vegan eats: a less-than-enthused review of California Pizza Kitchen

This weekend has been especially emotionally taxing so I’ve been finding comfort in food. I had a really irritating encounter at California Pizza Kitchen yesterday that I will write about only briefly as it really gets my knickers in a twist when I think about it.

We (my boyfriend and I) had some errands to run yesterday afternoon and we found ourselves out in public and hungry. We don’t eat out much anymore because of my vegan thing (and for budgetary reasons) but he said he really had a taste for California Pizza Kitchen. I’ve never been big on CPK and have only been a handful of times (we actually had one of our first “dates” there, and it’s probably only one of three times I’ve ever been). They have the menu posted outside and a quick glance showed me that I probably don’t have many options. I decided I’d just figure it out when we got inside.

They were kind of busy so I took to my phone to google “vegan CPK options” to see if anything would come up. To my absolute delight and surprise, CPK has a wonderful PDF guide to all vegetarian and vegan menu offerings. I started to feel much better and I wondered why all chain restaurants don’t do the same. I quickly located a few things I could order (with substitutions, of course) and noticed that the guide seems to be written for employees, so I sort of assumed maybe this is something the waitstaff and kitchenstaff are trained on: how to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions (either by allergies or by choice). I know nothing about the serving industry but it seems to me that restaurant staff, especially for chain restaurants that have lots of corporate rules and regulations, should be educated on these things because they are the difference between someone with a peanut allergy enjoying their meal safely or becoming deathly ill during their visit. (I realize now that my mistake here was comparing allergies to choices, but I still stand firm that the staff should be aware of different diets.)

But I digress. We were off to a bad start with the waitress from the get-go. I knew I should have just ordered the roasted vegetable salad with fat-free balsamic instead of messing with a pizza…but my desire for pizza got the better of me. I recited my order per the vegan guide: “Can I have the japanese vegetarian eggplant pizza, no cheese, on thin crust?” They have three crusts: regular, wholegrain honey, and thin. Thin is the only vegan crust and can be subbed in for any pizza on the menu for $1.50. I was willing to do this, of course. After I ordered, she asked “regular or wholegrain?” I was confused because I had just said thin, so I thought maybe they have two thin crusts. So I said regular.ย  A few minutes later, I really regretted that–I should have just repeated “thin.” I knew my pizza crust was not going to be vegan and my bad mood started. After I placed my order, she gave me a look and said, “Are you sure you don’t want goat cheese?” Maybe this was premature, but I started to get irritated. I just rattled off an order verbatim from the vegan ordering menu that was clearly designed for employees and she asked me if I was “sure” I didn’t want cheese. Again, perhaps premature, but this really rubbed me the wrong way.

Our food arrived and of course, as predicted, mine was not on thin crust. I am not the type to send food back, especially because I decided this was my own fault–she did give me the choice between the two crusts that weren’t thin and I didn’t correct her. My fault. I was not going to send it back. I told myself that maybe the crust just has a little honey or a little milk and it wouldn’t kill me. I was pissed, but I ate my pizza anyway. When my boyfriend and I were finished with our pizzas, we each had two or three pieces left. She brought us one small to-go box. I was irritated by this, too, because a) she assumed we lived together and are going to the same place. b) my pizza is vegan and his pizza was a meat-lover’s pizza, is she blind? I was just going to let it go but my boyfriend saw the look on my face so he asked her very nicely when she came back if we could get another box. She said, “Oh of course, I wouldn’t want you to get your meaty pizza all dirty with all those veggies on hers.”

This was the last straw for me. I don’t know if she was trying to be funny, or if she was trying to be flirty, or if she was just truly ignorant, but I was just in disbelief. I think at any other restaurant, I wouldn’t have been bothered by any of this. For me, it is the fact that I walked in there, was delighted to find that they have an employee guide to vegan and vegetarian menu items on their website, and my service proved to me that they have not actually educated their employees on this at all. I don’t know if I was more irritated by her ignorance which could be quite independent of the restaurant, or irritated that the website marketed the fact that their employees are aware of these things but have not followed through with the training necessary. I don’t mean to be psycho-vegan and I know this is all just par for the course, but I walked in having no expectations, was thrilled to find the vegan guide on their website, and then went on to be extremely disappointed. A more militant me would write a letter to their manager. But I don’t aim to get anybody fired. That’s not my thang.

And now to prove that I am human (ha), I am about to confess something extremely embarrassing. Yes, I am annoyed by people in the service industry who don’t understand dietary restrictions (whether they be by allergy or by choice), but it wasn’t that long ago that I was fuzzy on what “vegan” meant. Several years ago I heard this song…

There is a line in the song that goes like this…

so what do you do?
oh yeah, I wait tables too
no, I haven’t heard your band
’cause you guys are pretty new
but if you dig on vegan food
well come over to my work
I’ll have them cook you something that you’ll really love…

When I first heard this song, I was totally perplexed by this and thought the lead singer was trying to be funny–because I thought that “vegan” and “raw diet” were synonymous. Yikes! I thought he was being facetious by saying “I’ll have them cook you something” when raw food isn’t cooked. Oh, the strides I’ve made!

Moral of the story: we can all make mistakes/be uneducated. But I still find it less acceptable when your job is to serve others. Maybe our waitress didn’t deserve my wrath (and I still thought I was a very polite customer, I was not difficult, and we still tipped her 20%) but I couldn’t help but feel extremely angered by the entire situation.

Now on a lighter and less obnoxious note… some food porn. And cats. Because cats are cute and cuddly and make everybody on the interwebz feel better.

Buffalo seitan spinach wrap… (I really need to get off this seitan kick, I always wear out foods I love)

Vegan chocolate chip pancakes…

And finally, kitties!

they love to burrow in my very non-vegan-friendly winter footwear

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8 thoughts on “vegan eats: a less-than-enthused review of California Pizza Kitchen

  1. That server at CPK sounds like a meanie and I don’t think you were overacting at all. It looks like your own homemade food more than makes up for that annoying situation. Those pancakes look amazing…recipe?

    • ugh, thanks. I was really annoyed yesterday and had I written this yesterday, it would have been filled with expletives probably. I realize now that it was probably only 50% the waitress’s fault and the rest was the company she works for and my own assumptions/expectations. But still, very annoying indeed.

      The pancakes were so easy it should be criminal! I used this recipe and added some cinnamon, vanilla extract and vegan choc chips: They turned out super thick (as is obvious by the pics!) which was delicious, pillowy, and mmmm. I highly recommend!

  2. […] by spitting venom in my last post about CPK, I forgot to mention my other rant of the day. I attended a St. Patrick’s Day/80th […]

  3. Meat Eater says:

    This is just me, but perhaps had you mentioned to the server or manager that you had a dietary restriction instead of hiding it like something to be ashamed of then you would have had a better experience? Most servers are balancing school, maybe two jobs and probably aren’t making a career out of their server job at CPK. It’s not exactly their responsibility as a server to read your mind. Had you informed them, maybe you could have had a less stressful day. Most managers and staff will take a dietary restriction very serious if you simply tell them you have one. I eat meat, but often order items meatless. I don’t expect people to assume I am vegetarian, vegan or anything else because of that. Live outside of your own head when you’re in public to avoid such “bad” experiences. Sounds like you brought it on yourself to me.

    • Thanks for giving a voice to the other side. I see your points and they are valid. The thing I’m struggling with most is that the vegan stereotype is pretty harsh and I don’t feel comfortable marching into a restaurant and making demands. I try to avoid being “psycho-vegan” in real life and unfortunately, this blog post brought it out of me moreso than I would have liked. Thanks for your comment.

      • Meat Eater says:

        No problem and I didn’t mean it to sound harsh! I just like to play devils advocate. There is always another perspective and don’t be afraid to say you have a dietary restriction. I say this from experience… hint…hint… Most CPK managers and staff will accommodate or assist in accommodating your requests. Misunderstandings happen every single day. If you don’t get what you want… Speak up. We do hear you. Sorry for your bad experience!

  4. Melissa says:

    Hmm, I have to disagree with Meat Eater up there. My Mom absolutely loves CPK and it was the only place we’d go while I was growing up to celebrate special occasions (aka every other Friday). That said, most of the servers we met at CPK (and, as I got older, my friends who took jobs at CPK) DID want to make at least mostly-permanent careers at CPK. From the CPKs I’ve visited around the country, they’re usually in big cities, are pricey, and serve a wealthier clientele. The people who serve at CPK make very good money compared to average food industry workers, and their tips are usually excellent. Those who work at CPK are not your average IHOP worker, who usually IS ‘just’ a student working a couple other jobs on the side (note: boyfriend was an IHOP worker and those are his exact words.)

    So before I digress, I find it incredibly ridiculous that your CPK server was that stupid. Yes, stupid. Regardless of where you work (IHOP, Red Robin, CPK), you HAVE to know the menu. The fact that she ignored/misheard/didn’t know you ordered thin crust is HER fault, not yours. You should not expect the server to “read your mind” but the server should know the BASICS on the menu and should realize ‘thin crust’ is not some random, picky request.

    Also, I’ve never ever had a server say “oh, so your yucky vegetables don’t get on his meat pizza” or whatever drivel she gave you. If and when my BF and I ask for separate boxes (why yes, to separate a meat and veggie pizza… duh!), I usually get the opposite response: “Oh yeah, so his icky meat pizza doesn’t get on your delicious veggie!”

    Don’t let this one experience ruin your dining out fun. I’ve lived in big cities, and I’ve lived in small, and while the small cities do give you more problems (from my experience), you can always go elsewhere and try again. I wouldn’t complain about your waitress, but I certainly wouldn’t frequent that CPK ever again (if possible, considering your boyfriend’s taste for it ;).

    Love the kitty pictures!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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