Especially when I am planning with other people. I often need to find a meat-friendly place that is vegan-friendly for myself. I have some go-tos but want to ask for general strategies as well.
There are a couple ways:
Read the menu: An obvious choice, but if the menu specifically lists an item as vegan, it's almost always a safe bet.
Look for seemingly vegan items. Scan the menu for dishes that don't list any animal products. Many restaurants at least have a vegetarian section
Ask the waiter. Remember that not everyone knows what the term vegan means, so ask specifically if the item has any meat, chicken, fish, dairy, or eggs in it.
However, there's no way to be 100% sure.
Waiters and chefs are only human, so even if they think that an item is vegan there's always a chance that it contains hidden animal products. Pasta may contain eggs, sauce may contain fish. If you are very concerned about not accidentally any animal products you may want to stick to restaurants that specifically offer vegan items
Here is my own answer, applicable to United States. For me these rules of thumb have proven handy for both dense urbs and suburbs and towns. I am interested in learning more!
Tends to work:
- Mexican: almost always safe. If finishing up a work out with someone, suggest Mexican just as the obvious thing to do before anyone questions. Bean burrito/bowl no cheese no sour cream should do it. Ask about the beans which may be cooked in pork. Chipotle is a very handy crowd-pleaser.
- Indian: Almost always solid vegan choices but ask about hidden butter.
- Thai: Fantastic, but ask for fish sauce.
- Chinese: tends to be OK. Check for a tofu dish to ensure there's a meal there. Check for fish / oyster sauce.
Tends to not work:
- Delis like NY style: Probably bad. Watch for a lentil soup.
- Burger, pizza places: the token vegetarian burger is probably not vegan. Avoid.
- Vietnamese: a matter of opinion but I don't find the vegan options nutritious. Watch for fish/oyster sauce.
Consult the internet
Just look up vegan, vegetarian or vegan-friendly restaurants beforehand. http://happycow.net/ is an excellent resource.