How to survive a business lunch as a vegetarian

Years ago, I went on a business lunch with my co-worker and a banker. Half way into the lunch, she revealed that she kept a strict kosher diet. I hadn't realized that she had carefully selected both the place we went to and what she had chosen for lunch. What amazed me was that the woman regularly went on business lunches and somehow managed to stick to her kosher diet.

It couldn't have been easy!

A few weeks ago I thought of this co-worker when I got a phone call from Ana Marquez, a senior account executive with RBB Communications in Miami. Ana explained to me that it has been a struggle for her to stay a vegan because of all the business dining she does. "When a client invites you to lunch, you can't always dictate what they give you for food," she explained. 

Think about this scenario a vegetarian commenter wrote on a blog: "I have a lot of business lunches and when the discussion – 'oh why did you order that, you should try…..' it is sometimes difficult to come up with something diplomatic, to not sound like you are judging their choice – which is how so many people hear any explanation…." 

When we go to work, we bring our whole selves and that includes our eating habits and beliefs Sometimes, it's a struggle to make your work life and personal life fit together. Today my guest blogger is Larry Rice , president of Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus. Four years ago he adopted a plant-based lifestyle after learning about its health benefits. It has been a challenge.  

Larry rice
 

About four years ago, I made a lifestyle change that has changed even the most simple business lunch with colleagues: I began following a plant-based, loosely known as vegan, diet.

Since I started this journey, rarely a week goes by without the following question from peers, colleagues, friends, extended family, and of course the occasional brave souls who just can’t help themselves when they notice something is missing from my plate.  They ask, “Do you miss eating ‘real food’?”  I think I disappoint many with my usual response, “Not ever.”   

My greatest challenges when I transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle were the social changes among the people within my circle of influence. I was not prepared for, nor did I understand, to what extent eating animals protein had been a part of my culture and identity.

My supportive wife and two daughters began this journey with me. Some of my colleagues, including my assistant, also follow a plant-based diet. Yet, it was shocking how many acquaintances and colleagues noticed.  No matter how discrete I was, whenever I would join others for lunch or dinner, I found myself having to explain, sometimes in great detail, why I was no longer eating animal products.

These days, my challenges come from dining out for work.  My job requires me to participate in many business meetings over lunch or dinner, so I can offer a few friendly dining etiquette tips which are helpful whether you are following a special diet, or dining with someone who is doing so.

  1. Always remember the art of dining out is about the fellowship or establishing connections. Don't let your eating preference (or your colleague’s) hijack the conversation.
  2. Don't be defensive or evasive when asked questions. Colleagues may innocently ask how you vary your diet or get certain nutrients. They may also divulge their interest in eating plant-based a few days a week and ask for restaurant recommendations. Be willing to share.
  3. Take initiative. When meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner meetings, I'm often asked to select the restaurant either out of consideration for my lifestyle, or because colleagues want to try a completely plant-based meal.
  4. Be patient with the server. Many servers confuse vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based.

Today, there are a number of great resources out there to educate people who are considering a plant-based lifestyle. The book Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease, along with the documentary Forks Over Knives and the CNN special “The Last Heart Attack,” prompted my interest in plant-based cuisine and helped me develop the lifestyle I follow today. I have also been fortunate to work at Johnson & Wales University, where colleagues in our College of Culinary Arts are a great source of information.

What’s most important, in both my personal and professional interactions, is that I see my diet to be a change in lifestyle and a personal choice. People have to make choices that are right for them. As such, I am always willing to have a conversation, but I am mindful that I should not impose my views on others.

Ana told me recently she has expanded her vegan diet and become a vegetarian, giving her more food options for business lunches. The good news is that slowly, the restaurant industry is offering more choices to customers including more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, she says. For people who dine out for business and have diet restrictions, it's still a challenge. But Ana says, it is becoming more doable!

 

  

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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