I don't eat out at restaurants, I'm a strict vegetarian, and it's part of my faith. However, recently my manager invited me and other colleagues to a lunch. I don't want to be disrespectful and say no.

These are the things I can do:

  1. Take my home-made lunch with me. But again, this can be seen as a little rude.
  2. Order like a drink at the restaurant and tell the manager that I can't eat out and hope he respects that.

How can I decline the invitation politely?

  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere Thanks! That's what I dide, and the manager was cool about it. All worked out. =)
    – harsimranb
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:27
  • 3
    Talking is good, and I'm glad it worked for you. It usually works for me, but recently I had a manager get really upset with another employee not wanting to go to the work xmas lunch at a "beef and beer" restaurant, so instead of saying I wouldn't go I said "I won't be able to eat anything there, and I'd prefer not to go", to make it obviously a decision he could make. He said I had to go anyway, so I did. Which was not great, but better than the treatment given to the guy who took annual leave that day. Be aware that sometimes you will have to go alone and just drink water while people eat.
    – Móż
    Feb 5, 2014 at 21:55
  • @Ӎσᶎ Thanks for the adivce. The thing is that I've been working here for about a month, so I'm just a bit overly-cautious I suppose. I also want to get on good terms with people. That was why I asked here before asking my manager. Who would've thought something small like this could be a big deal?
    – harsimranb
    Feb 5, 2014 at 22:00
  • The other 99% of the time it'll be much easier, at least in my experience. Most people organising these things are expecting to have to deal with various preferences. And when it's a small, semi-informal thing like that it's really easy to do what your manager did and bounce the decision back to you (and it's usually easier for you, since you're more likely to know some local places you can eat at). I have a lot of stories about this from years at work, the one above is the worst so far.
    – Móż
    Feb 5, 2014 at 22:32
  • 1
    Just for example, I had one boss spent ages ringing around for another xmas thing because one co-worker was very meat-focussed, I'm vegetarian, and my boss was Italian. Eventually he found a really nice Italian place that did some kind of beef stuffed with chicken thing for my co-worker, minestrone soup for me, and everyone was happy. Boss was like "and we're going there every year from now on, I'm not spending four hours on the phone again". But he was laughing about it.
    – Móż
    Feb 5, 2014 at 22:35

3 Answers 3


You could ask the person who's sending the invitation if the restaurant has vegetarian items on the menu. If they don't know, ask for the name so you can look them up and call them. If you can establish that there is at least one or two items on the menu that you can eat, go and have fun!

If they have nothing that fits your diet, politely decline and explain why, and maybe offer to meet them after lunch for coffee. Or you could suggest another nearby restaurant that does have some vegetarian items.

  • 10
    By not going at all, you risk being "left out of the loop" or getting a different message communicated to you than the rest of the group heard if work topics come up. Fair or not, not being in the right place at the right time (the restaurant for lunch) could hold you back at some point in the future.
    – alroc
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:17
  • 1
    @alroc That's exactly what I'm worried about too.
    – harsimranb
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:26
  • 2
    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, I asked my manager and he was fairly cool about it. He said we can go to a vegan restaurant. Thanks a lot for the advice.
    – harsimranb
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:27
  • I agree with @alroc -- better to go and not eat (you can do that before or after, on your own) than to not go. I find myself in the "restaurant full of stuff I can't eat" situation at times too, but these lunches aren't really about the food but rather the team. Feb 7, 2014 at 19:40
  • 1
    I agree with alroc and @Monica. As someone with food allergies I'll sometimes call the restaurant in advance to see if they have anything I can eat. But even then, I sometimes end up sipping on water while everyone else eats (lesson: eat beforehand). Usually a simple salad with no dressing/croûtons/etc. is safe, so that's my 'go to' option when I'm not sure (lunch interviews, etc.).
    – James Adam
    Feb 7, 2014 at 21:04

Ask the Kitchen

My Girlfriend is a strict vegetarian as well, and of late she had an interesting experience, where she contacted the kitchen or the restaurant directly, where she was going to have a formal business dinner. Even though the menu didn't offer anything vegetarian, the kitchen said they would prepare something especially for her. She ended up getting something very good, so that even some of her colleagues wondered if next time at that restaurant they could get the same thing : ) She was prepared just to eat a raw salad if there was nothing on the menu, but having asked the kitchen turned out to have been a really good idea.

Since then whenever we were invited to a restaurant that couldn't be confirmed to have a vegetarian dish we would call there - this has helped us out 2 more times.

The moral I guess, is that good restaurants are aware of the rising trend in vegetarianism - and even if they don't generally cater to vegetarians, they won't risk on passing out on a business dinner party, just because out of 10 people 1 won't eat their standard menu. They would rather make something special for that one person.


I see three easy ways to handle this:

  1. Explain the situation
  2. Offer to pick the restaurant
  3. Find alternatives to eating out

As long as your boss understands the reason for not accepting outright, and you make an effort to find a way to make it work out, you shouldn't have a problem.

Above presumes your boss is a reasonable person.


If you can give a good explanation ahead of time, it will go a long way to making other people be accommodating:

Hey boss, thanks for the invitation! I would love to go out, but as a vegetarian it may restrict our options on where I can eat.

Offer to do the Legwork

Since many non-vegetarians have little experience knowing what the heck your dietary restrictions really mean, offering to do the hard work yourself could help:

There are plenty of restaurants that serve vegetarian dishes and meat too. Do you mind if I suggest a restaurant? Do you like Indian* food?

* Indian is just an example because they usually have vegetarian dishes, but regardless of what you stick in here, try to pick something that your boss is likely to be happy with to increase chances of saying yes. I just love Indian food.

While you may not eat out much because of your diet, you should definitely put effort in to finding restaurants that are enjoyable to both omni- and herbivores for work-related functions, as well as for business dinners and the like.

Offer an Alternative

Maybe there's no restaurant that suits everyone within a reasonable distance from your work. That's fine. Sometimes it won't work out and you can say, "Do you mind if I reschedule and we can do lunch some other time?"

Then go and figure out how you can find a compromise. Perhaps you can offer to get everyone sandwiches and eat outside somewhere. If you're a good cook and think you can make them something vegetarian they'll like, offer to bring in lunch for them sometime. Or if food is just going to be a difficult sticking point, you can try to swap out business lunches for after-lunch drinks or the like so that you can still have the semi-social atmosphere without the issue with food.

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