Working in a restaurant and seeing how the food is prepared can give you a different perspective on dining away from home. With that said, here are so important tips from restaurant chefs and servers so you know what to look out for on your next dining excursion.
10. Avoid the Special of the Day
According to chefs and servers, the “special of the day,” including the soup of the day, is usually made up of leftovers. “Some restaurants put together their specials for the day based on what’s about to expire or what they’re trying to get rid of faster,” Alberto Morreale of Farmer’s Bottega, in San Diego, told Reader’s Digest. He then goes on to suggest that customers ask the server to recommend something made with local ingredients or ask what items arrived fresh that day to avoid being served leftovers.
9. Pass on the Free Basket of Bread
Speaking of leftovers, did you know that that bread basket the server brings to your table before they bring out the main course was most likely sitting on someone else’s table before making its way to yours? Yep, it’s true. According to an article published by Reader’s Digest, chefs say that there’s a chance the bread could be fresh from the oven, but that there’s also the possibility that it has been “reheated after gracing another’s table.” The scary thing about it is that the bread basket is likely full of germs left behind by the previous diner. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if your bread has been taken from another table–unless, of course, you happen to see the server doing it.
8. Don’t Order Any Salads
Many restaurant workers say that you shouldn’t order a salad from a restaurant. According to Food and Wine magazine, one restaurant worker on Reddit said they wouldn’t “dare touch salads. I’ve seen far too many waiters just shove their ungloved hands in the bins, and no one ever washes their hands enough for that to be ok.” Another restaurant worker was quoted in The Independent as saying that it’s a good idea to avoid salads because it’s very hard to keep a salad station clean.
7. Skip Foods That Aren’t a Restaurant’s Specialty
Redditor Budgiejen offers this advice when it comes to foods that a restaurant doesn’t cook often: “I avoid something that I think the kitchen doesn’t experience much. If it’s a steakhouse, I don’t order the pasta. If it’s a burger joint, I’ll probably order a burger, not a chicken wrap. Don’t send the kitchen into a frenzy because they can’t remember how to prepare your food. And order something they’re good at making. Don’t go for half-assed. You’re paying for this. Get something that will be good.”
TIP: Michael Armstrong, the executive chef at New York’s Dream Downtown (Bodega Negra, Bodega Negra Café), suggests figuring out what the restaurant’s specialty is and ordering that.
6. Stop Nibbling on Those Bar Snacks
You know those bowls of bar snacks you nibble on along with your pre-dinner cocktail? Well, according to Reader’s Digest, chefs say that those bowls are rarely washed between patrons. So, whatever germs the last guy had are going to be passed on to you when you dig into those bowls. Imagine if that guy went to the bathroom and didn’t wash his hands before digging into the bar snacks. Yuck! It’s scary, but it probably happens more than we know.
5. Just Say No to Chicken
There are a few of reasons why chefs and servers tell customers to avoid the chicken. Some say that it lacks originality and is overpriced, and that you could order something that requires a bit more creativity. Some say that chicken dishes are often served as double, or sometimes triple, portions, causing customers to unwittingly overeat. Others say that the chicken will most likely be undercooked–either because the kitchen was super busy or the cook was being really lazy. Ironically, others say that it can end up being overcooked at some restaurants, too. Lastly, others say that the chicken you’re ordering could be old. “I’m always wary of chicken breasts. We’d prep a couple large containers of unbreaded chicken breasts that we would stretch over a week, sometimes a week and a half if business got slow,” one restaurant worker said on Reddit.
4. Don’t Drink Beer That Comes from the Tap
“As a former food inspector: [don’t drink] beer that came from the tap. No one cleans the fountain and it usually has mildew festering in it.” Redditor alokinTESLA said.
The same thing goes for soft drinks, too. Reddit user Xenacoryza said that the manager at the Burger King they worked at dipped the soda machine nozzles in Sprite to clean them at closing time. And, Reddit user Skellingtoon also shared a similar story: “At one place, we used to soak them in the soda water overnight. Like, fill up a wine cooler with soda water, and put the whole post-mix head into it. Not sure if it did anything, but it looked good.” Another Reddit user had this to say: “I worked in a local coffee and donut shop and nobody ever cleaned the soda machines. They were so gross the first time I cleaned them. I asked if anyone knew how to do it and nobody knew; nobody had ever done it.”
3. Don’t Order Any Drink Made with Milk
A couple of Reddit users chimed in about ordering drinks with milk:
“Having been a bartender, never order a drink with milk. There are hardly any drinks with milk, meaning hardly any milk is used. That partially-used quart they have behind the bar may have been sitting there for QUITE a while,” Redditor TillikumWasFramed said.
“I avoid places that make coffee who don’t rinse out the milk pitcher after steaming milk. This means it’s likely the steam wand has crusty milk in it (that will have been cooked), the people aren’t cleaning the coffee machine well, and your coffee will likely taste like s—,” Redditor arabidopsis said.
2. Avoid Certain Seafood
When it comes to sashimi, Redditor HBunchesOo says to avoid ordering it if you live in the U.S. That’s because “fresh, never frozen sashimi does not exist in the U.S. because of FDA regulations. Raw fish (except tuna) is illegal to serve if it has not been flash frozen. Master sushi chefs will all say that it is necessary to age fish in deep freeze for tender, great tasting sushi,” the Reddit user said.
If you’re a fan of swordfish, Redditor Largestmoist2499 says to be careful. “A fish that size picks up a good deal of parasites during its lifetime, and they all start jumping ship at once when they figure out their host is dead,” Largestmoist2499 said.
And, if you’re ordering fish, don’t order it on Mondays. That’s because most restaurants order fresh fish on Thursday or Friday to stock up for the busy weekend. So, by Monday that fresh fish is no longer fresh since fresh fish only keeps for three days. If you have concerns about whether the fish you’re ordering is fresh, you can always ask the server where the seafood came from, when it was caught, and when it was delivered.
1. Avoid Eating at Chain Restaurants
If you love fresh food, that is. Cordon Bleu-trained chef Mark Nichols, who owns the high-end catering service JC’s Catering, told Reader’s Digest, “I typically stay away from large chains because everything is usually brought in frozen once or twice a week. I also always look at the size of the menu. If it’s more than two pages long, they have to keep a large inventory of food. More than likely, you’re not getting a fresh meal.”
Redditor Mors_morieris agrees: “Don’t eat at chain restaurants. Fast food is allowed, but if you sit down for a meal and pay when you leave, go somewhere that doesn’t have a mascot … you’ll get s—ty food if the menu was written by someone thousands of miles away and designed to be reproducible by someone the executive chef has never met.”
Are you a restaurant worker with your own tips to share? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!