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acceptable "spur of the moment" vegetarian offering?

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The setting: a 50th birthday party for my sister-in-law, hosted by my father-in-law, held in a private room of a busy suburban restauarant (billed as a "bistro") on a Saturday night. About 40 guests, printed set menu sitting at each place setting, 2 appetizers, 5 or 6 entrees. During the cocktail hour as we are mingling about the crudite table and talking with my sister-in-law's guests, my daugher (vegetarian, not vegan, but *not* pescatarian) notes to me that none of the entrees are vegetarain. Both my father-in-law and sister-in-law know she's vegetarian, but I don't expect that to always be at the forefront of their thoughts, so I thought, no big deal, at ordering time we'll just ask for something simple to be put together for an entree. At ordering time (and this gets awkward as we are at long tables *very* close together, and our little nuclear family is as far away from open space and the waitress, who stands at the far end, as we can be, so no quiet conferences) my daughter asks "do you have anything vegetarian I could have?" The waitress looks down at the set menu (as my daughter is almost 17, I think she can be assumed to be able to read the menu herself) and says "you don't eat fish?" My daughter politely shakes her head no. "I'm sure we can put something nice together for you". Just what I would have expected, so all is good.

An hour or so later, after our appetizers (which were salad or soup), the entrees start arriving. Everyone but my daughter gets their salmon, or steak, or veal..... The waitress notes her empty spot and says brightly "yours will be right out". Ok, sure, something special, a little extra time, whatever. We made a little joke at our table that maybe they had to order in a pizza from the shop across the street.

Finally with great flourish a bowl is presented to my daughter. Of buttered spaghetti. Seriously, buttered spaghetti. No sauce, no garnish of slivered vegetables, nothing. My FIL and SIL were a different tables, but I'm sure they would have been apalled, but we just stared along with the "new friends" we'd made in our immediate vicinity. But as guests at the party (who were also as I mentioned, wedged in such that going up to do anything would have been a production disturbing at least 10 people) we said nothing. My daughter finished half her bowl and got tired of plain noodles. She even remarked that just some tomato or pesto sauce from a jar would have been ok.

Is this in any way acceptable? Vegetarians aren't that unususal; I almost felt like my daughter was getting the "picky child" treatment of plain noodles (even though she's 16 and vegetarianism can be distinguished from "pickiness"). No we didn't bother my FIL and SIL with this beforehand (we knew they knew, and besides, my daughter's not picky), I did check the menu online but we knew it was going to be a set menu, so who know's what will be on it--they had some appetizers that looked like they could be built into a veggie entree). It just seems in a group of 40 people (or for that matter for a busy suburban restaurant) not having the wherewithal to deal with something as relatively common as vegetarianism with *something* better than a bowl of noodles is somewhat astonishing. Hey they could have taken the crudites from the appetizer table and stirfried them for the top of the pasta...

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  1. It is a little awkward and it does seem that nobody in the kitchen made any effort to make something vegetarian for your daughter. Considering this was a restaurant not a catering company or supplied to a room or tent not set up for extra cooking there must have been something on their regular menu. Maybe the waitress said 'it's just a kid' and things got confused in the kitchen.

    I was a vegetarian from aged 17 to 25 back in the 70s when it was almost impossible to find any vegetarian entrees in most restaurants that were not Italian. I got steamed vegetables or omelettes more times than I can remember, or quiche with bacon (you can pick out the bacon they said!). Even on Alitalia recently from Miami to Rome when I ordered vegetarian (which I usually do on planes) all I got was steamed veggies

    She will have to chalk it up to one bad night for food. Maybe next time check there will be something vegetarian.

    10 Replies
    1. re: smartie

      All agreed (though an omelet or steamed veggies would have been more than acceptable under the circumstances). However, even though "just a kid" I'm more than certain that my father in law was paying full fare for the set menu for her bowl of buttered noodles.

      1. re: smartie

        what the age of the diner has to do with it escapes me

        1. re: thew

          I wasn't suggesting that. What I was thinking was that the waitress went back to the kitchen and possibly said 'it's just a kid or a teenager' and the cooks thought that plain pasta was enough.

          1. re: smartie

            and again - pointed at the cooks - im not sure what the age has to do with it.

            1. re: thew

              The point that smartie seemed to be making was that it is possible that some waitstaff/cooks may have misconceptions about what is acceptable/likable by diners of certain ages.

              1. re: limster

                the point i seemed to be making is that is utter crap

                1. re: thew

                  I disagree. Smartie's point is plausible. Also see invinotheresverde's post below for example.

                  1. re: limster

                    smarties point is plausible - i don't think i said otherwise.

                    i said serving anyone who didn't order it just plain buttered pasta is ridiculous whether the diner is 2 20 or 200

                  2. re: thew

                    then again maybe the cooks didn't speak much English and there was some kind of mix up. We weren't there but it was just an idea.

            2. re: thew

              if the diner is 6 years old or so, a bowl of buttered spaghetti might be ok, because it is widely assumed (correctly or not) that a six year old would not appreciate anything more complex.
              if the diner is an adult, imho, it is not ok.

          2. I would have confirmed with the family member who was in charge of setting up the menu that there would be something appropriate for your daughter. She sounds like an easygoing person, so it's not as if she would have demanded something outlandish.

            While it would have been ideal if the host/coordinator remembered everyone's dietary requirements/needs, as you yourself pointed out, "both my father-in-law and sister-in-law know she's vegetarian, but I don't expect that to always be at the forefront of their thoughts," esp. when putting together a party comprising about 40 guests.

            In fairness to the restaurant, this was a last-minute request, and while it may seem like they could have easily put together something more substantial, it's often not as easy as that, having seen the other side of the coin (esp. if it's a busy night).

            Seems like both you and your daughter handled the situation admirably and made the best of it.

            1. I'm a lacto/ovo veggie and have been my whole life, basically. I've always found it best not to bother the hosts, who, yes, I'm sure, want everyone happy, but have a million things on their minds already. I just always call the restaurant in advance to make sure I'll have something appropriate to eat.

              That said, the restaurant definitely gave your daughter "kid treatment". I say she should've sent it back. There's no way they didn't have some veggies the could've made into, at the very least, a primavera.

              I'd send an email, because, you're 99.9% right that your hosts paid full price for buttered spaghetti.

              1. I was vegetarian for many years and faced this situation many times. To be honest, I'd have just as soon had buttered pasta as the oily and/or tasteless "pasta primavera" they slapped together in 90% of these situations. (In fact, one of the worst I ever had was at a rehearsal dinner catered by a world-famous Bay Area restaurant. I'd been looking forward to the dinner almost as much as the wedding -- and boy, was I disappointed.)

                Anyhow, while I have full sympathy, I wouldn't make any fuss over it in your situation simply because it was sprung on the restaurant at pretty much the latest possible moment. Most places wouldn't just have prepared tomato sauce or pesto in a jar, and if they were getting 40 other dinners together a la minute -- well, I'm sorry to say I think that is throwing quite a monkey wrench into their operation.

                Nah, they didn't bend over backwards. But I'd chalk it up to an important lesson your daughter will need if she remains vegetarian. Try to give at least six hours' notice, and a day's if possible. Another suggestion: If they say they don't have anything ready, ask if they can instead do her a big salad as her entree. Then stop by Taco Bell on the way home if necessary.

                The bigger the dinner and more seasoned the restaurant or caterer at doing big parties, the better her chances. In my experience, big dinners at hotels are almost always assured to be ready for a percentage of vegetarians out of the gate. Many times, my dining partners would be jealous of my special dish while they ate their rubber chicken in mystery sauce.

                20 Replies
                1. re: dmd_kc

                  yeah you're right, next time we'll call the restaurant. I just figured that since they did have some appetizer things on the regular menu (which I looked at before) that could have been put next to a bit of rice, a mound of mashed potatoes (both things on the set menus as sides) that this really shouldn't have been brain surgery.

                  1. re: DGresh

                    Calling ahead is always prudent.

                    With the circumstances you describe, I think it would have been perfectly acceptable to have mentioned to the waitress any ideas you had - "I looked at your full menu earlier - perhaps the seasonal composed salad could be tweaked into an entree with pasta? Something like that would be perfect!" This lets her know where you are coming from and also gives the kitchen a quick idea so they don't have to try to figure it out on the fly.

                    Although it is rather surprising that they don't have a dish or two in mind for exactly this situation. Vegetarian requests are not unusual...

                    That said, after working in restaurants for many years, I feel she did get the "picky kid" treatment......If I were hosting, I'd want to know about that.

                    1. re: DGresh

                      There's certainly nothing wrong with making a suggestion. "Would it be possible for me to have a plate of the mashed potatoes, braised carrots and the bok choy from the other meals?" would make it a no-brainer for them.

                      However, also don't forget that restaurant dishes such as rice and vegetable sides are extremely likely to have animal products in them, and ethical places won't offer them as a vegetarian option. It could very well be those potatoes were flavored with bacon and the rice was cooked in chicken broth.

                      1. re: dmd_kc

                        yes, I thought about that possibility, which made me reticent to suggest items. Who knows maybe they really had "nothing". But that's kind of odd in itself. Anyway, we won't be complaining, as we don't want it getting back to my SIL who is an acquaintance of the owner of the restaurant. No harm done, just a bit of an oddity. And I feel bad for my FIL who I'm sure paid $40 or so for a plate of pasta (and a bowl of soup).

                        1. re: DGresh

                          Being there are varying degrees of vegetarianism....I'm saying this because I know several friends/family members who have their own personal decisions they've made on how they practice it. Some eat fish, others don't, some eat veggies with chicken broth, others don't, etc. Regardless of how they practice it they all consider themselves vegetarians. I would have asked your daughter to ask the waitress for the type of food she desired. There is no way they couldn't have come up with something more pleasing than a 'bowl of buttered noodle". I don't know if it's worth it (only you would know) to cause a bit of drama with the restaurant by calling them, based on your SIL knowing the owner of the restaurant.
                          In this case it's just a nice lesson learned for your daughter.

                          1. re: latindancer

                            Varying degrees of "vegetarianism" aside (which none of those you listed above are), there's no reason that a respectable chef can't grill up some veggies (no matter how abstract they are, which sometimes they really are). There's always mirepoix, at the bare minimum, which is better than pasta with butter.

                            1. re: latindancer

                              Does anyone else think the fact that there are obviously people out there that believe there are "varying degrees of vegetarianism" (including versions that eat fish and chicken!) might have contributed to this problem? Maybe the FIL thought fish was a perfectly acceptable dish for a vegetarian, looks like latindancer knows some "vegetarians" who would have found that acceptable.

                              Latindancer- just curious, but the vegetarians you know that eat their veggies cooked in chicken broth- do they also eat, you know, chicken?

                              1. re: mjhals

                                'do they also eat, you know, chicken?'

                                Not in front of me. I think, from their perspective, they're not actually eating chicken and so therefore 'no big deal' There are all kinds of ways for people to rationalize their eating habits/way of thinking when it comes to food. We all know people who do that....it comes in all forms when it comes to cultural dietary laws, vegetarians, raw food eating, etc. People call themselves 'kosher' yet still eat meals in restaurants that serve unkosher meat, vegetarians who still eat fish still consider themselves 'vegetarians'....etc.
                                It's all a matter of perception. I know a 'vegetarian' who, when we dine together in her town, insists on eating at some of her favorite little restaurants where they don't serve any fish/meat dishes.
                                Yet, in her own home she eats fish. I think it's a common perception that many vegetarians eat fish because many of those people I know, who are vegetarians, do eat fish.
                                The waitress, in this particular situation, was right in assuming when she asked the daughter, 'you don't eat fish?", that many so-called vegetarians do.

                                1. re: latindancer

                                  I guess that's my point- the people you mention are absolutely "so-called vegetarians", because they are not ACTUAL vegetarians (which we seem to agree on, correct?). I'm suggesting that it's these so-called vegetarians who have made it hard on DGresh's daughter by telling people (like DGresh's FIL) that they are vegetarians and then accepting a fish dish as an appropriate "vegetarian" option. You're exactly right that the waitress, FIL may have encountered these type of "vegetarians" and so thought some of the offerings were acceptable. And I think that's a shame.

                                  1. re: mjhals

                                    FIL may have encountered these types of 'vegetarians" and so thought some of the offerings were acceptable. And I think that's a shame."

                                    I do too.

                                    1. re: mjhals

                                      despite the fact that i have a certain amount of distain for the "so-called" vegetarians: people who are not vegetarians but call themselves so, i can't see how their existence makes it impossible for anyone working in a normal restaurant's commercial kitchen to throw together something better than buttered spaghetti.

                                    2. re: latindancer

                                      As I mentioned, asking whether she eats fish is a little silly given that the menu is in front of us and one would assume that a 16 year old knows how to read a menu, and knows what salmon or butterfish is.

                                      1. re: DGresh

                                        I got from your original post that the waitress was simply asking the question, (when your daughter asked her for something vegetarian) 'Don't you eat fish?'
                                        I guess I'm not seeing the offense when alot of people, like I said, who are so-called vegetarians confuse the whole concept, and everyone around them, by accepting fish into their diet. I don't think it was a matter of the waitress not thinking your daughter could read but just matter of double checking with your daughter on a misconception of what 'vegetarian' means to her, based on some prior experiences she may have had.

                                      2. re: latindancer

                                        "I think it's a common perception that many vegetarians eat fish because many of those people I know, who are vegetarians, do eat fish."

                                        Fish is not a vegetable. These people are not vegetarians. They are pescetarians. Perhaps at some time it can come up in your conversation with them. I've only known one person who claimed to be vegetarian and ate fish all the time. Finally I just told her. She thanked me because she said she didn't know what else to call herself.

                                        1. re: decolady

                                          why label yourself at all? Why can't people say nothing unless invited to a meal and then just politely say by the way I don't eat red meat, any meat, any animal derived protein, shellfish, cauliflower, beets, dairy, nuts, bananas, or whatever it is you don't eat for health, allergy, religious reasons or any other reason.

                                          Sitting with people who talk about their 'foodisms' can be very dull for the listeners, especially when it is brought up at every outing with them.

                                          1. re: smartie

                                            "Sitting with people who talk about their 'foodisms' can be very dull for the listeners, especially when it is brought up at every outing with them."

                                            I don't disagree with you. When it matters I mention that I don't eat red meat. But I do think if you are going to label yourself, you should be accurate. It just sounds flat-out stupid when someone says they are vegetarian, but they eat fish. (rolling eye smilie inserted here)

                                            1. re: decolady

                                              yeppers, I was out with friends saturday and one of them bores us to death with his vegetarianism (sic) which he isn't because he will then tell us he doesn't eat animals with 4 legs (so birds are ok so are fish) and that he doesn't eat dairy (well ok just tonight). I turn a deaf ear and yawn politely if that's possible.

                                              I don't eat shellfish and pork. Yes I was brought up that way but will merrily munch a cheeseburger! But I don't make a fuss when out with people just decline the things I don't eat. Only if I am invited to someone's home do I say so if it's necessary to say so.

                                              1. re: smartie

                                                You should ask him if he eats kangaroos. :)

                                                1. re: hye

                                                  brilliant!

                                            2. re: smartie

                                              because most folks, especially those folks who work in restaurants, understand what the word "vegetarian' means and could logically take offense at being spoken to like they are 5 years old and don't know the meaning of a word that is common in their business.

                                              it would be like explaining to an accountant what the meaning of "adjusted gross income' was.

                            2. For what its worth, I think that is totally ridiculous, in NO WAY acceptable, and I'd call the restaurant and speak to the manager now to let them know. I also think you showed a lot of class by not making a big fuss the day of, such that your FIL and SIL didn't have to share in the (unpleasant and absurd) experience.

                              1. This is not a restaurant issue.

                                This is an issue you take up with your father-in-law.

                                You say he knew of your daughter's vegetarian restrictions, so you take it up with him.

                                Leave the restaurant out of it. Not their issue.

                                15 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  unless the father-in-law was in the kitchen cooking, I disagree. The OP already pointed out why no mention was made to the hosts. The question posed isn't whether the hosts should have seen to the special needs of a guest -- but, is instead, whether the restaurant responded aptly to the last minute request.

                                  Without knowing what the server told the kitchen, it's impossible to say whether the server miscommunicated (and I've seen plenty of picky children order plain pasta) or whether the kitchen sent out the plain pasta to make the point that last minute special requests won't fare well with them.

                                  1. re: karmalaw

                                    "Both my father-in-law and sister-in-law know she's vegetarian, but I don't expect that to always be at the forefront of their thoughts ..."

                                    ___________________________________________________________

                                    OP said that the father-in-law knew. Why then, would there be a need to mention it to the hosts, as you say?

                                    Again, this is a father-in-law (or host) issue. Not a restaurant issue.

                                    Father-in-law reserves restaurant, chooses the set menu and options, etc.

                                    If there is no vegetarian option AND the father-in-law was aware of the daughter's preferences, then the blame lies in the family ... not the restaurant.

                                    Restaurant did its part. Father-in-law apparently did not.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      The restaurant was clearly put in a bad position through no fault of their own.

                                      At the same time, doesn't plain buttered pasta sound surprisingly lame as an offering from professional cooks? Add some cheese, red sauce or cream, and a basil garnish and I'd say they performed admirably to a last-minute request.

                                      Think of any restaurant you like and frequent - don't you like to think they'd whip up something a little nicer in the same circumstances? As a point of pride if nothing else.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        I have no idea on the size and operation of the restaurant (except that it was described as a "bistro" by the OP).

                                        The party was for 40 people. I'm pretty sure the kitchen was tied up trying to make apps, and the 5 or 6 entree choices for the group of 40. They were probably doing their best to service everyone without being thrown off their game by coming up with a vegetarian dish.

                                        Was the buttered pasta perhaps a poor choice? Probably. But the fault in that lies with the father-in-law who KNEW about the vegetarian restrictions and decided to either not remember, not care, or simply overlook what he probably considered a "minor" detail.

                                        [shrug]

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          the fault of the FIL and the fault of the restaurant are not the same fault - but both are faults none the less

                                          1. re: thew

                                            How was the restaurant at fault?

                                            FIL chose a set menu with NO vegetarian options knowing beforehand that there was going to be one vegetarian guest.

                                            The restaurant, as far as I can tell, provided everything that it had contracted for -- e.g. the apps and the choice of 5 or 6 entrees.

                                            What did the restaurant do wrong?

                                            Yes, it would have been great if the restaurant provided a better vegetarian entree.

                                            But was it required to do so? No. Absolutely not.

                                            In fact, the fact the restaurant provided ANY vegetarian option was a step beyond what it was required to do. For that, it should be commended not chided.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              thankfully required is not the be all and end all of behavior

                                              again the FIL was clearly at fault. but in the time it takes to make buttered pasta they could have thrown in a few veggies, some cheese; they could have done many small things that would not have taken much time or effort rather than doing the most minimal thing which smacks of being an FU to the customer

                                              1. re: thew

                                                Again, what did the restaurant do wrong?

                                                It fulfilled its contractual obligations. 'Nuff said.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  yes they fufilled their contractual obligations.
                                                  and AGAIN - they did it in a lackluster halfassed fu sort of way.

                                                  there is more to life than just fulfilling obligations in the cheapest easiest and most lackluster way.

                                                  again - just meeting the least level of the letter of an agreement - what is required and obligated, is not the same as doing the right thing, or even a half decent job.

                                                  I would want people to tell others that my business took the extra step and thus earned new customers, than that they felt shorted and treated like something you wipe off the bottom of a shoe. that is worth an extra dollar and 10 minutes spent.

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    Perhaps.

                                                    I don't know the size or scope of the restaurant's operation, except that the OP characterized it as a "bistro" ... but have you ever tried to serve 40 people all at one time?

                                                    While a restaurant can serve 40 guests in a span of an hour, rarely during regular operations is the kitchen required to do so at the same time ... usually the orders are staggered so that the kitchen can prep, cook, plate, etc.

                                                    To minimize some of these logistical issues, restaurants like this one will require a set menu with limited options, thereby providing the kitchen some amount of control.

                                                    Now, given those dynamics, I'd imagine the kitchen maybe didn't have the time, staff, ingredients, etc. to make a "better" vegetarian option. And maybe they just figured, "hey, it's better to piss off one person and please 39 others than the other way around." Can't really blame them for that philosophy.

                                                    Plus, it wouldn't have been wrong for the kitchen to entirely deny the request for a vegetarian entreee. What entitles the daughter to a special entree that other diners don't get to choose from?* What if I didn't like the 5 or 6 choices presented on the set menu and requested something different?

                                                    In fact, thinking about it now some more, I think the restaurant whent above and beyond what is expected.

                                                    (*Assuming her vegetarian diet is not a medical condition)

                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                Wow. Just wow.

                                                I've spent my whole life working in restaurants, from classic New England fare places to higher end steak houses. Only one of these establishments offered a vegetarian entree on the menu. That said, the chef was always prepared (key word: prepared) to make last minute requests/substitutions for diners with dietary requests (Atkins, veggie, gluten-free, lactose-free, etc.). It's called being a professional and taking pride in the food you serve. A bowl of buttered noodles was a cop-out, plain and simple.

                                                The chef at my current restaurant knows his name is attached to every dish served, fucntion or a la carte meal. That dish wouldn't have made it out of the kitchen, but if it somehow had and he found out, heads would roll and suspensions doled out.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  "In fact, the fact the restaurant provided ANY vegetarian option was a step beyond what it was required to do. For that, it should be commended not chided."

                                                  This reminds me of a restaurant in Manhattan that absolutely does not cater to vegetarians. Lots of chutzpah on the part of the chef, and I'm not saying if it's wrong or right. But the restaurant is wildly successful, so it doesn't seem as if this policy has had any adverse effect on its bottom line.

                                                  1. re: gloriousfood

                                                    If you are referring to Momofuku, the menu there states that philosophy very plainly. In the case the OP refers to the restaurant in question had a number of options on their regular menu which could have worked.

                                            2. re: cowboyardee

                                              i eat out more meals than not.
                                              i can't think of one place on my regular rotation that can't put together something better than buttered spaghetti even when it is a 'last minute' request.

                                              maybe if the kitchen JUST did catering, it would be more excusable, but this is a RESTAURANT.
                                              also, vegetarians are NOT rare these days. i could be more sympathetic to the restaurant if your daughter's request wasn't so absolutely commonplace.

                                            3. re: ipsedixit

                                              Knowing that she is 16, is it possible that your FIL and SIL don't really regard her as a committed vegetarian? They may just think it was a phase, or regard her actions as kid behavior. If I was putting on a dinner in a restaurant for 40 people and I KNEW one of them was a vegetarian, or on a strict diet, I would ask ahead of time what the options were. If I thought it was just one of my guests being picky, and unfortunately there are so many of them out there that I think the rest of us become selectively deaf when we hear the "I'm allergic blah blah blah..." I might forget about their requirements too. But if I know someone has a medical issue, is a vegetarian, keeps kosher, etc.; I go out of my way to accommodate them because I know that this is serious business. Her age may be working against her, even in your own family.

                                        2. I was recently concerned about this issue when planning for a large group (25-35) meal. Almost every restaurant I contacted required a set menu with a selection of 2-4 choices for both the appetizers and the entrees, often for a price slightly higher than what one would expect to pay if every single person chose all the most expensive possible options. I know it's a convenience issue, but they sure make it feel like a scam.

                                          If I know that my party has 1 vegetarian, or I'm not sure how many there are, am I really obligated to make one of very small number of entrees vegetarian? According to the contract, I guess the restaurant is not required to provide anything not on your set menu. And then of course you have to choose the most bland crowd pleasers possible to ensure that each dish can be reasonably considered by a significant number of people.

                                          I can almost see where the restaurant in DGresh's case would feel like they couldn't provide anything too appetizing to the daughter or else it would undermine the cash-maximizing, labor-minimizing scheme of the set menu. Everyone could start stating preferences "oh I don't eat red meat," "oh I can't have anything with cilantro," and soon the kitchen would have to consider each customer separately. Which is clearly unacceptable. By serving a bowl of plain spaghetti they ensured that nobody else would be tempted to stray from the set menu.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: bworm42

                                            "If I know that my party has 1 vegetarian, or I'm not sure how many there are, am I really obligated to make one of very small number of entrees vegetarian? According to the contract, I guess the restaurant is not required to provide anything not on your set menu."

                                            No, but you could arrange with the restaurant for them to be able to provide a few vegetarian meals upon request. Put it in the contract and they should be able to provide a vegetarian version of one of the entrees you pick (even if it's just the side veggies or starches from the other entrees).

                                            I don't understand how EVERY dish could contain some sort of meat. Doesn't the restaurant have vegetables? I understand they wouldn't be able to cook something from scratch with a group this size, but they must at least have components of other meals that don't contain meat.

                                            Maybe your reaction to this depends on where you're from. I always assume that in a group of more than a few people, it's very likely that at least one person is a vegetarian. It's such a common dietary restriction around here that it seems outrageous to me that a restaurant wouldn't be prepared to accommodate someone with anything but plain pasta. Not eating meat isn't the same as a preference about not liking cilantro (and who would plan an entire menu where every single item contained cilantro?)

                                            1. re: Pia

                                              It's true that I didn't try to put additional dishes for vegetarians into the contract. Would most restaurants be willing to accommodate that at no extra charge (beyond charging the set menu price for that person, obviously)? And it sounds like this may be exactly what the restaurant did: provide the starch from a dish without the rest of the dish.

                                              It's remarkably easy for a set of 6 dishes (3 apps, 3 mains) to not contain any vegetarian options, especially when you rule out seafood. Doesn't mean every dish has a giant hunk of beef, but chicken stock and little shreds of pork have a way of making things tastier and thus appearing frequently. Especially when there are only one or two vegetarians in a group of 20-40, so far less than one sixth.

                                              It's true that for some people vegetarianism is a dietary (medical) restriction and not a dietary preference, but I think that number is far smaller than, say, the number of people with peanut allergies. For the vast majority of vegetarians it is a preference, even if the choice is made based on morality, religion, environmentalism. I understand the choice, I even respect it a lot of the time, but it is a choice, and my point with the absurd cilantro example was that lots of people have lots of preferences. Either the set menu is set or it is not, and it is greatly to the advantage of the restaurant to discourage groups trying to enforce their own dining preferences past the boundaries of what the selected set menu permits.

                                              1. re: bworm42

                                                Disagree. A vegetarian meal offering is always implied, and IME, does not count as part of the number of items you can choose for your set menu.

                                                For my wedding, one dish was offered as part of our package. If we wanted to give guests morechoices, there was a $5 per additional choice fee. This did not include a vegetarian option, which was free.

                                                It has always been similar at the places where I've worked functions and weddings.

                                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                  "A vegetarian meal offering is always implied"
                                                  _________________________________________________

                                                  Good luck living with that assumption.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    I've been "living with it" for 32 years.

                                                    It's been the case at every restaurant I've worked at in the last 15.

                                                2. re: bworm42

                                                  nah, it wasn't a starch from one of the other offerings. It was a "specially created" bowl of pasta <G>

                                                  1. re: bworm42

                                                    Included in a recent invitation to a baptism was a meal selection card offering (for the adults) the choices of grilled chicken breasts, roast beef, salmon and vegetarian. I think it's great that they even have vegetarian as an option (although I'm not one) but it would be nice to know what it was: pasta, stir-fry...? I'm guessing it'll be the cheese tortellini offered on the kids' menu but who knows.

                                              2. I can't eat shrimp. Does terrible things to my digestive tract. If the main course has shrimp in it, I politely ask for another piece of bread, and ask if I can refill everyone's wine (yes, this has happened to me).

                                                Dinner is dinner. If you can't eat it, tough.

                                                1. I've been watching this thread & have to say I am surprised. In a nutshell, a guest was invited to a dinner with a set menu. Maybe it is how I was raised, but I was taught to eat what was presented and not make special requests in this situation. In this case, that might mean eating the appetizer & soup (as OP indicated the daughter did) and politely picking at the sides/starches of the least offensive entree. Would it have been nice of the host to include a vegetarian entree - certainly. Would it have been nice of the restaurant to throw together something other than buttered pasta - yes. Were they required to - no.

                                                  If someone chooses to be vegetarian, this is a situation they might encounter at set-menu affairs. I would think that a vegetarian would be aware & either call ahead to check the menu options or eat what is provided that is acceptable to you. There are items I do not eat for medical reasons. If that is what is presented at a set-menu affair, I work around it as best I can. I actually was at a vegetarian wedding, and due to lavish use of red sauce, I was only able to eat some rice & a garlic breadstick. Oh well, I ate when I got home. Not a big deal, and certainly not worth causing an issue at the wedding by asking for something else.

                                                  Just my opinion, and certainly not the final word, but I wouldn't have asked for something else & think the restaurant at least provided something that fit the vegetarian bill when they did not have to.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: elfcook

                                                    just to note, we did not in any way "cause an issue" other than politely asking if something else was available. I was merely asking about what other people thought about it, and have gotten a quite amazingly varied set of opinions on it.

                                                    1. re: DGresh

                                                      did not mean to imply that you caused an issue, it sounds like you & your daughter handled the situation quite politely. At the wedding I attended, it would have been an issue for MANY reasons - the groomsmen going to grill burgers & dogs at a nearby picnic area in the same venue caused quite an issue :)

                                                      1. re: DGresh

                                                        I'm curious, DGresh, did you raise this issue with your Father-in-Law?

                                                        Or is this one of those things in the "in-law" bible that is verboten?

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          He was very pleased with how happy my sister-in-law was with the special dinner he planned. To put any kind of a "damper" on it at the end of the evening (we left immediately after and drove three hours home) would have been counter productive. Maybe sometime in the future we'll re-iterate the committment my daughter has to being vegetarian; a commenter above may be right about it not being "honored" as much because she's young. Certainly at home I am absolutely pure with her food (e.g. her soup gets removed before the tablespoon of fish sauce is added to the pot, etc.).

                                                      2. re: elfcook

                                                        Seems like a lot of things could have/should have been handled better:
                                                        1. The organizer could ask for dietary restrictions and/or food allergies (nearly a given with a 40-person party)
                                                        2. The vegetarian (or OP) could have informed the organizer (even if it's just a polite reminder) of the dietary restrictions: "can you check if a vegetarian option will be available for me/so-and-so?"
                                                        3. The restaurant/server could have asked "would x substitution be ok?" rather than bringing a half-assed bowl of butter spaghetti.

                                                        Someone mentioned that it was a "nice lesson" - I hope he/she was being facetious. Harsh lesson, sure, but nice?

                                                      3. Chiming in late here-- I don't know if plain buttered spaghetti is acceptable but vegetarian meals like this are very common even at banquets where there is a vegetarian option announced. Vegetarians I know often eat beforehand.

                                                        1. I think the restaurant screwed up big time. I'm assuming the other meals were not just big hunks of meat on a plate. So why not just serve her what they were serving everyone else? With 40 people to prepare food for, I'm sure they were busy. The waitress could have looked at the menu and said there is chicken here with a mushroom sauce that is served with rice and seasonal veggies. Would you like a large serving of rice, sauce and veggies? Heck if they had a can of chick peas kicking around they could have tossed it in but really just the side dishes they were serving everyone else would have been better than plain pasta - blech

                                                          1. As others have stated, most restaurants can throw together an acceptable vegetarian meal, which a bowl of buttered noodles is not. My then-employer gave a very nice holiday dinner every year. They always asked ahead for a vegetarian meal for me. Most years it was quite nice, but one year it was a mound of steamed veggies--carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Nothing else. None of the beautiful sides I saw on other peoples' plates. Not a nice big salad. A mound of steamed veggies.
                                                            Unfortunately, that's going to happen from time to time. For what your FIL was paying, even with no advance, what she was served seems woefully inadequate. That said, your daughter should probably plan to be prepared for that from time to time.