Dieting and Eating Out Isn’t Easy.
By Tricia Peterson
Since this is my first post to Everything Topeka, I want to introduce myself and explain a little about my situation. I’m born and raised in Topeka, went to school and college here and my family lives here. I’ve spent a lot of time in bars and restaurants in and around Topeka, and I’ve been writing a blog about local eateries for about five years. The blog started as an assignment in a mass media course at Washburn University, the point being to brand ourselves. Of course I chose restaurant reviews.
Recently, I’ve started a new diet where I can only eat certain foods and a small portion of them. I’ve had great success, but the only hard part has been my passion -- eating out at restaurants. I’m not the only one, either. I have a few friends on various diets and no matter what kind of diet they’re doing, dining out is difficult. I thought I would share what I’ve learned from being a waitress, chef and food critic for a few years now.
After time passed and I got used to the diet, it became easier for me to enjoy social outings. Also, the diet is temporary and the second phase lets me incorporate fats and that part is the best part because then it becomes easier to eat. When I go out to eat during the bulk of the diet, I can’t eat fat, sugar or processed carbs. That makes it difficult to order off of most restaurant menus without being a real nag to the waitress. As a waitress, I know. I’m happy to accomodate, but sometimes it’s just a little much and I feel like this diet is a burden to me and whoever is waiting on me.
If you find yourself in my predicament, you just need to keep a few things in mind in order to keep the waitstaff from hating you and the kitchen from spitting in your food, oh and your sanity, that’s important.
Check out an online menu. Most restaurants have their menus posted online, or even on Facebook if they don’t have a website. Look over the menu and plan ahead, that way when your server gets to you, you don’t have to ask a million questions and attract attenention to the fact that you’re on a diet. It’s unneccessary and kind of embarrassing sometimes. Although, as soon as I start ordering, it’s obvious, but I also am firm in what I want so it’s not hard and the waitstaff doesn’t have to guess.
The menu should have the basic information you need to narrow down your options, in my case there is usually one option with modifications available. If you don’t see the exact dish you want or are used to eating, try to find something you can modify, say, without cheese or bacon, but can you add mushrooms? If you aren’t sure about something, call ahead, or look around the entire menu to see what ingredients they have to work with that you could maybe add to your meal. Don’t call at noon or 6 p.m. Call in an off time so you can chat with a manager about what kind of oil is used on the grill or if there is sugar in the vinaigrettes, whatever question you have. Believe me, they are usually more than happy to answer your questions because you are coming to dine in their establishment. If they’re rude and don’t want to help you, then at least you can say you tried if you have to go there, and if not, just find a different restaurant that is happy to serve you.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This rule comes with some common sense of course. Do your research first and ask questions that can’t be easily answered by turning a page of the menu. As a person on a diet I know it’s not always easy to find the information you want on every menu. I can’t have fat in my diet, so I need to usually know what kind of fat is used on the grill and that isn’t usually on the menu, I have to ask. At first I felt silly, but then I decided that’s what I’m tipping for. As a server, I get asked so many questions all day, honestly, it’s just another question I will answer. If I answer it readily it usually shows in the tip and vice versa. If I don’t know the answer, I have to go ask and find out then I’m more knowledgable.
Be ready to watch your friends eat what you can’t have. This is the hardest part of going out to eat on a diet and most of the reason why I took a break from blogging a couple months ago.I’m taking a brief break in January to do the diet again, but come February my dining game is back on in full force. Depending on the diet you’re on, it may be hard to eat out, but I find that if dairy is an option, it’s much easier to find menu selections that don’t take too much changing. Most restaurants have more and more vegetarian options and I’m seeing gluten-free options popping up all over the place. Still, if you can’t have dairy and you’re at a Mexican restaurant, the white cheese dip is hard to resist. Just go prepared for that.
Don’t be afraid to make exceptions. I can’t have fat in my diet. Well, on a busy Saturday night at a steak house, I’m not going to bother my waitress or the grill with that request. If you can’t have bread or carbs and you’re ordering a taco salad in a tortilla bowl, asking for it without a bowl is fine. If it comes in the bowl, don’t complain. It’s just things like that. You can eat the salad without eating the bowl, so why complain? It’s a small over sight. If your entree comes smothered in cheese and you asked for no cheese, by all means, tell your server. Some things are better left alone though, so just try to make a few exceptions.
At the beginning of the year I started another round of my diet and have decided to avoid eating out until I’m done. It’s just too hard. I know there must be others who are going through a similar experience and thought maybe this could be helpful. Some people, like me, may just opt out of eating in restaurants until they are back on a normal diet, or accustomed to the one they’re on.