By Published On: 8 March 20101146 words5.7 min read

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The World Needs More “Non-Threatening” Vegan Restaurants

By Alecia Lott, Guest Contributor

Are you familiar with the idea of the “non-threatening black person,” a phrase popularized on Chappelle’s Show, I believe?

Well, sigh…I wish there were more non-threatening vegan restaurants.

Reading this archived post about Chef Tal Ronnen on another website inspired me to rant.

…Vegan food has to appeal to the general population. This may sound obvious, but restaurants get it wrong all the time, like fake meat that doesn’t appeal to meat-eaters, or “the vegan plate” that’s all sides and no protein. According to Tal, a good vegan meal should feel substantial and satisfying to whomever is eating it. (One of his secrets? Cook wit

[sic] fat.) And if more chefs learn how and plan more menus with meatless meals, then maybe people will finally stop thinking of meat as something you “need.”

…And I agree 100%.  But I believe it’s not just the food in vegan restaurants that has to appeal to the general populace, it’s also the atmosphere and attitude.

I understand that a veg restaurant’s goal is not necessarily to convince everyone to stop eating meat.  But you gotta admit, the more vegans (or people who are open to animal-free meals, at least) there are in the world, the easier it will be for said restaurants to stay afloat.

So please, let’s help the omnivores out a little, can’t we?

When I go to an affordable casual restaurant that primarily serves meat–Chili’s, for example–I am immediately put at ease.  There is ample parking.  Everything is clean and well-organized, and while I won’t use the word “tasteful” to describe its decor, I can say that a great deal of thought went into making it reassuring and cozy at least.

There is a clean-cut, uniform-wearing hostess who seats me promptly and hands me a menu.  The server arrives mere moments later, answers any questions I may have, and takes my order.  The entire staff is trained to kiss a little ass, and I appreciate that.

My food is brought in a timely manner, piping hot, and with the appropriate utensils.  While it’s not haute cuisine, the food is enjoyable (if you’re not a vegan, that is).

After I eat, they promptly bring me the check, I pay it, and I leave, waving and smiling back at the hostess who waved and smiled at me.

Yes, it’s a little boring, but you’re there to have someone cook and serve food for you, and have a nice place to hang out with your friends.  That’s it.

When I go to an affordable casual restaurant that primarily serves vegetarian food, on the other hand, often there is far too much work involved.  There’s usually never a place to park.  My eyeballs are assaulted by brightly painted walls filled with murals that don’t seem to be food-related in any way, and bumper-stickers on the windows, on the counters, on the ceiling… it’s “flair” gone haywire.

And that’s before I look at the menu.   The menu itself is long, complicated, and invariably written on a chalkboard in cutesy handwriting and in several contrasting colors, and I never seem to have enough time to figure out what I want before it’s my turn to step up to the counter and order.  And no, there’s no hostess to seat me, and I’m lucky if I find an acceptable seat on my own.

The most ass-kissing I can hope for is a half-smile.  The server–who is not clean-cut, and could possibly use a good hosedown–will bring my food when she’s good and damn ready and I should have remembered to grab my own utensils and condiments because it’s clearly not her job to bring them.  (But there’s always a tip jar on the counter…?)

The food is usually between good and so-so, and rarely the correct temperature.

There’s also another common type of veg restaurant that I like to call the “white box.”  Sometimes they try to show–subliminally?–how fresh, organic, and “clean” their menu is by keeping their decor very minimalist.  White walls, hard furniture, one painting on the wall.  Sometimes they don’t give two shits about what the place looks like and just didn’t bother to decorate.  Usually the food is better at these places, but with all the painful plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting, you really don’t want to hang out there.

The most off-putting aspect of some of these places is how they make guests (or maybe just me) feel. Not young enough?  Not bohemian enough?  Not knowledgeable enough about their menu?

Aside from their meaty menus, places like Chili’s warmly welcome everyone and try to put their guests at ease. (That’s the goal, at least.)  At too many veg restaurants I’ve been to, my happiness or feelings of belonging or of having a “third place” are none of their concern–it’s more about being cool or indifferent, to the point of leaving guests out in the cold.

When I walk into these places, I sometimes want to turn on my heel and run far, far away.  It’s too much!  Where is the menu?  Did I order correctly? Why is my food cold?  There’s nowhere to sit!

If I feel so threatened after going to places like this for three years, how the hell is an omnivore who’s on the fence about vegetarianism going to feel?

We vegans/vegetarians are all too willing to put up with bad treatment and poor food quality because we’re just soooo happy to have a restaurant that serves tofu scramble.  But omnivores, when they go out, don’t have to put up with such nonsense–they have far too many choices, and will go where they feel the most comfortable.

No, not all veg restaurants are like this.  And there are plenty of meat-slingin’ establishments that think they’re too good to treat their customers well.

But I have been burned far too many times.  There’s a Mexican restaurant close to where I live, that I have not yet visited.  The idea of seeing a Mexican menu with the familiar “V” next to many of its items certainly revved my appetite, but once I read reviews on Google condemning the place’s lousy service and describing the “skater punk” vibe, I was turned off.  Nothing against skater punks (or hippies, or yuppies) but I’m not one.  I’m just an average chick who likes good (vegan) food, good service, and a friendly atmosphere.

I just hope that vegetarian restaurants of the world will learn to be a little more welcoming, more accommodating, less irreverent…like the non-threatening, unassuming Chili’s-es of the world.

That’s all I’m sayin’.

Photo: kris krüg

By Published On: 8 March 20101146 words5.7 min read

Share This Story!

The World Needs More “Non-Threatening” Vegan Restaurants

By Alecia Lott, Guest Contributor

Are you familiar with the idea of the “non-threatening black person,” a phrase popularized on Chappelle’s Show, I believe?

Well, sigh…I wish there were more non-threatening vegan restaurants.

Reading this archived post about Chef Tal Ronnen on another website inspired me to rant.

…Vegan food has to appeal to the general population. This may sound obvious, but restaurants get it wrong all the time, like fake meat that doesn’t appeal to meat-eaters, or “the vegan plate” that’s all sides and no protein. According to Tal, a good vegan meal should feel substantial and satisfying to whomever is eating it. (One of his secrets? Cook wit

[sic] fat.) And if more chefs learn how and plan more menus with meatless meals, then maybe people will finally stop thinking of meat as something you “need.”

…And I agree 100%.  But I believe it’s not just the food in vegan restaurants that has to appeal to the general populace, it’s also the atmosphere and attitude.

I understand that a veg restaurant’s goal is not necessarily to convince everyone to stop eating meat.  But you gotta admit, the more vegans (or people who are open to animal-free meals, at least) there are in the world, the easier it will be for said restaurants to stay afloat.

So please, let’s help the omnivores out a little, can’t we?

When I go to an affordable casual restaurant that primarily serves meat–Chili’s, for example–I am immediately put at ease.  There is ample parking.  Everything is clean and well-organized, and while I won’t use the word “tasteful” to describe its decor, I can say that a great deal of thought went into making it reassuring and cozy at least.

There is a clean-cut, uniform-wearing hostess who seats me promptly and hands me a menu.  The server arrives mere moments later, answers any questions I may have, and takes my order.  The entire staff is trained to kiss a little ass, and I appreciate that.

My food is brought in a timely manner, piping hot, and with the appropriate utensils.  While it’s not haute cuisine, the food is enjoyable (if you’re not a vegan, that is).

After I eat, they promptly bring me the check, I pay it, and I leave, waving and smiling back at the hostess who waved and smiled at me.

Yes, it’s a little boring, but you’re there to have someone cook and serve food for you, and have a nice place to hang out with your friends.  That’s it.

When I go to an affordable casual restaurant that primarily serves vegetarian food, on the other hand, often there is far too much work involved.  There’s usually never a place to park.  My eyeballs are assaulted by brightly painted walls filled with murals that don’t seem to be food-related in any way, and bumper-stickers on the windows, on the counters, on the ceiling… it’s “flair” gone haywire.

And that’s before I look at the menu.   The menu itself is long, complicated, and invariably written on a chalkboard in cutesy handwriting and in several contrasting colors, and I never seem to have enough time to figure out what I want before it’s my turn to step up to the counter and order.  And no, there’s no hostess to seat me, and I’m lucky if I find an acceptable seat on my own.

The most ass-kissing I can hope for is a half-smile.  The server–who is not clean-cut, and could possibly use a good hosedown–will bring my food when she’s good and damn ready and I should have remembered to grab my own utensils and condiments because it’s clearly not her job to bring them.  (But there’s always a tip jar on the counter…?)

The food is usually between good and so-so, and rarely the correct temperature.

There’s also another common type of veg restaurant that I like to call the “white box.”  Sometimes they try to show–subliminally?–how fresh, organic, and “clean” their menu is by keeping their decor very minimalist.  White walls, hard furniture, one painting on the wall.  Sometimes they don’t give two shits about what the place looks like and just didn’t bother to decorate.  Usually the food is better at these places, but with all the painful plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting, you really don’t want to hang out there.

The most off-putting aspect of some of these places is how they make guests (or maybe just me) feel. Not young enough?  Not bohemian enough?  Not knowledgeable enough about their menu?

Aside from their meaty menus, places like Chili’s warmly welcome everyone and try to put their guests at ease. (That’s the goal, at least.)  At too many veg restaurants I’ve been to, my happiness or feelings of belonging or of having a “third place” are none of their concern–it’s more about being cool or indifferent, to the point of leaving guests out in the cold.

When I walk into these places, I sometimes want to turn on my heel and run far, far away.  It’s too much!  Where is the menu?  Did I order correctly? Why is my food cold?  There’s nowhere to sit!

If I feel so threatened after going to places like this for three years, how the hell is an omnivore who’s on the fence about vegetarianism going to feel?

We vegans/vegetarians are all too willing to put up with bad treatment and poor food quality because we’re just soooo happy to have a restaurant that serves tofu scramble.  But omnivores, when they go out, don’t have to put up with such nonsense–they have far too many choices, and will go where they feel the most comfortable.

No, not all veg restaurants are like this.  And there are plenty of meat-slingin’ establishments that think they’re too good to treat their customers well.

But I have been burned far too many times.  There’s a Mexican restaurant close to where I live, that I have not yet visited.  The idea of seeing a Mexican menu with the familiar “V” next to many of its items certainly revved my appetite, but once I read reviews on Google condemning the place’s lousy service and describing the “skater punk” vibe, I was turned off.  Nothing against skater punks (or hippies, or yuppies) but I’m not one.  I’m just an average chick who likes good (vegan) food, good service, and a friendly atmosphere.

I just hope that vegetarian restaurants of the world will learn to be a little more welcoming, more accommodating, less irreverent…like the non-threatening, unassuming Chili’s-es of the world.

That’s all I’m sayin’.

Photo: kris krüg

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