolutely you ask whoever is ordering to make sure there’s a vegetarian option for you, and you don’t make that request with any particular apology. It’s standard and completely reasonable.

    • Likewise, as a meeting organizer, you also ask if there are any dietary considerations before placing the catering order.

    • Yes, please don’t minimize your perfectly reasonable request by saying it’s not a big deal or by apologizing. Just ask!

    • We solve this probelem by catering All of our internal lunches, and we usueally take our client’s out to the Lambs club which ha exellent food. We have a couple of VEGAN cleint’s and they have a variety of BEAN dishes and HUMMUS that are suitable for VEGANS. They rave about the quality of our food. The rule is: Always get FRESH food for eeepole to eat and they will NOT badmouthe you for haveing cheep food. It is NOT worth it to save a few dollars by getting chyeep food. There is a place on Madison that we once used, but the food was RANCID. So we threw it out and invited the CLEINT to go out to the Wolf and Lamb Steakkhouse. I liked it but I also like the Lamb’s Club. Yay!!!!

    • Seconding this- I am a veg & work with mostly older men that will definitely not think of ordering a vegetarian option. I always send a (nice ) email to the assistant in charge of organizing to please order me a vegetarian option a few days in advance and they have always been willing to accommodate. If there isn’t a vegetarian option, we have a cafe at our facility & I will order a sandwich there & expense it. If I can’t do either of those things (sometimes things are busy & I forget to contact the assistant), I just pick at something so I don’t look weird during the meeting, and then I get lunch later (& keep snacks at my desk).
      This happens at weddings and all sorts of other functions too– I think as the person with the weird food thing, it’s kind of my responsibility to be on top of it. Also, if for some reason, accommodations can’t be made, I try to be flexible about that & take care of myself, which I see as part of being an adult.

      • I do exactly this. I will make a reasonable request when appropriate and available, otherwise, I travel with food at all times because I am a veg who doesn’t eat a variety of other things that are normal for vegetarians, so I take it upon myself to make sure I am fed. That’s my responsibility at the end of the day. I never expect meeting organizers or anyone else for that matter, to go out of their way/outside of normal business practices to accommodate my voluntary eating preferences.

    • In my (almost two decades of no-meat, no-fish eating) experience, “Would it be possible for me to get a vegetarian meal?” works 100% of the time.

      Just ask the person in charge of ordering, or, if your only contact is the peer/colleague setting up the lunch, him or her. No need to much overthink it.

    • If it makes you feel better, I know from my own experience as lunch-procurer that knowing about people’s dietary issues in advance makes me feel better. I hate it when someone can’t eat what we’ve ordered, and while I usually try to ask in advance, sometimes there’s an unexpected attendee, etc.

      Around here, it’s pretty typical to have a vegetarian option available, and I think most organizations do this most of the time now. We usually only provide gluten-free and allergy-related options when specifically requested/when in response to a request for preferences.

    • I would just add, be proactive. If you have a dietary restriction and know you are going to a meeting where food will be served, don’t show up hoping you’ll find something for you and then ask about next time. Find out who is ordering and just let them know of your restriction/preference as soon as you know food will be there.

  2. I think something like vegetarian is so standard, and so easy to accommodate that you shouldn’t think twice about requesting a vegetarian option from whomever is handling ordering. Unless they’re ordering from a butcher shop, I can’t imagine they couldn’t just as easily order you a veg option from the same place. Likewise if it’s a religious or health restriction, you should absolutely ask, even though Kosher or gluten-free might not be as easy to accommodate. The only time I think you should think twice about asking them to order you something you can eat is if it’s a complicated diet like Paleo that might require changing which restaurant they order from, AND it’s not for religious reasons or doctor’s orders.

    • anonymous :

      +1 Asking for veg is easy compared to asking for gluten free or Kosher. Only explanation needed would be whether you are vegan or ovo and/or lacto veg. No explanations, no apologies.

  3. I think that a business meal is about business first, then food (and other meals are fellowship first, then food). So rule 1: if you think you might go hungry, carry a snack or snack beforehand. You know if you’re very out of the mainstream or not and if the odds are in your favor or very much not in your favor.

    Also: “vegetarian,” to many of my friends means “no beef” and not “no meat”. Some people who eat meat will not eat pork. Sometimes, it means that you take the meat off of the sandwich and just have the cheese and other fixings and the bread.

    I think you need to spell things out more if you are allergic or prohibited from eating things by your religion (the “cannot haves”) because a lot of requests these days seem to be in the “want to have” department. I would not bat an eye at someone who keeps kosher just bringing a lunch to a lunch meeting at work (or asking the host beforehand if the venue will be at a restaurant). But someone wants free-range chicken with an organic wrap at a catered in lunch on a budget in a conference room should reconsider voicing that.

    Finally, attitude goes a long way. Gracious and matter-of-fact (“I cannot eat shellfish” or “I cannot eat peanuts”) work a lot better. No one wants an epipen to have to appear at an event.

    • “Also: “vegetarian,” to many of my friends means “no beef” and not “no meat”.”
      That is ridiculous.

    • Anonymous :

      They are just people who found that that has worked as shorthand for: need something that is a vegetable (or at least a non-cow)

      • Anonymous :

        Well, they do actual vegetarians a disservice, and I hope they understand when normal people say “I am a vegetarian” they do not just mean “no beef.”

        • Anonymous :

          +1 to Anonymous at 1:15pm
          The word “vegetarian” does have a defined meaning. It is not “I don’t eat beef but will eat other meat” or “I don’t eat pork but will eat other meat”.

    • Anonymous :

      I have a friend who had her gall bladder removed, and it now makes her stomach upset to try to digest red meat (this is what she’s told me, so no idea if that’s medically true). I have been around her with many different people, and sometimes she tells them “I don’t eat red meat.” But other times she’ll order a steak or beef burger if she’s really craving it, it’s a fancy place and someone else is paying, etc. She eats chicken, pork, fish, etc. without discomfort (physically or mentally) but occasionally she will also claim to be vegetarian if it is a shared plates type meal and she just really wants one of the non-meat items (for ex., if everyone else wants the charcuterie platter but she is dying to have the cheese platter, she will pull the “vegetarian” card and ask the group to get cheese–this is in small groups where it doesn’t make sense to get 2 apps). I think people like her do actual vegetarians a disservice and contribute to the misunderstanding referenced above.

      • I think what is going on with the friends is that they were among the first non-red-meat-eaters in these parts. They used vegetarian as a catch-all and maybe to avoid going overly into how this person from Country A eats chicken but this person also from Country A does not eat chicken, etc. It worked out for them in that there was always something to eat. 40+ years later, I think they still use vegetarian but I know what they mean. We know that chicken is a wildcard, but vegetables are always OK for this crowd. In the intervening years, we went from Kosher / Halal / vegetarian as the 3 main issues to allergies (mainly peanuts) and other eating restrictions (conscience and dietary). Some of my Kosher and pork-avoiding friends eat vegetarian when traveling since usually overlaps with what they are permitted to eat (no mixing of meat and dairy, no pork).

      • Anonymous :

        Forgot to add, when she eats the steak or burger, it makes her queasy, but she considers it tolerable if it’s under the circumstances described. I guess that’s her prerogative to decide when something is worth vomiting for and when it’s not, but the inconsistency of “No we can’t go there, I don’t eat red meat” some days and other days “Let’s go there, I’m dying for a burger” is odd.

      • lost academic :

        This is for the most part true. The gall bladder produces bile. Without that, you can’t very efficiently break down and digest fats. So you CAN eat meat but it really needs to be low fat, or you can only eat a little of it, or you are bound for some serious discomfort. Now sometimes, that’s just worth it, depending on your mood and how good you are/want to be at managing that part of your life.

  4. Ugh. I am one of two vegans (we have 2 vegetarians too) at my office and this is a constant problem.

    Just yesterday, we went out to a restaurant and I asked for vegetable udon. My dish came out 5 minutes after everyone else and had chicken–it was chicken udon! I picked out the chicken and ate the soup just to avoid causing a problem or delay. The waitress came out 15 minutes later to clear dishes and them “apologized” for the chicken. Should I have flagged down the waitress as soon as I realized?

    For non-vegetarians, if there is a veg option, please do not eat it until all the vegetarians have finished eating! We have a non-veg associate who will half fill his plate with the veg option and then get some of the meat option. This means that late-arriving vegs don’t get to eat. I want to confront him, should I?

    • Wildkitten :

      Can a neutral third party make an announcement to everyone? Or can you just set the food aside for you two – what if you need seconds? As a former vegetarian I always notice this, but I don’t think it occurs to most people.

      • The office staff are awesome when it comes to separating the veg option from the rest of the food. This occurred at a once-a-month meal that is the pet project of one of the partners. He is not well-versed in these things and doesn’t think to label or separate the veg option from the other food so it’s more than just the one associate who is dipping into the veg option.

        For now, me and the two vegetarians try to be the first ones in the room to claim our food. It seems to be the easiest way.

        • It sounds like the staff needs to order more veg food. I eat meat, but I also eat a crapton of vegetables, so I always get a bunch of salad/vegetables/etc to go with my meat main course. But we also order enough food for a small army and there are always leftovers, so I’m not taking anyone’s meal.

        • I agree with Anon. I’m not a vegetarian, but eat mostly vegetarian food (and do request veggie food most of the time). In a general meeting though, where no one has specified preferences ahead of time and I don’t know exactly the ratio of veggies:meat eaters, I could totally see myself going, “Oh, padi isn’t here, she must have a conflict. More veggie wraps for me!” The nicest solution is more veggie options for everyone.

    • If this is a recurring issue in your office, I actually think the solution is to tell the person in charge of catering that the vegetarian options are more popular than they think and they should order more of them. No reason not to adjust the catering order to suit people’s actual preferences when they’re known.

    • I’d like an answer to this too. I’m never late- just sometimes not at the front of the line- and that frequently means no (or very little) veg food for me because a non veg person ate most of it.

    • flexitarian :

      I am not officially a vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat or poultry. If the meals were ordered to individual preferences (as in here’s the menu, each person picks what he or she wants) or if people were asked to identify themselves as vegetarians ahead of time, then vegetarians of course get to eat the special meals that they ordered. In this case, I will just request the vegetarian option. However, in this day and age, when meals are being ordered for a group without asking for preferences, it is customary to order a certain amount of vegetarian food as part of the mix, on the assumption that there are some vegetarians in the group plus others who prefer vegetarian food or that particular vegetarian dish. I don’t think I should have to go through the line last so the official vegetarians can have first crack at the pan of spinach lasagna, or take the nasty beef lasagna just because I happen to eat humanely raised preservative-free organic bacon once in a blue moon.

      • +1 – I’m not going to stop eating the vegetarian pizza at office lunches or eat last due to someone else’s personal preferences.

      • I’m vegetarian and wouldn’t mine a “flexitarian” eating through the veg food. It’s people who pile their plate high with meat stuff and clearly want it but then they also want a giant pile of veg food too. And I have to run to the front of the line to get anything at all. Yes, it’s communal and therefore everyone has a right to it, but it’s still insensitive if you’re happy to eat the meat AND you take all the veg food, and this happens all the time.

        • Anonymous :

          The problem isn’t the hungry people eating meat and other things. It is that no one is ordering enough of the right food.

          I know some big guys who just eat a lot of food that includes (but is not 100%) meat. They have needs, too.

        • This isn’t a vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian issue. You work with inconsiderate people that load up their plate without regard to whether there’s enough for everyone to eat.

          For the record, non-vegetarians equally dislike when the food they prefer is gone before they have a chance to get any.

    • Mention to the person responsible for ordering that you’ve noticed the veggie options are very popular with meat eaters and vegetarians, and request that s/he increase veggie options in the future.

      • flexitarian :

        This. Vegetarian food is good for everyone and should be available to all.

      • Anonymous :

        I’d be more blunt “we ran out of vegetarian food today so I didn’t get a meal. Please order more next time. Thanks so much!”

        • Anonymous :

          Why is being blunt/sarcastic appropriate if you are letting the person know for the first time? Nice is at least as effective in my experience. It does mean you don’t get the added bonus of feeling superior, which apparently is important to you, so there’s that.

          • Anonymous :

            It’s not sarcastic at all. And it’s not rude. Saying please and thank you and making a request clearly is not rude. Mealymouthing about with “ohhhh this seems popular, maybe we should get more” is a good way to set someone else up to fail. Just ask nicely for what you actually need instead of making them guess.

          • anonymama :

            Blunt doesn’t mean sarcastic, it means straightforward. You can be both pleasant and straightforward. The obvious answer to this problem is to let whoever is in charge of the ordering know that they should order more of the vegetarian option, not to tell the non-vegetarians that they shouldn’t eat vegetables. And you’re allowed to be a little annoyed if you didn’t get lunch, you shouldn’t need to apologize for it.

          • Anonymous :

            I agree with straightforward, but the phrasing here is designed to make the person who did the ordering feel bad. Full stop.

    • Anonymous :

      Yes. You should have immediately flagged down the waitress, and quickly explained that you got the wrong dish. Obviously. Take up more room at the table.

      • Two Cents :

        This! Speak up, you’re (or your company is) paying for the meal — shouldn’t you be entitled to eat what you ordered? As a vegetarian, I cannot imagine eating a dish knowing that there was chicken in it.

      • Thanks! I only became vegan in September for health reasons-not because I have a strong opinion about eating animals. My doctor even suggested that I occasionally cheat just to have some wiggle room. So I do have a cheat meal once every two weeks. That said, the chicken meat looked really gross and I wasn’t able to force myself to eat it anyway. So I had chicken broth and some noodles-still I didn’t feel as good as I normally feel after a (vegan) meal.

        I am still trying to figure out all of these things so this post is very helpful to me. Next time, I will flag down the waitress and not feel guilty about making the whole group wait while I eat.

        • Reading through the rest of the comments, I am not actually vegan because I still wear leather.

          I am on a plant-based diet (that’s what my doctors call it, anyway). For ordering food, I think I will use the “vegan” label rather than having to explain that I’m on a plant-based diet which, for the purposes of food, is vegan.

          • Anonymous :

            No. You’re vegan.

          • I say I “eat vegan” because I need to for some health reasons, but I wear leather and wool for other philosophical reason

    • anon for this :

      Sorry, but I think asking people to not take food from a large bowl/plate that was set out for a lunch is not a great idea. And yes, I understand that it sucks for you – I’m not belittling your concerns. The problem is that you risk coming across as super-focused on the food and what you’re “getting” out of the deal, as opposed to the business aspect. (The same applies to all the people at my company who complain when our regular catered lunch is less good than usual). It’s an attitude more associated with new/inexperienced colleagues who haven’t fully adjusted to professional life yet.

      Can I suggest instead that you talk to the person who orders the food, and point out that the veg option seems to be very popular with meat eaters and vegetarians alike (since it’s one of the first dishes to go), so maybe they could shift the ordering amounts to account for that? This way you are advocating for everyone, instead of just yourself.

      • purplesneakers :

        As a vegetarian who often orders for mixed crowds, this is what I do – 2/3 veggie stuff for everyone, 1/3 meat. Everyone’s happy, and there’s less waste.

    • Anonymous :

      You don’t need to confront him, he’s not in the wrong. If food is communal, it is for everyone.

      What you could do is to point out that you just need to adjust quantities: more of the non-meat food so that everyone gets to have some (non-meat food is delicious and we can all eat more of our food lower on the food chain). Win-win.

      If people are running late, then see if you can get to-go boxes so that you can set aside some for Jeffrey and Lucy, who would eat only that.

    • “We have a non-veg associate who will half fill his plate with the veg option and then get some of the meat option.”

      Isn’t that the way that all non-vegetarians are advised to eat for optimal health–fill at least half the plate with vegetables and then have a small portion of meat?

      • Yes.

      • Anonymous :

        Yeah I’m not vegetarian but I don’t really like meat. I’d probably go for the vegetarian option given a choice.

        • lost academic :

          When planning our wedding meal, we took this into account, in part because we’re sensitive to our friend’s restrictions (ended up being few but still) and because we love food. We choose what we knew to be a very attractive vegetarian option for the dinner and made sure there was twice as much as the caterer would have included – and it was the right call. (Luckily from a planning perspective we didn’t have any vegans and paleo hadn’t taken off yet.)

    • As the resident vegetarian, I always make sure I am five minutes early to any work meeting so i get plenty of the veg option. I know if I’m on time or late, it’s on me, and I risk not getting the veggie option.

      I also fill my work bag in the morning with trail mix, etc.

      For out-of-office meetings, I email ahead to the assistant and ask for a veg option.

  5. I work with a lot of people who keep kosher (in NYC). They let assistants or meeting planners know their dietary restrictions and special meals are ordered whenever possible. You could do the same as a vegetarian and no one would bat an eye. The thing to do is be responsible for your own dietary needs by being proactive and don’t expect anyone to remember from one event to the next – make the request every time.

  6. I am a vegetarian that does not eat fowl (fowl is foul) or any form of meat or meat by-product – but I do eat fish, eggs and cheese. So that is what I request prior to the meal if it is brought in, plus a request that mine be in a separate container as I won’t eat a veg sandwich that is placed in a pile with meat sandwiches – that scrap of roast beef that falls on my food in my mind is a piece of dead cow, and I won’t go there. I only once had anyone be anything less that gracious about it in the 40 plus years I have been a veg, but that one incident was pretty amazing – my old boss had a group meeting, and he refused to ask his secretary to have the cafeteria order a veg sandwich. Something else must have been going on with that one other than the alleged inconvenience. Anyway, as a back up, I always travel with what I call ’emergency food’ – a bar or nuts, just for this kind of occasion. And at a restaurant, they will always offer a veg option even if it is off the menu. It may be boring – usually plain steamed vegetables – but it will be available.

    • ugh.

    • so you’re not actually a vegetarian?

    • It sounds as if she is a lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian. That is very common.

      • Anonymous :

        Nope, it’s just pescatarian. She’s not a vegetarian.

        • Anonymous :

          Yep! Thanks, I couldn’t think of the word, but this is it. Pescatarian.
          Vegetarians don’t eat fish or other seafood.

    • Please do not call yourself a vegetarian. You are not. This is exactly why people are genuinely confused nowadays when they hear the term “vegetarian” — if you eat a dead animal, whether that’s fish or cow or lamb or chicken, you are not a vegetarian.

      • Seriously. The idea that fish are not animals is insane.

        • Anonymous :

          What about mushrooms? A fungus always seems closer to an animal than a mere plant.

        • lost academic :

          A lot of this seems to come from Catholic/Catholic school meatless days, where fish was served instead. I think it confused a large number of people who grew up that way. My mother went to Catholic schools and commented on how absurd it seemed to her.

      • Anonymous :

        +1 I have an acquaintance who calls herself “vegan” but actually eats fish. No idea why she insists on doing this but it’s misleading.

    • Like others side, please do not use call yourself vegetarian. Indeed it causes the spread of misinformation and people get totally confused.
      It’s not about labels or funny names, but it’s about educating people about the different habits others around them have.

      Vegetarian = does not eat ANY meat (fish is meat, lobster is meat, clams are meat and so on, they are all animals), may consume animal by products or not. (Here comes the lacto vegetarian for those who eat dairy and ovo lacto for those who eat dairy and eggs.)

      Pescatarian = eats fish and seafood, does not eat any other type of meat and may or not consume animal by products.

      Vegan = does not eat any type of meat neither consumes any animal by products. Also conscious about not wearing or buying clothes made by animals’ fur, real leather, silk and other materials derived from an animal source. Same principle applies in cosmetics, shoes, medicine and so on. Vegan goes beyond the diet and it’s a lifestyle.

      I hope there is some clarification, if I missed something, someone please fill in.

      • *Like others said
        * do not call yourself vegetarian

        Sorry about the typos, silly fast typing…

    • You have no idea how many people have plopped fish on my plate because of people like you. “But my vegetarian friend eats fish!”

      My life would be easier if I called myself vegan, because I would be guaranteed to not get fish on my plate, but I don’t do that because actual vegans don’t need to hear about “this vegan lady who eats cheese.”

  7. purplesneakers :

    I’m a vegetarian who recently moved to the States from a country where vegetarianism is the default. I’ve had a couple of networking things with catered food, and I’ve always made sure to ask on my RSVP if there’s a vegetarian option (I am slightly more restricted than OP in that some types of meat and dairy make me violently ill) and people have been super accomodating. Just in case, though, I always have an energy bar and some nuts in my bag – a salad is not a replacement for an actual meal, people, even if it is vegetarian!

    • purplesneakers :

      Grr, missing the edit function right now- I meant to say I’m MOSTLY vegetarian, for health reasons.

  8. Anonymous :

    I seriously cannot believe that someone who claims to be a vegetarian would eat meat in an interview lunch situation just so she wouldn’t have to explain things. I’ve been in this situation too – as a vegan at a steak house. I ate a boring iceberg lettuce salad and a side of black beans after asking what they had been cooked in. It was a brief topic of conversation and we moved on. And I got a job offer.

    People need to grow up about these things.

    • Anonymous :

      I honestly think not standing up for yourself, like the person who just ate around the chicken in her udon, is a woman’s move that makes you look powerless. It’s a simple request. Make it politely, make it matter of factly, but make it!

      • purplesneakers :

        This, exactly. I don’t always like the knee-jerk response of, ‘what would a man do in this situation?’ but it feels apropos here.

        • lost academic :

          My brother. He has an eating disorder, and is also deeply self-effacing. I’ve seen him not eat for more than a day rather than ask for anything. And yes, it 100% screws him in the workplace.

        • Why does it feel apropos to insult an entire gender?

      • Anonymous :

        Exactly. Be polite and gracious, but stand up for yourself!

      • I agree. I eat chicken (and all other meat), and if I’d ordered the beef/shrimp/vegetable/fleece tights Udon and gotten the chicken udon, I’d have sent it back. Because it wasn’t what I ordered.

        • Exactly. That one isn’t about being a vegetarian, it’s about getting what you ordered. There are plenty of polite ways to return food (I say that as a former server).

        • lol @ fleece tights udon

      • I’m hoping that I’ve misread you and that you’re not using the phrase “a woman’s move” to mean wimping out and not speaking up to advocate for yourself. Because that would be a pretty sexist thing to say.

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t think it’s crazy at all. I don’t eat pork (not for religious reasons, but it’s a long-term thing and I haven’t eaten it since I was 18). When I was interviewing in law school, I ordered a salad that had no indication on the menu that it had pork, and then it came out with bacon bits all over it. I picked off what I could very discretely and ate the rest. There are some settings where it’s easier to just eat what you’re served if you’re able. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an interviewee explaining the dietary restriction to the waitress and getting a new meal, but I also don’t think it’s that weird for a 23 year old on one of their first interviews ever to just eat what is put in front of them.

      • Anonymous :

        If you don’t eat meat for ethical reasons, then yes, it it weird because your convictions are basically BS. If you just don’t “like” something – that’s different. Calling yourself a vegetarian means you don’t eat meat. Period.

        • Anonymous :

          I like pork! I don’t eat it for ethical reasons, just like a vegetarian, except not all meat.

        • Not really. Once it’s in bacon bits on her salad, the pig is dead whether she eats it or not. So if you are vegetarian for ethical reasons, there’s not much difference. My ethical commitment means that I try not to have any animal die on my behalf – it’s not a purity/taboo thing about flesh crossing my lips.

          • Veggie Anon :

            Ironically, if it was “Bacon Bits” and not actual chopped up pieces of bacon, it was likely made of soy and was thus, vegetarian.

        • Meg Murry :

          Ok, so ethical/hypothetical question here then. Not trying to pick on someone one way or another, but this is something that I’ve talked about with people since I was a kid.

          Your meal arrives, and it has meat on it (that you didn’t order). Given that it is at a restaurant, sending back the meal almost definitely means it goes in the garbage, while they make you a second order of a meatless meal. This is the kind of meal where you could technically pick the meat off/out (pick pepperoni off pizza, or grilled chicken out of salad, etc – not something necessarily made with chicken broth).

          So at that point, an animal died for your meal. In your mind, which is the least bad thing to do:
          -Have them take it back to the kitchen and make you another meal
          -Pick off/eat around the meat and discard it
          -Eat it anyway, because you would rather the animal die for food than to be garbage

          This was a hot topic in middle school at lunchtime when there was a sudden burst in people deciding to be vegetarian, or on Fridays during Lent when Catholics weren’t eating meat, and our schools only served pepperoni pizza for lunch (no cheese, or other veggie/non meat option).

          Opinions were generally split as to whether it was worse to throw away the meat or worse to eat the meat. I think the most popular option was “give it to someone who eats meat” but that probably wouldn’t work outside of close friends that eat off each other’s plates at meals. Of course, whether eating meat would make a person physically feel sick was factored into the decision/debate as well.

          Not trying to stir the pot, but I’m just curious where people would fall on that hypothetical line.

          • This certainly feels like a middle school debate. The animal did not die for YOUR meal. The animal died (horribly after living a short life of torture) weeks or months before under the theory that SOMEONE somewhere would eat it. If you care about animals enough not to eat them, don’t eat them! It’s not that complicated. As for picking off meat from other things you can eat, that’s an individual thing. I personally would send the entire thing back because I don’t want meat grease on the rest of my food.

          • + 1

            I would also send it back for the same reasons and it would just gross me out. The meat, plus whatever else was touching, would still be thrown away anyway if I put it on the side of the plate. In addition, after the animal dies, the damage is done. There is nothing we can do to make it look nicer or better.

          • I would not eat it for the most part- eating meat totally grosses me out and I just can’t do it anymore.
            On occasion, when I’ve been drinking a bunch & out with friends, sometimes they will order something that has bacon sprinkled on top (why do places do this!?!)– if I’m drunk & starving, I’ll flick the bacon pieces off & eat the (usually french fries or whatever) underneath. This has happened exactly 3 times during my 10 yrs of being a veg & I still remember each of those times & feel awful about it.
            More often then not, if something is touching meat in a significant way, I’ll just move it around my plate to look like I’m eating, and just get something to eat later.

      • No reason to believe OP is 23. She just hates being “an inconvenience.” Which she needs to get over.

        • Anonymous :

          Exactly. I can understand perfectly well feeling pressured and overwhelmed and insecure as a 23 year old interviewee. My point is that you don’t need to! It’s fine!

          • Yup, I understand but just own it. Be who you are. The more fuss you make about it, the more people will comment or be funny about it. If you just act confident and natural, it will be fine. And if you feel like being forced to do something against what you believe just to get the job, then those people are not worth your time. I wouldn’t want to work for people like that anyway.

  9. Yeah, I was a long time vegetarian who has just been diagnosed with celiac disease. Really looking forward to lunch meetings with my male colleagues (not!). Because of my diagnosis, I’ve recently added fish (yuck!) back in so am now pescatarian.

    I always have something I can eat in my desk. (small cans of tuna, nuts, Larabars etc).

    Because of the celiac disease, I will likely just decline having anything order specifically for me (unless I know the caterer to be exceleent at avoiding cross-contamination), and not eat. I’ve done that in the past when there is no vegetarian option.

    • Anonymous :

      My child goes to school to children with severe peanut allergies. I think that more and more kids are going to be like this when they are at their first business lunch: armed with a snack and an epipen and with a keen awareness of what they can have (and a blase attitude and openness: I just can’t have X).

      [The moms have wanted no changes to the rest of what the class does — they know that the world is something that their children must learn to deal with safely and everyone has nevertheless tried to include little safe treats for the children at the various class events.]

    • If the business lunch is at a restaurant, call ahead during non-busy hours. They should be able to help you find something you can safely eat. Then, when you order, instead of having to ask a million questions (I’m gluten free for medical reasons too, so I know) you can say “I’m the one that called ahead about the gluten free meal. I’ll have the chicken and rice that Bob recommended on the phone.” You still have to identify yourself as gluten free but you don’t need to ask as many questions.

      Also, I’ve found that my gluten free meal (when done properly) makes all the food take way longer to come out because they use fresh stuff and clean the prep area or use gluten free only utensils. I’m considering calling in my order before we head over so they can already be working on it when my colleagues places their order. Haven’t tried that one yet though.

      Surprisingly, my colleagues have been very understanding. The ones I expected to be difficult, had immediate family with Celiac too, unbeknownst to me.

  10. I’ve been a vegetarian for my entire working life, and my strategy is usually to have a protein bar in case there’s nothing for me to eat so I can at least have something to keep me from getting hangry. Otherwise, it’s common enough that I’ve generally not had an issue. Also, people who eat any kind of animal flesh, please stop calling yourself vegetarians. It makes it really confusing when people brightly tell me that they have tuna for me…I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat. Not even fish meat.

  11. lucy stone :

    I have to do this on the regular. Our past HR person was a vegetarian so this was always accomodated, butour new one hates vegetables and doesn’t like to order them. I don’t eat pork and have an employee who doesn’t eat meat, so whenever I RSVP us for a function, I make sure to remind her to order food we can eat.

    Another lawyer in town who belongs to a networking group with me is lactose intolerant. Our meals are always buffet and rarely accommodate her, so she simply pulls the server to the side and explains her restriction, and they bring her an appropriate plate.

  12. lost academic :

    To me this is a little silly – if you have a dietary restriction of ANY kind and you KNOW ahead of time lunch is being ordered the course of action is clear – find out who is doing the ordering and let them know. That’s what they expect, and surely they are hoping to remember to ask anyone they don’t know about such restrictions that sadly that can fall through the cracks.

    The suggestions make more sense if you had no idea lunch would be ordered, or some other sort of serious time constraint since being prepared makes sense. Just not eating is simply unreasonable and I think sends the wrong message. One can be polite and get one’s needs addressed at the same time.

  13. Anonymous :

    Honestly, I’ve never had a problem in 10 years of working as a vegetarian. If you’re at a restaurant, that’s easy. If you’re at a meeting with catered lunch, ask the organizer (sometimes an admin, sometimes not) about the vegetarian options at least a day before the meeting. One time someone forgot, I got something at our cafeteria and expensed it and ate with everyone else. The only other time we were at a remote site with no cafeteria and no nearby lunch options, so I ate some snacks I had in my bag and people noticed and apologized. It’s truly not a big deal to let everyone know and it makes your more memorable in the end.

    I would say avoid using the “not a big deal” qualifier in the post. Generally always avoid that. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not “not a bid deal” to not eat. Also you don’t need to take over ordering, that’s crazy.

  14. Also in Academia :

    Why does anyone have to explain why they have certain needs anyway? Perhaps this is because I work in academia, but there are always multiple vegetarians in my various workgroups, and no one ever seems to need to know why. They just ask for what they need and it is provided. When planning larger events, one vegetarian colleague in particular has been great about educating the rest of us about what constitutes a filling vegetarian option, which has resulted in most of us taking it into account regardless of anyone asks, which has been a nice by-product of people feeling free to speak up about what they need. I can’t imagine feeling entitled to know why someone ate this but not that.

    • Also in Academia :

      Holy run-on sentence. I miss the edit feature right about now!

  15. Plant powered :

    If you want a real challenge–try being on plant-based diet and dining with clients in the meat processing industry. So far, I’ve taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, and the clients have never said a word, although it was obvious that I did not order any animal products at the meal. And I always carry snacks and energy bars with me in case there is little or nothing for me to eat at a business or social meal.

  16. Catering Sales Manager :

    If you can’t find out who’s ordering the catering, there’s no problem with calling the venue directly. I get plenty of calls to the effect of, “Hi, I’m Shelley from Group X. We’re having a meeting there on Monday and I want to make sure I get a gluten-free meal in case the organizer didn’t order one for me. Thanks!”

    Caterers can perform magic with 24 hours’ notice.

    Naturally if it’s a large conference it’s MUCH easier to get all of this from the organizer, but it keeps you from having to ‘out’ yourself to someone you wouldn’t normally discuss food with. I place this in the same category as calling to find out more dress code details.

  17. I am a lifelong vegetarian – that means, for me, no meat, no fish, no egg. In large catered events such as conferences, I always try to ask the catering staff what the dishes are and whether they are made in chicken/beef stock etc. Unless I am sure, I don’t eat it. I always go prepared with snacks in my bag. I don’t have desserts unless I know for sure that they do not have eggs. It is restrictive, but it is my choice.

    My problem is with my work place. I spent almost 8 years in Midwest, doing residency and fellowship and then working at the same University. Our department secretary was fabulous. I just had to explain to her the first time, but every single meeting we had since then, starting with our weekly clinical meetings as residents and up to faculty meetings when I became faculty, she will make sure that I had vegetarian food for me. And my colleagues made sure that there was enough food for me even when I was running late. Then I move to California and it is supposed to be easier here, every one supposedly eating healthy and vegan and what not. After the first luncheon meeting I emailed the person in charge of ordering food but was told that I am free to bring my own food. Their annual Employee appreciation day features barbecue and food trucks with no vegetarian option at all. The best was the annual Christmas Luncheon provided by the employer to all the employees. I asked ahead of the time if there will be any vegetarian options and that I am a strict vegetarian. I was very generously told that I can bring my own food and join the Xmas luncheon! BTW, this luncheon is provided by the employer/company without any employee contribution, meaning it is not something that we organize. I decided if I am eating my food, I can do it much more leisurely in my office and stopped attending such social events. It seems childish to take it further up the ladder. And in my division, if there is any lunch bought, since I will be the one paying for it, I make sure that there is vegetarian option for me and everyone if they want.

  18. Wrote a section in my book about this as has been story of my life for decades! In short, plan ahead, bring contingency snacks, minimize conversation about it. On a very positive front, a few airlines are offering veg as a standard menu item now, so the days of having to request special meal are less, and reroutes are less stressful. Thanks, British Airways and Swiss, on transatlantic flights last month! Swiss even had an asterick noting that the meal was designed by a chef at a restaurant in Zurich that is oldest vegetarian cafe in world- how thoughtful. I had a last-minute reroute and thought I may be hungry for 10 hours since no chance to put in a request but instead was treated to a lovely meal.

  19. Wonderwmn212 :

    I had this issue come up when I was part of a business lunch/pitch to a CEO who recommended a sushi restaurant. I was a young (vegetarian) associate joining two partners from our firm and we were dining with the CEO, CFO and COO of the prospective corporate client. I didn’t give much thought to the dining choice, until the CEO offered to order “family style” for the entire table. Despite my protestations to the contrary, the CEO ended up making the lunch 50/50 vegetarian. It was very embarrassing and put the focus on me about 10 minutes into our initial introduction. (It was made even worse by the fact that many of the vegetables that he ordered were fibrous and did not play well with my gastric band – I was definitely not disclosing that to the table!)

    In retrospect, I should have given one of the partners a heads-up that this would be an “issue,” but I didn’t exactly have standing to suggest a different restaurant.

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