The most important rules and principles to planning a vegetarian-friendly menu. Follow vegetarian etiquette to prepare a menu that your guests will enjoy. Avoid embarrassment and be an ideal host.
What vegetarian etiquette is
Vegetarian etiquette is the set of rules to plan a menu that is appropriate for vegetarian guests. Such rules include:
- The allowed foods and ingredients.
- How to ask about dietary restrictions.
- How to deal with your guests’ diets.
If you are hosting, respect vegetarian etiquette to properly plan a menu that your guests will enjoy and to avoid any embarrassments.
If you are a guest, follow vegetarian etiquette to politely deal with your hosts and the other guests.
Vegetarian etiquette rules
1) Respect vegetarian dietary restrictions in your menu
In general, a vegetarian diet excludes meat. Some people exclude other foods too. Such as fish or seafood. While others may allow them.
Meat is not vegetarian
Any type of meat is not vegetarian. Regardless of the production method or any other factor.
Beef or veal. Pork. Chicken or poultry. Venison. They should all be excluded from a vegetarian menu.
Fish and seafood may be ok on a vegetarian menu
People may interpret the vegetarian diet in different ways.
Some opt for a more strict approach. Thus, they exclude any living animal from their diet. In such cases, fish or seafood are commonly excluded from a vegetarian diet.
Others opt for more flexible approaches. While they exclude meat, they may eat fish or seafood. Often as a source of protein. Again, many approaches exist. Some people eat both fish and seafood. While others exclude fish from their diet, but allow seafood.
Many vegetarians do not eat some seafood due to ethical concerns. Lobster, scampi, and crab are examples. Such animals are often cooked in ways considered harmful and inhumane. Thus, they are often avoided.
Dairy products and cheese are vegetarian
Milk, dairy products, and cheese are often allowed on a vegetarian menu.
In most interpretations, such products do not involve harm to any animal. Thus, they are allowed.
However, interpretations may differ. Some vegetarians may exclude some or all dairy products from their diet.
Eggs and honey may be allowed on a vegetarian menu
In most cases, vegetarians eat eggs or honey. Similar to dairy products, in most interpretations, eggs or honey do not involve harm to any animal.
However, interpretations may differ. Some vegetarians may exclude eggs. Others do not eat honey. Others exclude both from their diet. This is usually due to concerns about the unfair treatment of the animals.
Vegetables and fruit are always allowed
Most vegetarians eat all types of vegetables and fruit.
Some people may exclude some fruit or vegetables. Usually, due to sustainability concerns. Such as avocado or banana. However, these are personal preferences. Almost always not related to a vegetarian diet.
Grains are ok
In general, vegetarians can eat any type of grain. Pasta. Couscous. Quinoa. Amaranth.
The same applies to bakery products and bread. However, bread or bakery products are not vegetarian if they involve animal fat in their making. Or if they include meat as an ingredient. Thus, bread with ham cubes, or fried in animal fat, is not vegetarian.
The same rules apply to pizza. Pizza is vegetarian. Unless some of the toppings are excluded foods.
Condiments are almost always ok
Oil, vinegar, salt, and spices are vegetarian.
However, any condiment of animal origin may not be vegetarian. Animal fat is always excluded. Some people may exclude bottarga, fish oil such as anchovy sauce, or similar products too.
Sweets and desserts are almost always ok
In general, vegetarians can eat any type of sweets or dessert.
However, sweets or desserts are not vegetarian if they involve animal fat in their making. Fritters fried in animal fat are not vegetarian.
If a vegetarian does not eat eggs or honey, then all desserts made with them are excluded too.
Drinks and alcohol are vegetarian
A vegetarian menu allows most beverages. Soft drinks. Beer. Wine. Spirits.
Cocktails are generally ok. Unless they include some ingredients that vegetarians do not eat.
2) Etiquette for asking vegetarian guests about their diet
It is perfect etiquette to ask your guests about their dietary restrictions.
In written formal invitations, it is sufficient to ask guests to please inform the hosts about any dietary requirements.
In informal invitations, a simple “do you follow any diet or have any dietary restriction?” works. Another option is to ask if guests avoid any food.
It is against vegetarian etiquette to ask further questions. Such as why someone is vegetarian. Or why someone excludes or includes a certain food.
If you have a genuine curiosity, you may ask such questions. However, it is polite to justify your curiosity. In other words, state why you are curious about it. Be apologetic. Never judge the answers you get.
3) Vegetarian menu planning etiquette
Follow these key principles to deal with vegetarian guests’ dietary restrictions.
Serve each food on its dedicated plate
Do not serve multiple foods on the same plate. Instead, try to separate them. Assign a plate to each food or ingredient. Serve condiments and sauces separated from food.
This way you allow vegetarian guests to pick the foods they can eat. Or to avoid the ones they cannot eat.
Include safe options
Many foods are allowed in almost every diet. Such as vegetables and fruit. Plan some safe dishes that almost any guest will be able to eat. As an example, only a few people say no to baked potatoes or salad.
Avoid risky foods
Many foods are not allowed in many diets. Pork meat. Alcohol. Beef. Crustaceans.
If you are unsure about your guests’ diet, play safe. Avoid cooking these foods altogether. Or, at least, plan one or two dishes without them.
4) Vegetarian guest etiquette
Vegetarian guests must follow etiquette too. Otherwise, they risk disrespecting their host and the other guests.
Do not expect the host to guess your diet
If you do not eat some foods, clearly state it with your host.
It is bad etiquette to expect a change in the menu based on your needs. Instead, you may ask if there may be some vegetarian options. Be apologetic in your requests.
Be accommodating. Do not expect the host to accommodate your requests.
Politely refuse food that you do not eat
If the host serves food that you do not eat, simply avoid it. If the host or another guest explicitly offers such food to you, politely refuse it. It is enough to say “no, thank you”.
Provide additional detail only if someone asks you. It is good etiquette to be brief. Otherwise, do not annoy others with your dietary restrictions. You do not want to look like you chose a diet only to be interesting.
Do not impose your diet on the other guests
Never expect others to adjust to your diet. Do not expect your hosts to change their menu to accommodate your needs. Similarly, at a restaurant, do not expect the other guests to change their food order.
Vegetarian etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst vegetarian etiquette mistakes.
- 9/10. Not accommodating dietary restrictions.
- 8/10. Imposing your diet on others.
- 7/10. Sharing unsolicited details about your diet.
- 6/10. Asking personal dietary questions.
- Vegetarian Diet: An Overview through the Perspective of Quality of Life Domains: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- The seal of quality for vegan and vegetarian products: v-label.eu