The Most Vegan-Unfriendly of Chains


I don’t eat at chain restaurants often. Once every few months, I’ll get something from Panera. If I’m on the road at 10pm and have no other choices, I’ll suck it up at go to a Subway. But, generally, I’ll stay away from chain food because nine times out of ten it sucks. And I’m not just talking from a vegan perspective, but from an overall perspective. There are those times, though, where it’s unavoidable, usually when eating out with a group, especially since I tend to avoid voicing my opinion too loudly when it comes to such things as deciding where to eat. Such was the case this weekend when I ate at IHOP.

Now, IHOP. It’s the International House of Pancakes. And while pancakes are fine for lacto-ovos, they ain’t kosher for vegans (well, they can be, but you know they’re not at IHOP). Still, though, I figured they’d have a few vegan options, even if I had to opt for a plate of fresh fruit.

Let me warn vegans even thinking for a second about eating there: IHOP does not have any fresh fruit. The closest thing they have is “fruit compote,” essentially “mushy fruit in heavy syrup.”

So, I had to made due with apple juice, fruit compote, and watery-grits-hold-the-butter-please (which they didn’t do the first time around). What a crappy meal.

Dearest IHOP, thanks for nothing, jerks. Would it kill you to have some fresh fruit?

36 Responses to “The Most Vegan-Unfriendly of Chains”

  1. veganfreak

    jeez, what are you a pinko communist or something, wanting FRESH FRUIT?

    Yeah, chains suck, and I’m with you there. I can deal with Subway, but that’s about it. The yuppie types at Panera really get to me, so much so that I’d rather go to a grocery store and buy an orange instead.

    How hard would it be to just have a few simple vegan options!?

  2. Neil

    It’s funny that you mentioned IHOP because my wife and I just came back from there… and she was saying the same thing you were. It’s not only a bad place for a vegan, they have nothing healthy to eat for anyone.

    My wife is trying to eat vegetarian and she’s having one hell of a time learning what to eat. One of her problems is that she had breast cancer and her doctor said that tofu can produce the estrogen that might trigger more cancer. So, even when we go out to eat at a vegetarian restaurant, it’s difficult to find non-tofu oriented dishes. We tried seitan once, but we noticed on the box that the company also includes tofu for flavoring.

    Has anyone else encountered this problem?

  3. Ryan

    Tofu for flavoring? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that!

    Most seitan does not have any soy in it, so try again with a different brand.

    In terms of what else to eat, try the whole gamut of grains (couscous, bulghur, quinoa), pastas, beans, veggies, fruits, etc. There’s still plenty to eat that’s not tofu-centric. Go to the library and check out some of the vegetarian cookbooks… pick up a huge tome like Vegan Planet and you’ll see what an amazing variety of food there is out there to eat.

  4. Lauren

    Hi, just surfed on in! I love your blog!!

    I’m not a strict vegitarian, but I do watch every bite I put into my mouth. I hate the chains too and it’s so hard when you are with a group.

    My husband and I affectionately refer to IHOP as “Eye Slop” becasue the food is just that slimey. Yes, I have to be pretty hard up to go there and I’ve only done so when the “group will” got me there.


  5. crankyvegan

    buy a box of wheat gluten and make your own seitan, it’s easy and taste much better than the store bought.
    I can’t imagine anything being flavored w/ tofu as from my experience tofu doesn’t have much flavor.

  6. brownbirdrudyrelic

    Being a Vegan in New York City can sometimes leave you a bit oblivious to the outside omni-world. Visiting my wife’s family in Virginia (in a super-small town no less) has drummed the literally-no-vegan-options notion into my head “Buddy-Rich-style” plenty of times. (I have found that an overwhelming majority of Southern veggie dishes tend to have some sort of meat-badness in them to boot) What is one to do? GO / STAY VEGAN!

  7. Saturnino Garcia

    I remember going to IHOP not long after I went vegan. What a horrible experience. I didn’t even think about it when i decided to go there but nothing on their menu is vegan. I ordered a veggie burger but found it it had some cheese in it (and I had to scrape off the mayo I told them not to put on it).

    Definitely never going there again…

  8. the vegan of youth

    I’ll remember that!I’m the only vegan in my family and chances are SOMEBODY will want to go to IHOP. I have the same non-aggressive tendencies you do, but next time the IHOP question arouses I’ll make an exception to my usually calm philosophy!

  9. Suebob

    I am always amazed that everywhere doesn’t at least have a box of frozen vegan fake burger patties in the freezer…I mean, how flipping hard is THAT?

  10. soyjoy

    IHOP at least has the excuse that (despite their ridiculous name) their menu is focused on exactly one thing: Pancakes and related standard American breakfast foods.

    What’s APPLEBEE’S excuse? They’re supposed to be a freakin’ dinner restaurant, no? In Florida I pulled the “veto vegetarian” thing with my etended family and walked out after examining their utterly non-vegan menu.

  11. rae

    yes, travelling through nowhere, texas i ate at an ihop for several meals. i ordered the oatmeal cooked with just water and a green dinner salad. they thought i was crazy but it was vegan and filled me up. it didn’t seem so bad to me, but i was on my way back from nowhere, mexico and they pickins’ were much slimmer there.

  12. Veg Pilot

    Here’s another candidate for the “most vegan unfriendly” restaurant chain of all time: Cracker Barrell. The waitress informed me that “99.9% of our food has some kind of meat in it.” Then she smiled and suggested I order the (buttermilk) biscuits with butter and honey. Needless to say I ate one of the “emergency” vegan energy bars stashed in my purse and lamented the fact that the collard greens were “flavored” with ham hocks…

  13. jm

    It’s true, Applebee’s really does suck. I ordered a basic dinner salad, said to hold the cheese (as salads have become more and more cheese-infested these days) and asked for oil and vinegar on the side. I figured that should do the trick. I was then served a salad with egg and bacon in it. Disgusting.

  14. Charlie

    Are the hash browns at IHOP vegan? I’d happily eat a meal of them.

  15. Neil

    To all you vegen who don’t seem to get it.
    do you realize that there really aren’t enough of you vegens for the resturants to care about your opinion. They don’t want you in their resturants because all you are going to order is a couple pieces of fruit, and you are going to take up a whole table. stop bitching and either don’t go to a resturant or stop being vegen.

  16. Ryan

    Neil — #1, if you’re going to criticize vegans, learn to spell the word.

    #2: They don’t want you in their resturants because all you are going to order is a couple pieces of fruit, and you are going to take up a whole table

    Are you seriously that stupid?

    If they had more than fruit, I would have ordered it.

  17. Tom Squires

    Vegans are not money makers for restaurants. Most people go to a restaurant to pig out. People with the self control to be vegans tend to eat very small meals. Secondly, vegans tend to be incredibly fussy. Everything has to be just so. This is good in that vegans have better health than most people, but it makes them a server’s worst nightmare. Also, in my experience, vegans tend to tip poorly, and they tend to go to restaurants to talk (and hog a table for 2 and 1/2 hours) rather than to eat. In my experience, the restaurant staff don’t jump up and dance when vegans roll through the door. This is just my experience, and perhaps it’s clouded by my own prejudice. I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say.

  18. Ryan

    Wow… that’s a lot of generalizations in one post!

    I don’t know… all of the vegans I’ve ever known will pig out at a restaurant if given a choice, just like anyone else. In terms of tipping, I can only speak for myself, but I tip well. And as far as sitting there and talking… I don’t see how vegans are any more or less likely to do that than anyone else.

    I can understand how it would be difficult for servers, though. I think if restaurants were a little more up front with what’s in their dishes, it would make life easier for everyone, including those with allergies. I’m not talking about a full ingredient list for every item, but for instance, an Italian restaurant near my house designates all vegetarian dishes with an asterik. A very nice touch that goes a long way.

  19. Tom Squires

    In response to Ryan (and I thank him for being so civil when I made so many generalizations) I feel I can back up most of these claims. First of all, if you are a vegan, you have basically decided that you will control your food, and that your food will not have control over you (at least more so than the general population.) Consequently, vegans TEND to be less prone to overeat, and tend to eat only as much as they should. If you only eat as much as you should, you aren’t eating very much. Well, if you aren’t eating very much, then you have more of a tendency to come to a restaurant to talk than to eat. Next, I would bet a large sum of money that the average vegan has a higher I.Q. than the general population. Intelligent people tend to waste their money less than others and consequently vegans are less likely to tip over 15%. There is in fact a tendency of certain groups of people to tip in a certain fashion. You can look this up, because if I tell you what the tendency is, I won’t make any friends here. I’ll just say for example that it is a pretty well known fact that fat men have the greatest tendency to give good tips. As for being fussy, vegans have a greater tendency to care more about what they put in their mouth (this is a good thing). I’m not a vegan, but my belief is that vegans tend to be more intelligent and careful in their eating habits that the general population. That’s not what the restaurant industry wants—they want someone who will eat whatever slop is dumped in front of them, along with the appetizer, dessert, and three orders of sodas. In other words, vegans want to eat good food, and that’s harder and more expensive to make than slop.

  20. IP

    My husband and I are vegetarian. We’ve all but given up on eating out, Especially fast food chains. Even Subway, prepares their food on the same counter. Think about it, same hands (and no they don’t always wear the gloves), same knives. I’ve no desire to eat tiny bits of meat in my sandwich. Even restaurants that cater to vegetarian by offering a few dishes are out for us, for the same reason, ‘Are you cooking my BocaBurger on the same grill as their’s?” Gotta pass.

    Oh for a Meat Will Never Pass Through These Doors fast food chain….

    We were in a restaurant touted as being Vegetarian, only to find fish on the menu, ‘But it’s the only meat we serve, the waitress calmly said with upturned eyes.
    Gotta pass.

    Simply said, to us, the food is ‘tainted’. I don’t even like buying substitute meat in the frozen section of the grocery store if it’s stacked next to ‘FarmerJohns Frozen Hamburgers’.


    We cook, at home, in our own No Meat Shall Pass Through These Doors kitchen. Safer that way, and no one rolls their eyes at my questions.

    Thanks for the interesting and informative site.

  21. WINGS

    I am a pesco-vegitarian, I know you guys don’t like it that we call ourselves that but I am proud of my desicion to only eat fish and veggies. I don’t eat eggs, my thing on that is how would I like it if someone ate my eggs. Anyways I have found that chain restraunts do not cater whatsoever to vegitarians or vegans. I am lucky cause I live very close to Seattle and there are a lot of vegitarian restraunts there and Indian restraunts. Anyways I will take note not to go to IHOP cause they don’t have much of choice for vegetarians.
    “I can fly wit my words”

  22. Mikeguy

    Hey, I don’t want to come off as offensive, but I am just interested in learning why people are vegans. I figured that a vegan blog would be a good place to ask. Any one that feels like answering can e-mail me I guess.

  23. Brooke

    I am not a vegitarian myself nor a Vegan. But I do have to admire they’er such self control. It would be nice if more people had such. My only thing is that I find sometimes that I fell put down because I am not. (gotta have my chicken wings). there are a couple vegitarians at work who always think they need to say somthing about what i or some one else brought for lunch. I mean goodness I have no issue with how you eat, get off my back about what i like. I need all the protien I can get. I have health issues that sap my energy and a quick burger I have found is the only thing that puts it right back. But again, thats me. people are all differant and what is good for one may not be for another. any wayz that is my 2 cents

  24. Danielle

    Hey, give me good vegan food, and I will chow down. I usually practice self-control for, well, weight control reasons. Most sit-down chains have lousy choices for vegans. The nice thing about living in DC is it’s pretty easy to avoid them.

  25. Wendy

    I’ve eaten at IHOP before, and although I admit their price were a little outrageous and their foods were probably one of the most fattening in the world…I didn’t find anything wrong with it. But I guess after reading all these comments I won’t go there anymore.

    After all, I too am a strong vegetarian, and I believe it is…”cruel and unusual punishment” if you will…to carelessly keep any animal in a confined area and take them out only to kill them for the selfish reason of profit. It’s a horrible thing, and I encourage people to not eat meat…or at least eat only Kosher meat…I recommend that with pride.

  26. Lis

    I grew up eating Kosher meat before I went vegan, and it is NOT better than regular meat. The animals aren’t allowed anesthetics before being slaughtered (as say kashrut laws) and conditions are no better than your regular factory farm. The animals are not required to be “free-range” and even that is faulty advertising.

    As for restaurants…I am vegan, have been for years, and am very proud of that lifestyle. I do not eat meat or animal products, do not wear animal products, and make other choices based on my veganism as well. However, when eating out, I make it clear to the waiter what it is that I want to eat (hold the butter, mayo, etc.) BUT it is my personal philosophy to eat the food that he/she brings me, even if they made a mistake in the kitchen and put mayo on my tofu sandwich. Yes I am sacrificing my personal purity, but the food would be thrown away if I didn’t eat it, causing more food to be wasted and more suffering (wasted food, wasted animal products, same economic contribution to animal cruelty, etc.). I am wondering what other vegans think of this and what decision they have made on this issue. I do of course let the waiter know about the mistake and that he should tell the kitchen to be more careful since some people would ask for another sandwich and/or have a food allergy that could be serious.

    Thanks for reading

  27. Sunita

    Lis: I would suggest that eating it anyway is NOT a great choice, mainly because it gives food service people the impression that our choices are not all that important to us, and therefore it is ok to get it wrong…

    That said, I have spent the last week picking cheese off my meals at catered work things (I honestly think I’m lucky to be getting egg-free veggie food!), but would put my foot down in a restaurant. Even managed to get the canteen to make me a vegan sandwich today (humus + tomato).

    As a long-term vegetarian (20 years), who has recently turned vegan, the whole social aspect at work is really the most difficult thing (yay, none of the expected cheese cravings). Although my vegetarianism attracted little comment, it has been a bit difficult to communicate the transition to veganism to others, especially at work.

    Has anyone got any ideas for how I can make sure I have something to eat at catered events/business lunches, but by approaching the matter in a tactful way? Between a (free) canteen lunch and catered meetings, it seems like at least one meal a day is just bread or salad, and if I eat any more humus it is going to start coming out of my pores…

  28. Kerry

    Maybe most vegans have self-control when it comes to eating, but personally, I do not. I am a total glutton, provided the food is vegan. Is anybody else the same way?

  29. flyingoyster

    I am a vegetarian (of about 15 years) and now vegan for just over a year. I found myself heading out for a dinner with my grandmother (whom I used to live with but now haven’t seen in several years). Her request was that we go to IHOP (she would not give me a plan B, even though I asked repeatedly). I hadn’t been to one since becoming vegan and did a google search to see about options. That’s when I came to this site. I was a little disheartened by the comments, but figured, in the interest of making my 83 year old grandmother happy, I’d go and eat a plain salad, if nothing else – or get something vegetarian/bend the vegan rule, in this situation only. I, too, was baffled by the lack of actual fresh fruit – very weird. They did not, however, have the non-vegan veggie burger on the menu (as mentioned in an earlier post). They did have “vegetarian black bean soup”. I ordered it (without the cheese or sour cream – I assumed right that it comes with something like that). It did come with some salsa on the top. I have to say it was not bad. I doubt that it was actually vegan, but I suppose it might have been (butter maybe?).

    My point: it was not as bad as you guys had posted, but…if given the choice – OBVIOUSLY go somewhere more vegan-friendly. No chains, in general.

    My comments to earlier posts:
    Lis: I, too, tend to take the middle path on the restaurant thing. Not that my choices aren’t important to me, it’s just that I understand that the concept of “no animal products” can be baffling to people who eat animals without batting an eye and thinks that a regular vegetarian MUST eat fish, right?

    Sunita: eat food prepared by Ken Bergeron (vegan chef) or some other awesome vegan cook? I will totally pig out, too. My options when in situations like you describe are usually fresh fruit and always having vegan energy bars on hand, like LunaBars or Clif Bars.

    Brooke: my experience is pretty much the exact opposite of yours. I am CONSTANTLY defending my food choices to my omnivore co-workers. They seem to feel attacked by me being a vegan. I don’t drink alcohol either and it’s almost the same experience. A social setting, people are drinking, all I hear is “Why don’t you drink?”, “Do you have a problem with people who drink?”, “Does alcoholism run in your family?”, “Are you a recovering alcoholic?” blah blah blah. As far as your protein needs: at the risk of sounding like one of your annoying vegetarian co-workers: there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan ways of getting protein. You like the taste of meat and it fits into your morality. That’s it. No judgment or justification needed.

    Mikeguy: what’s your email address? will give info without hogging up comments section here more than I already have.

    (sorry for the long post – got a lot off my chest, I guess)

  30. Nora

    I am a vegetarian, and I am devestated to find that I ate two fries from McDonalds yesterday and they are cooked in beef extract! I feel terribl!

  31. GoGMU

    My vote for most unfriendly vegan/vegetarian chain is Panda Express. On their corporate web site they proudly proclaim that none of their food is vegetarian. Even their mixed vegetables are cooked in chicken broth. How barbaric is that?

  32. Nikki

    Ugh I totaly agree I am so pissed off at the fruit situation and its pathetic I went to a resrant that isnt well known and not that greatly run THEY HAD FRESH FRUIT seriously IHop you cheap ass yuppies think of people who cant eat all you nasty crap and like fresh friut not a stupid fruit bowl that everything taste like cantalope i hate cantalope

  33. michael

    I am a bit confused by nearly all these posts. I am a vegan, I do it for health reasons and I eat out every day, some days 2 and 3 meals, and it doesnt matter if you are vegan or vegetarian or a carnevor, you must choose a quality establishment that has a food that you like. I certainly dont expect the general or mass restraunts to have a veg or vegan menu but there are usually 1 or 2 things on the menu that do fit within the lifestyle. Many of my friends (non veg and non vegan) love I hop so I have found myself there on many occasion. I dont understand what you are sayingthey dont have fresh fruit. I order fresh fruit every time and get a small bowl of grapes, strawberry, and a few melons….its not mushy or a fruit compote. I also order whole wheat toast (dry) and tomato slices and I have been known to bring hummus or a condiment with me to use on the bread….I have eaten at Applebees, and McDonalds (apples and grapes) and many many other restaurants and have not had any problems….stop looking for problems and start looking at the menu and you will see that there are choices, maybe not many but thats ok, I am able to have an enjoyble meal with y frends and co workers and still eat food that fits in my personal life style that I dont consume animal protiens or products. if you want more choices go to a restaurant that caters to your specific lifestyle or stay home. I chose to be a vegan, I dont expect theworld to cater and acommodate me and my choices….its up to me to make my choices to frequent a restaurant based on their menu not them make make a menu based on my choices.

  34. asdfghj

    about that whole ‘vegans take up the table for hours & don’t pig out’ thing. . .
    we WOULD pig out if there were a variety of vegan options to actually pig out on.!
    this is why restaurant needa incorporate true vegan meals. no restaruant / buisness wants to lose a customer; therefore, vegan options would be a great benifical additon to ALL restaurants for whenever the vegan may walk in the door.

  35. Shelby

    Maybe it very a depending on place because I worked at IHOP for a while and they DO have fresh fruit. Twice a week we had a preper come (who cuts all the onions and things) and she cuts fresh fruit. There is fruit complete but that’s mainly for pancakes. The has Browns are also vegan and their English muffins (just ask no butter) you can add the jelly they have which is vegan to. Grits are preped by the waiter unless on a weekend morning, so that’s on the waiter. The oatmeal is good to. You could have gotten oatmeal with the compote. Maybe it was your location because mine has great options.

  36. Shelby

    It may vary upon locations because I worked at one IHOP for a while and they had great options. The grits are made by the waiter unless on a weekend morning but you can always say use less water because sometimes that’s how they are taught to make them. The oatmeal is good there to and you could have put the composte in it and some maple syrup. The composte fruit is usually made for the pancakes. Our location did have fresh fruit. We had a preper come in (who cuts all the onions and things) and cut fresh fruit twice a week, so not sure why yours wouldn’t. Also, the hash browns are vegan every location. The English muffin to (hold the butter) and get it with jelly. Not sure why you didn’t get much, maybe it’s your location or maybe open your mind a little more. A lot of vegans restrict their mind before they even go to eat thinking there won’t be much.

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