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The company I work for hires a lot of contractors, some of which are Indian. I want to stay as inclusive with my team as possible, so making small-talk about food, or going out for a team lunch is usually my go to for socializing. I often want to suggest a diner nearby, or a steakhouse, but I don't want to run the risk of offending or excluding anyone on the team.

From what I understand, there is a large vegetarian culture in India, on top of a culture against eating beef. Would it be insensitive or inappropriate to stereotype my co-workers by asking them if they eat beef, or other types of meat?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about navigating the workplace as described in the help center. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 16 '17 at 18:52
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    I feel this question is relevant to the workplace, for the following reason - Many workplaces cater, or bring food in for employees while they're working. Whether or not it's appropriate to ask someone about their cultural beliefs, as far as they pertain to what foods they are able to eat, seems like an appropriate question for navigating the workplace. On that note - to the op - I'd really just suggest a place that has both beef and vegan options, if you could find one, and leaving it up to the end user, without requiring they say anything or identify themselves as a specific way. – schizoid04 Dec 18 '17 at 17:48
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    Specifically, this is the part of the help center criteria on what questions can be asked here that I believe is relevant: "Leadership in the workplace (... making decisions, holding hard conversations ...)" While it seems a bit of a gray area, I think it's a question worth having on the site. – schizoid04 Dec 18 '17 at 17:51
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    It's good of you to be concerned about making your workers feel included. You probably shouldn't only ask the Indians whether they have dietary restrictions, as people from any culture might have them for a variety of reasons. Just ask all your workers whether there is anything they can't eat. – La-comadreja Dec 18 '17 at 23:28
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The better way to be inclusive (in this and other cases) is to either ask if they have any food preferences, or ask if they have some preferred restaurants.

That allows them to volunteer what they want. They may suggest some restaurants and you should choose one of those. That way you already know there is food that they can order. Or they might offer a list of foods they avoid, which will help you in choosing an inclusive restaurant.

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    Or, if it's more casual, we'll always just say, "We're thinking of [place]. How does that sound to everyone?" Of course, that's if it's a group of people who've worked together for a while just heading out for lunch together, so everybody knows they can object. – kmc Dec 14 '17 at 20:46
  • I think this works well if everyone has a reasonably compatible diet. Almost every restaurant, even steakhouses, can accommodate vegetarians. However, if people follow stricter diets or you have a mix of such people (e.g. vegan, strict kosher or halal), this approach isn't likely to help. – Eric Dec 15 '17 at 15:00
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Yes a significant portion of Indian workers are vegetarians. Very few of the ones who eat meat, in my experience will eat beef because cows are sacred in India among Hindus.

It is great to suggest places to eat but I would never suggest a steak house. And I would always be sure to pick a place that has vegetarian (but not necessarily vegan, they can eat cheese) choices. That way you don't run the risk of being offensive without having to ask.

Now if the restaurant has plenty of other choices, you can order a meal with beef if you want. Just don't go anywhere that serves mostly beef as that would be insensitive to their culture.

If you go to an an American style restaurant, you may have to help them find the vegetarian choices as what they call things and what we call things may not be the same. I remember some Indian colleagues at a picnic who did not know that coleslaw was safe to eat because they had no idea what coleslaw had in it. Especially let them know that something has beef or pork if that is what they are looking at. Especially if it is in something like green beans that appears to be a vegetable dish to them.

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    These days, picking a place with decent vegetarian options is simply a best practice when organising a team lunch as both employees and their dietary preferences have become more diverse. – Lilienthal Dec 15 '17 at 19:16
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As a Hindu vegetarian having grown up my whole life in New Zealand, I would not be offended by someone at work suggesting a lunch/dinner place that served a lot of meat (I suppose this includes Beef as well). Sometimes I feel a little awkward and like I'm a bit of a nuisance because of my dietary requirements which sometimes restrict the variety of restaurants/cuisines we can go to.

From my perspective, the best thing would be for you to suggest a couple of places that do have sufficient vegetarian options and as mentioned above BBQ restaurants are not necessarily ideal. Most restaurants and cuisines apart from a few South-East Asian cuisines will have ample vegetarian options.

On the note of offending, I don't think you should be worried about offending them, as it is not rude to enquire about another culture. But do make it clear from what perspective you're asking e.g. "We want to go for dinner tomorrow night, does anyone have any suggestions.. oh and are there any vegetarians or dietary requirements?" The alternative when you're in a more curious mood, is to ask one-on-one "So are you vegetarian? Are many Indians vegetarian? What's the story with beef... " so on and so on.

Hope this makes some progress towards answering your question.

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You can just ask if anyone has any dietary restrictions. This doesn't imply anything about religion or culture, and could be as simple as you looking out for people with allergies to certain types of food (eg. seafood or peanut allergy).

  • This is great - some people might not be able to eat meat for various reasons (allergy, for example). – Per Alexandersson Dec 21 '17 at 11:07
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While the above answers are largely correct, I think this is way too over-thought and over-discussed. The fact that you would ask someone if they eat something before offering it, is polite enough. You are not and should not be expected to study and understand everyone's culture.

When someone travels out of their own home country, it is also important for them to learn and realize the culture of the place they are visiting and not be uptight about their owns. If someone is offended by that question, then they have bigger problems.

I am from India and I am a vegetarian. While travelling abroad, if I cannot eat something due to my diet restrictions (culturally or otherwise), I simply refuse politely. (Just like any normal person would do irrespective of culture!)

protected by Chris E Dec 18 '17 at 20:59

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