Sometimes I try so hard to stick to the diet, but when I go to restaurants it seems like its almost always an absolute failure. I order what should be 100%Paleo, but that rarely happens.
Well, yes, it's hard, for several reasons:
You're generally going to be eating with people who aren't eating Paleo, so you will be tempted to stray from your regular habits. They're indulging, so why can't you?
You're probably going to be exposed to vegetable oils, and thus a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, or trans fats or oxidized fats, or both. Soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil are used often in restaurants--probably because they are cheaper than olive oil or butter? Also, many people erroneously think that they are healthier than cooking with saturated animal fats. If you get a salad, the dressing will often contain hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats). If you get anything fried, anything with mayonnaise, and some grilled items, it's hard to avoid vegetable oils and trans fats. Yuck.
If you eat mostly grass-fed/local meat at home, it's pretty hard to keep this up in restaurants, although it is possible in some places.
Most main dishes are typically served with bread, rolls, a rice pilaf, pasta -- some kind of grain, often wheat. Depending on how strict you are, you might be concerned about potatoes, too.
Solve the temptation issue: Let your friends know ahead of time that you will be sticking to Paleo choices (or as close as you can get) and ask them to keep you accountable. Ask them not to let you eat bread, tortillas, desserts, etc. If they are good friends, they will support you on this, even if they don't eat Paleo themselves.
Figure out what to order: If possible, figure out ahead of time what you're going to order. Most restaurants have menus posted online. You can plan ahead and have a strategy for which items to order, what substitutions you might need to make, etc.
Make smart substitutions. Sandwiches: you can often get lettuce wraps instead of bread, even at fast-food sandwich shops, like Jimmy Johns. Rice/bread/pasta served with entrees: you can almost always get them to substitute grilled or steamed vegetables, or a side salad. If you have a temptation problem, and substitutions just won't work, ask your server not to bring you the bread (or whatever) that comes with your meal.
Avoid vegetable oils and trans fats: Ask for items to be cooked in butter. Some places will accommodate you. What's the harm in asking? Alternatively, you can stick to salads, steaks, some grilled items (ask if they use any kind of oil) -- items that are generally safe. As for salad dressings, you can always eat salads dry, or opt for vinaigrette dressings made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I suppose neither of those ingredients are technically Paleo, but seriously, they're close enough.
Just cook at home most of the time. I know, not really the answer you were looking for, and maybe you do this already anyway. But if you're serious about eating Paleo, it's pretty darn hard to do it well AND eat out often.
Go ahead and indulge yourself. If you follow step 4, you'll only be eating at restaurants around once a week, or even less. In that case, just go ahead and indulge a little bit. If you have food sensitivities, auto-immune issues, or inflammatory conditions, you may want to be careful even with your indulgence meals. For instance, you might opt for a piece of dark chocolate (or, if you're like me, a whole bar). If dairy is ok for you but wheat is not, then gluten-free or at least wheat-free ice cream may work, while a cookie won't. Go ahead and have that risotto, but skip the garlic bread. Figure out what works for you.
For many people, it gets easier in the long run. When I first went Paleo, I regularly indulged in pizza, probably once every week or two. But now, 10 months into Paleo, I don't even miss it. I never thought I would say that, but it somehow crept up on me. I can't say this holds true for everybody, but it seems to happen for a fair number of folks who take Paleo seriously. It's not a diet that I resent; it's a set of healthy lifestyle choices. When I eat Paleo, I just feel better, so it's not hard to stick to it. I hope it gets easier for you, too!
When you're just starting out, it's about practicing the proper frame of mind. So I suggest that you go into the restaurant thinking this:
What would I eat at home that I'm lucky enough to have a chef cook for me here?
Don't go in thinking that you're gonna fail and eat pasta (just one last time?!). Go in expecting to be an awesome paleo eater! Go in thinking about what you'd serve yourself at home (meat and veggies!); but that you get to have someone else (a chef) cook for you!
For example, usually I buy grass-fed ground beef and sometimes flap meat. Our budget doesn't allow for more expensive cuts of meat. So tonight, my husband and I went to an Italian Steakhouse. I was excited to get a steak and sauteed spinach. I don't usually cook that for myself at home. Yay! Something paleo; but different!
P.S. It also helps to look at the menu before you go (if it's online) and make your decision about what you're going to eat while you're not smelling bread and beer.
The moment I sit down in a restaurant I tell the wait staff that I am gluten intolerant and that I cannot have bread of any form at the table.
I also substitute on the menu when I want to - it has been my experience that when the wait staff and chef understand they substitute happily. Tipping well never hurts either :-)
Be specific with your order and be assertive- send it back if they prepare it wrong. Salads without cheese, good meats, nice fish, veggies-- that's pretty good paleo food to me. Easy to eat. And, in my experience, the better the restaurant the more likely they are to cook it however you want.
Just as an FYI, you need to be careful in all but the higher-end restaurants. I have asked for eggs, for example, to be cooked in butter and then found out they used "butter oil" which is either soy or canola oil with "butter flavor" added to it. I had one place swear to me that this WAS butter, but I KNOW what clarified butter tastes like and "that weren't it". ;(
You don's specify the type of restaurant but I'll just say that when we(DH and I) go out to eat, its usually a date and so we choose a higher quality establishment.
I usually have a steak with seasonal veggies(that I don't eat if their over cooked) and a side of melted butter to dip my steak in...I'm salivating :) If I want a cheat meal, we go to a local asian cuisine place that has the best Pho I've ever had. I like the shrimp spring roll too. Everything is hand made from real food and its worth the prices. We almost never go to a fast food place as the smell of the places nauseate us. I will get the girls KFC about 3-4 times a year as a special treat.
Basically what I'm saying is to choose quality establishments and don't be afraid to call ahead of time to ask about how their food is prepared. In my experience, a good chef will be thrilled to prepare you a simple meal cooked in butter. Such a rarity in this time of "low-fat" everything.
The only hard time I sometimes have in restaurants comes from my dining companions offering me to try something (non-paleo) from their dish. Depending on the situation and the food in question - and how insistent they are - I may just accept it (as eating out is a rare occasion anyway), or politely decline it, or accept it but just a little bite instead of the generous portion they might be offering.
Often it's a food that I don't actually even want to try, i.e. not interested in it so it would be just out of politeness, but if I am tempted then I usually have no problem accepting it. For instance, I never order dessert myself but if someone offers to share something particularly delicious and indulgent, I'll have a bite or two and be more than happy.
When it comes to my own orders, I almost always stick to paleo choices as I've found, so far, that there are always plenty such options available (most of them delicious, like steak and fish and seafood and veggies and so on!) and I don't see the point in straying intentionally.
I keep it simple:
I explain that my order is going to be a little complicated, but that I am following a specific diet and I would love the chef to work with me...then I order meat (ask for them to prepare with olive oil or lard and whatever spices they want and a veggie steamed with the meet drippins poured over them! Yummy and it is fun for the chef to make something interesting and have free range on spices and such. My meals often look so much better then the people I eat with that now several of them just ask for what I am getting.
When in doubt, salad, meat, no dressing (see if you can score some meat drippings) - that's how I roll. :)