By Published On: 23 April 2014698 words3.5 min read

As grateful as I am to live near a vegan chinese restaurant and a pancake house that has vegan options aplenty on the menu, I have to accept that I’m going to eat at less veg-friendly places now and then. It’s something we all have to do.

olive garden
On Easter I found myself at the local Olive Garden with my mother. I thought, “Pasta. It should be easy to find something on the menu.” Clicking over to the website, I saw that three options that looked safe were in fact, not. The vegetarian minestrone, the Pomodoro and Primavera sauces – all have dairy in them. I thought I’d confirm with the waiter when I got to the restaurant. The dairy in question is butter.

Fun fact: I asked my mother why they would ruin tomato sauce with butter. She tells me it’s a Sicilian thing. One more reason Italians and Sicilians don’t get along. (I am kidding, please don’t send hate mail.)

Fear not: all is not lost. You can order the garden salad with oil & vinegar on the side (the dressing isn’t vegan). Hopefully yours will not be as anemic as ours. Half a large bowl of iceberg lettuce, some tomatoes and onions, and one – ONE! – black olive at the bottom.

The breadsticks can be made vegan! Just ask for no butter on them. (I didn’t do this, because I’m sorry, but I’m not paying for my damned breadsticks.)

As for your main dish: order off menu. Once the waiter confirmed with the kitchen that they were unable to modify the sauces I mentioned above for me, I asked for whole wheat linguine with garlic and olive oil. I withheld a smirk when he asked if I wanted those on the side, and my fears that I would be getting raw garlic cloves with my meal were not needed… the dish came out as requested. Try it for yourself – maybe you can get steamed veggies with your pasta. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

While I was relieved to find I could make Olive Garden work in my vegan dining experience, I didn’t stop there. You’ve probably noticed that, on many retail receipts, there’s a link and code at the bottom asking you to take a survey. I never fill these out, but something compelled me this time (something besides my mother telling me to, I mean). That something was the opportunity to request vegan options on the Olive Garden menu.

But I also tweeted them. And they tweeted back:


Hours after I completed my survey, I received an email from the general manager of the Olive Garden I visited. As for my vegan request:

…it is something we are looking into to be able to provide more flexibility for our guests.

My point in telling you this story is that it’s worth it for vegans to speak up about vegan options at non-vegan establishments. If you’re lucky enough never to have to patron such a place, well, good on you, but that’s not my experience. You vote with your ass in their seats and your money in their tills. So take that survey. Speak to the manager. Or write them; it doesn’t have to be something long and detailed. A simple, “I’d love it if you offered vegan dishes on your menu. If you make it, we will come” let’s a restaurant know that we’re here, we’re hungry, and we’re waiting.

Editor’s Note: As is the case with many restaurants, Olive Garden’s menu occasionally changes. At the time of this update (May 2015), Olive Garden has a “Vegan & Vegetarian Menu Suggestions” list on their website, which clearly spells out what’s vegan. With any restaurant, always check for the latest information by visiting an official website or speaking with your local establishment’s staff.

How do you navigate non-vegan establishments? Share your tips; we’d love to hear!

Photo credit: JeepersMedia via Flickr

FURTHER READING:

By Published On: 23 April 2014698 words3.5 min read

As grateful as I am to live near a vegan chinese restaurant and a pancake house that has vegan options aplenty on the menu, I have to accept that I’m going to eat at less veg-friendly places now and then. It’s something we all have to do.

olive garden
On Easter I found myself at the local Olive Garden with my mother. I thought, “Pasta. It should be easy to find something on the menu.” Clicking over to the website, I saw that three options that looked safe were in fact, not. The vegetarian minestrone, the Pomodoro and Primavera sauces – all have dairy in them. I thought I’d confirm with the waiter when I got to the restaurant. The dairy in question is butter.

Fun fact: I asked my mother why they would ruin tomato sauce with butter. She tells me it’s a Sicilian thing. One more reason Italians and Sicilians don’t get along. (I am kidding, please don’t send hate mail.)

Fear not: all is not lost. You can order the garden salad with oil & vinegar on the side (the dressing isn’t vegan). Hopefully yours will not be as anemic as ours. Half a large bowl of iceberg lettuce, some tomatoes and onions, and one – ONE! – black olive at the bottom.

The breadsticks can be made vegan! Just ask for no butter on them. (I didn’t do this, because I’m sorry, but I’m not paying for my damned breadsticks.)

As for your main dish: order off menu. Once the waiter confirmed with the kitchen that they were unable to modify the sauces I mentioned above for me, I asked for whole wheat linguine with garlic and olive oil. I withheld a smirk when he asked if I wanted those on the side, and my fears that I would be getting raw garlic cloves with my meal were not needed… the dish came out as requested. Try it for yourself – maybe you can get steamed veggies with your pasta. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

While I was relieved to find I could make Olive Garden work in my vegan dining experience, I didn’t stop there. You’ve probably noticed that, on many retail receipts, there’s a link and code at the bottom asking you to take a survey. I never fill these out, but something compelled me this time (something besides my mother telling me to, I mean). That something was the opportunity to request vegan options on the Olive Garden menu.

But I also tweeted them. And they tweeted back:


Hours after I completed my survey, I received an email from the general manager of the Olive Garden I visited. As for my vegan request:

…it is something we are looking into to be able to provide more flexibility for our guests.

My point in telling you this story is that it’s worth it for vegans to speak up about vegan options at non-vegan establishments. If you’re lucky enough never to have to patron such a place, well, good on you, but that’s not my experience. You vote with your ass in their seats and your money in their tills. So take that survey. Speak to the manager. Or write them; it doesn’t have to be something long and detailed. A simple, “I’d love it if you offered vegan dishes on your menu. If you make it, we will come” let’s a restaurant know that we’re here, we’re hungry, and we’re waiting.

Editor’s Note: As is the case with many restaurants, Olive Garden’s menu occasionally changes. At the time of this update (May 2015), Olive Garden has a “Vegan & Vegetarian Menu Suggestions” list on their website, which clearly spells out what’s vegan. With any restaurant, always check for the latest information by visiting an official website or speaking with your local establishment’s staff.

How do you navigate non-vegan establishments? Share your tips; we’d love to hear!

Photo credit: JeepersMedia via Flickr

FURTHER READING:

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  1. Jay December 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply
  2. jacqui April 12, 2017 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Their breadsticks —- including the topping —- are completely vegan. My server blew me away today when she told me they used fake butter.

    I am severely lactose intolerant and allergic to dairy and i went for it. Shes correct — completely dairy free. You’ll never have to go breadstick-less again!

    It was basically the best day of my life.

  3. Kensie May 28, 2016 at 10:20 am - Reply

    According to Olive Garden’s website they link to a chart that lists their marinara as actually vegan, so you don’t need to order kids tomato sauce anymore. See the PDF chart here: http://media.olivegarden.com/images/site/ext/pdfs/olive-garden-veg-vegan_012516.pdf

  4. LMD18 July 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm - Reply

    Update – If you find yourself back there, the kids tomato sauce is vegan.

    • Carrie Macke March 20, 2016 at 11:54 am - Reply

      I was gonna post the same info! My daughter, her husband & my Granddaughter are all Vegan & I’m not, so when I go to a restaurant with them I get a veggie or hopefully Vegan dish.. I asked for the cavatappi pasta ( I LOVE the curly pasta!) with the kids marinara sauce (sprinkled with garlic & Oregano please) & veggies, for a chunky sauce..no fresh Parmesan on top, salad with oil/vinegar (extra black olives) & plain bread sticks! Everything was great & I also did the survey asking for more vegan options-especially the salad dressings & sauces!

  5. Guest May 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the May 2015 update!

  6. George April 28, 2015 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    the breadsticks AREN’T vegan — asked the server when I was there and she said they contain eggs. This may be location-specific though.

    • Daria Zeoli May 4, 2015 at 6:06 am - Reply

      Something to keep in mind as a general rule: servers aren’t always as informed as they should be. But you’re right, George: it could be a location-specific thing. Olive Garden’s site still lists breadsticks as vegan.

      • LMD18 July 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm - Reply

        Was just about to say, Olive Garden’s website says the breadsticks are vegan. I think the server wasn’t correct.

  7. Beth April 18, 2015 at 12:57 am - Reply

    Their breadsticks are now vegan, actually, using oil instead of butter for topping. They also have some pasta with no egg, and a dairy-free tomato sauce. They keep saying that they will soon introduce a vegan marinara, but nothing yet. Still, vegan seems more on their radar than it once was. Their allergen menu on their website is very helpful for seeing quickly what has egg/dairy in it.

    • Daria Zeoli April 19, 2015 at 5:41 am - Reply

      Thanks for that info, Beth. One thing any vegan should keep in mind is that ingredients change over time. Just as we should be checking labels on old faves to make sure we know the most recent makeup, it helps to check the menu at any restaurant periodically as well.

  8. Garrett Whitney January 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    All olive garden pasta has egg in it.

    • Daria Zeoli January 29, 2015 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      None of their pastas include egg according to their allergen list. http://media.olivegarden.com/en_us/pdf/allergen_guide.pdf

    • Guest March 18, 2015 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      Don’t forget you can order bread sticks without butter & garlic! For free, with your meal! just ask! :)

      • guest January 6, 2018 at 3:17 am - Reply

        the butter is not dairy based.

    • LMD18 July 30, 2015 at 8:41 pm - Reply

      No, all Olive Garden pastas do not have eggs in them. According to Olive Garden’s website, they have quite a few pastas that are vegan.

  9. gisaster25 November 16, 2014 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post. It helped me navigate an Olive Garden visit (not my choice) last week. The servers at my location (in Sarasota) were very accommodating and knew to bring me undressed salad with oil and vinegar, and unbuttered bread without my asking. For my main I asked for pasta with garlic, olive oil and steamed veggies (following your description) and it turned out to be reasonably tasty. They also offered to prepare me a bowl of fresh berries for dessert.

    Of course, I strongly prefer to dine at places with at least one vegan item on the menu, so I submitted an online form to OG suggesting this. Highlights from the response email I received:

    “Decisions about our menu are based on guest feedback and demand, along with an effort to keep our menu fresh and interesting. We have documented your suggestion to offer vegan items for our guests.
    While we cannot meet all requests, we want you to know our guests’ suggestions and recommendations are regularly reviewed.”

    • Daria Zeoli November 23, 2014 at 7:11 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing this. The response email sounds very noncommittal, which is a bummer. But I am glad you were able to veganize your meal!

  10. Cristy June 12, 2014 at 8:26 am - Reply

    I’m going to my friends dinner at Olive Garden and this will come in handy so thank you so much for making this post. Also, it never occurred to me to take the surveys and give feedback, it’s brilliant, I will do it today.

    • Daria Zeoli June 14, 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

      Let us know how your dinner goes, Cristy! And good luck with the surveys – every little bit will help!

  11. Wes Novack April 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Good post! I gave up on olive garden long ago and don’t go there ever, even though I used to visit often prior to becoming vegan. I echo your sentiment on speaking out though, as I have had much success with sending in surveys, emails, tweets, etc, to restaurants, asking them to start offering vegan items.

    • Daria Zeoli April 28, 2014 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      It’s great to hear that speaking out has worked for you, Wes. Thank you for sharing – it definitely strengthens my opinion that letting establishments know we’re out there is worth it!

  12. Lori April 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I never realized how much vegans were discriminated against until I started eating vegan. It’s even worse where I live in northwest Arkansas. I’ve learned that I’m not going to spend my hard earned money at restaurants who won’t even try. I can make something so much better at home anyway for a fraction of the cost. I think it must be easier on the coasts.

    • Daria Zeoli April 29, 2014 at 6:39 am - Reply

      Lori, I try to remember how lucky I am to live near some great vegan and vegan-friendly eateries being so close to Manhattan. And we could all probably do with eating at home a bit more – you are right when you say that it often tastes better and costs less! I’m sorry the restaurants in your neck of the woods don’t try. This is why we all need to speak up! They need to raise the bar. Thank you for your comment!