13 Dirty Secrets from Restaurant Industry Experts

dirty-secrets-from -restaurant-experts-ecokarenWe don’t eat out that often but the holiday season can make me feel like a slave at times. There is the non-stop baking for gifts and cooking marathon for family get togethers. Even holiday parties have become a show-and-tell “Pot-Luck” style that it require me to cook something that takes hours for me to create. And while I cherish the “Whoooo~~”s and “Ahhhhh~~~”s at my delectable creations, I enjoy eating out occasionally and let others do the cooking and serving to spoil me for once.

Mama gotta take a break, ya know?

But I have become a bit of a gastronomic snob as food is important to me. Who isn’t, right? But I’m particularly picky since borne illnesses have become my nemesis. I mean, how many times do you hear about some sort of food borne illnesses in the news these days?

And on top of that, add less-than-ethical business practices to this unsettling gastric trickery, I’d easily raise a white flag to dining out and instead, subject my family to a “gourmet” ramen for dinner on occasion. Don’t judge me. I said, it’s “gourmet” ramen.

You can call me paranoid or whatever you want but according to a couple of industry experts, the shenanigans that go on in the restaurant world should make us feel a bit weary when dining out.

Here are 13 dirty secrets from restaurant industry experts

1. Don’t dine out on weekends or holidays – those in the restaurant industry calls weekend and holiday diners ‘amateurs’ because of the sheer number of people who dine out on those days, especially Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Do you really expect to get great service when every table is full and there is a line out the door? Nope. So, when is the best day/time to dine out? According to a waitress who’s been in the business for decades, “for the best experience and the freshest food and the most interesting menus is midweek, because that’s when they (restaurateurs and staff) think the serious diners are going out,” And Anthony Bourdain, a chef and an author of Kitchen Confidential, agrees. He says the best days to dine out are Tuesday thru Thursday because the food deliveries are freshest and Chefs are well rested from the weekend.

2. Stay away from the bread basket – they don’t throw away the bread that you’ve touched, poked, prodded and left in the bread basket. Even if they stack dishes on top of the bread basket, they take the bread out and recirculate them among other guests. Bread cost money and they sure hell are not going to throw them away. So stay away from the bread basket and stay away from carbs!

kitchen secrets lemon

3. Don’t get olives, lemons, or lime with your drinks – they never wash these frivolous side condiments. Have you ever seen any wait staff use spoons or forks to handle this pesky things? These “on the side” condiments are never cleaned and God knows how many unwashed hands have touched them before being plopped in your drinks. No thank you. I can live without lemon wedges in my water.

4. Pass on the pasta seafood dish – especially if it contains fish. How long do you think fresh fish can last? Hours? Days? Well, in restaurants, fresh can mean days. So even if the word “Fresh” is in the “Fresh Seafood Pasta Special of the Day”, stay away if it contains fish. That only means, days old fish chef is trying to get rid of by hiding it in sauce.

kitchen secrets sushi

5. Don’t order sushi on Sunday nights – this is a tip I got from a family member who owned and operated a sushi restaurant for decades. He buys his fish for the weekend on Thursday nights for Friday morning deliveries. By Sunday night, fish has seen better days. In fact, Mondays are the worst because if the weekend wasn’t so busy, do you think he’d throw out the fish from Friday morning and buy new on Monday? Nope. Eat sushi  on Tuesdays to Thursdays. Bourdain also suggests this tip in his book. Wanna try blowfish with your sake? Trying it between those two days will minimize the damage.

6. Don’t get the chef mad – No chef feels his/her dish is ever wrong. It’s always the customer who’s wrong. A scene from “No Reservation Required” comes to mind when the chef – played beautifully by Catherine Zeta-Jones – marches out of the kitchen with her big ass knife stuck to a steak and throws it down on a customer’s table before storming off. I never send anything back. I just don’t eat whatever is not done right to my liking but don’t go back. Do you honestly think the chef would feel really horrible and will use extra TLC to make your dish ‘right’? Uh huh. You’ll be waiting for the dish for a long time and incorporate that ‘extra special’ TLC in your dish for sure. I have ordered a different dish if I’m really hungry. Lesson learned about the restaurant and take notice. But don’t ever send things back to be ‘righted’, even if they offer.

kitchen secrets mussels

7. Avoid mussels at all cost – again, according to Bourdain, no one knows how to keep mussels fresh. They have to be kept at a certain temperature and you don’t want to eat mussels that have been sitting in it’s own piss. And no one he knows can keep it as fresh as they should be. Only a few chefs that he knows can do that. I’m sure he’s one of them. So he never eat mussels in restaurants. Also, it only takes one bad mussels to ruin the whole order of Steamed Mussels en Brodo. I don’t know about you, but I’m following his advice on this one too.

8. Skip the after dinner coffee – this doesn’t bother me as much since I can sleep like a log even if I drink coffee at one o’clock in the morning. But if you are caffeine sensitive, don’t bother drinking de-caf coffee after dinner at a busy restaurant. Do you think they care whether you’ll be up most of the night because they didn’t care to check what kinds of coffee they are pouring into your cup? Nope. De-Caff coffee is probably not even made at nights because of low demand.

9. Don’t let the staff pack the left overs – my mother is notorious for asking for take out containers. She never lets the wait staff pack anything. I think most of the time, it’s the maternal instinct to handle food the way she wants since that’s her job at home. But the other big reason is, she s.w.e.a.r.s. they don’t give her everything. They only give her what’s easy to pack, she says. But the experts say that wait staff often drop foods on the counter and on the floor. Gasp! And they pack it right in there for you to take home. Well, as always, my mom is right. Pack your own doggie bag.

dirty secrets from restaurant experts ecokaren

10. Specials are not so special. – Ha! You’d think that the chef would be gracious enough to buy the freshest and the cheapest ingredients and call it “Special”, when in fact, any left over ingredients that he couldn’t get rid of is used for specials. Specials are not special at all when the chef is trying to get rid of the last bit of expensive seafood or meats. Stay away from specials like the plague. Well, not literally, but you get my gist.

11. Wash hands? – there is a strong chance that the wait staff don’t wash their hands after they finish their “business” just because there is that little sign above the sink in the bathroom, law or no law. I was grossed out the most with this literally dirty secret. Ewwwwww…

12. Skip the drinks – restaurant make a bazillion dollars on drinks and not on food. The margins on drinks are 5-10 times the cost. Skip the expensive alcohol or sodas and save money, Water is healthier for you anyway,

13. Avoid Brunches – Sunday mornings are usually manned by the “B” team. The “A” team of chefs area reserved for Friday and Saturday nights. The best team is not going to be serving up sunny side up on Sunday mornings. Also, any brunch items will be ingredients leftover from the weekend. They. are. not. fresh. Skip the brunch.

More secrets:

  • Hollandaise sauce is a breeding ground for bacteria. Egg yolks and butter, whipped up in room temperature, most likely left out on the counter is not what you want to pour on your eggs.
  • Chicken is not only boring but contaminated with salmonella, for sure. One of the dirtiest commercial meats, except for free range or kosher, is chicken.
  • Is the bathroom dirty? If it is, imagine what the kitchen looks like.
  • Wait staff is not well groomed? Imagine what the management is like to let schleppers go out onto the floor to serve customers.
  • Chefs don’t like vegetarians or vegans. There are more bacterias in raw vegetables than you think. (One of the reasons why my mother in law will never eat salads in restaurants.) And chefs hate preparing veggies. Who knew?

So what does this mean?

Does this mean, never to eat out? Miss out on exotic and delicious dishes that broaden our horizons of fine dining out there?

No. That’s not what I’m saying.

Does this mean, ALL restaurants are crooked and unhealthy?

No. That’s not what I’m saying either.

I’m just saying that it behooves you to adhere to some of the unwritten ‘rules’, and you should be fine. Besides all the factors mentioned above, turnover rate for foods is the key. Don’t go to a restaurant that is not busy enough to turn over the ingredients fast. They will not be fresh if they are sitting in the fridge too long. And they will be sure to push the oldest ingredients on you, disguised in any way they can.

There are a plenty of great restaurants with stellar reputation. The occurrences mentioned in this post may not apply to all restaurants. Know your restaurants and their history of violations.

Read Anthony Bourdain’s book. It’s really entertaining but you’ll some eye opening facts about the restaurant business.

What is your favorite restaurant to go out to eat? Do you know the owner? Do you know their past history?

Source: ABC News and Kitchen Confidential


  1. says

    Dear Karen, Thanks for sharing the dirty secrets. I really like your 1st point where you mentioned not to have food on holidays or weekend or any other special day. Its true that you will not get good service at weekend. Most of the cases, you have to wait for a long to get served.

  2. AdamSawyer says

    If this Is the quality of the establishments the author frequents, they need to find a new caliber of resturant. As a professional cook of ten years these suggestions made me lol.

  3. ecokaren says

    HA! I watch that show too Cookerati….and some of the disgusting stuff they showed on that show………*sigh*

  4. Cookerati says

    I hear the ice is pretty bad in most places too The crew from Restaurant Impossible said that they stopped getting it after cleaning up some of the restaurants.

  5. Beth Buczynski says

    What Andrew said. Nothing purposefully gross in my experience, unless you count lemons being touched by bare hands and/or dropped on the counter and then reattached to your glass 😛

  6. ecokaren says

    YES! I love restaurants where I can see the hardworking chef at work. And it’s fun to watch them too!

  7. Laura Schuerwegen says

    My tip is to pick a restaurant where you can see in the kitchen… My remark: wow belgian horeca law is much stricter than yours

  8. ecokaren says

    Of course, we can’t be paranoid about EVERYTHING. However, knowing what common practices are like in most restaurants, like garnishes that are left out in room temperature for hours, I would rather NOT take a chance of getting food poisoning by having them in my food and drinks. My hubby contracted Hepatitis from a restaurant. Since then, we err on the side of caution. Does that mean we don’t eat out? No, we do. But we don’t ask for lemons and limes and try to avoid eating raw foods. When we do, it’s from a restaurant we know to be reputable and clean.

  9. ecokaren says

    if you read the bottom of the post, it says not all restaurants are bad. Furthermore, majority of the info came straight from people who worked in the restaurant industry. You were probably an exception to the rule as many others are.

  10. Cookerati says

    I agreed, until I read the last little bit – so maybe it doesn’t matter? But before you freak out, here’s some perspective: His research has turned up similar organisms all over restaurants, from ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers to menus and table surfaces. And the same likely goes for a variety of other drink garnishes, including onions, limes and your cherry on top. Aside from basic hygiene, like hand washing and choosing a clean restaurant, sometimes you really do have to trust your immune system to do its job. “Microbes are ubiquitous … You’re not going to escape unscathed forever,” he says. “You do your best to prevent unnecessary illness.”

  11. Rebekah Honer Doran says

    I worked in restaurants for 15 years and never saw any of this happen. I am actually appalled that you would give such a bad rep to such hard working people.

  12. Andrew-Kelli Fras says

    I love this. I used to work in restaurants and I saw some pretty gross things…

  13. LaughingLadyB says

    Thanks for the tips expecially the lemon tip!
    I work part time (second job) at a grocery store deli and wish people realized the discusting practices that go on in your local grocery. Health department says that from opening up that chunk of meat we get 6 days to sell it. Then when you buy it we date it for four days. BUT if that chunk of meat has not sold with in that 6 day period guess what happens…it is redated. It is something I personally REFUSE to do but the people who are dependent on the job and the manager make it a practice.
    Always ask for your meat to be fresh sliced at least will not have been sitting in the deli case for days…
    The kitchen in my store is right next to the deli… all that yummy looking food cooked and ready for you to take home because you are too tired and busy to cook… much of it is made from the outdated packaged meat from the meat department. The meat department can’t sell it if it is past the date BUT if the kitchen uses it the clock starts over for the dates. Doesn’t sell that day back in the fridge to get heated up the next…

    • says

      LaughingLadyB Holy Cow! I only heard about fixing dates on foods but never thought that they actually do it! I know there are always exceptions to the rule but that’s disturbing. I never buy prepared foods but even Whole Foods do very well from their salad bars and prepared food sections I heard. I hope they are not using foods that past the date! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • BrandonGradin says

      All of these statements are fact, but not truth. Every restaurant is different. I have worked in 25 restaurants and not once have I done anything you have mentioned.
      God bless.

  14. GGirlGGreen says

    So gross! I I don’t go out to restaurants much anymore, not just for these reasons but because I can’t find a good vegan restaurant!

  15. Kristy says

    My sister and I have both work in several restaurants. The veggies are usually bought prewashed at these places. And the places I worked no one was offended by something being sent back unless you came in all the time and made a fuss or if you were a real jerk about it. Normal customer problems were not a big deal. If you are polite to you waitress, you are more than likely not going to have anything gross happen. There are bad people in any industry, but a lot of us take pride in our work and want our customers to have a great experience and leave a reasonable tip.

    And it wasn’t fair to call that one woman a troll, just because she disagreed!

  16. says

    Very sobering. I worked as a busser then waitress during HS so this is not all news to me. I did recently get food poisoning from eating at an Indian restaurant — public health dept. told me 100% caused by someone not washing their hands (comes from fecal matter — gross). Needless to say, never gone back there. I had never heard that about bread baskets. I really really hope that’s not true everywhere. Doesn’t matter much b/c with 3 little ones, I almost never eat out. Like twice a year. And usually at Chipotle.

    • says

      Bourdain says he is not bothered by recycled bread. So he’d eat them. But I feel funny eating bread that strangers touched and put down. Who know if that person washed his hands!

      We didn’t go out to eat when my kids were little too. Who needs the stress??

  17. Sarah D says

    I’ve worked in a few restaurants, maybe 4? And I have never reused the bread, or anything else…well, cracker packets. I’m guilty of that. And none of the places I’ve worked have been “nice”, just mediocre mid-priced like an Applebee’s. However- the last place I worked, I had just started and they told me to make the salad, so I went back into the walk-in and grabbed two romaines, and started looking for a large bowl to dunk and swish. Once I found it and started filling the sink with water, a prep cook comes over and looks at me strangely and says, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Um, washing the lettuce?” And he just stares and says, “Wow, you’re the only server who does that.” WHAT??? I never ate a salad there unless I had made it! It’s funny, b/c every place I’ve worked is very careful about most things, but as for washing veggies and fruits, such as lemons, like you said? NO way! Great post, thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Oh, my goodness…I only “heard” about veggies and fruits NOT being washed, especially from my MIL who swears that they never do but you know how it is about listening to your mothers…. but never heard it straight from the horse’s mouth! (well, not literally from a horse…but, you know what I meant). Thank you for sharing that! I’m sure it’s more of a common practice than not! Yikes!

  18. says

    Oh wow, Karen…you touched a nerve and you sound like my husband! After 22 years in the beverage industry, he refuses to eat out. There are a couple of places he will condescend to go to, but only on rare occasions. He said some of the kitchens and storage areas in commercial kitchens were disgusting. He refuses to go out for drinks for the same reason. I could repeat some of his horror stories, but you pretty much covered it. Far better and healthier to shop local and freshly prepared food at home!

    • says

      Oh my. I’m sure he’s seen his share in 22 years! I should have a drink with him, at your house! lol.

      I do shop locally and prepare meals at home most of the time. But like I said, it would be nice to take a break from all the cooking and cleaning once in awhile, especially this month. I can understand how some people in the industry can get offended but I thought I’d educate readers to take precaution when eating out. The ironic thing is, a waitress and a chef wrote these tips; not me!

    • Lisa Sharp says

      I like to make sure bathrooms are clean where I eat haha. One of the places I will go to in my town, they are cleaning NON-stop and I know the family, they are amazing. And the other I also know the owners and again it’s super clean. Plus the staff will eat there, that’s always a good sign haha.

      • Lisa Sharp says

        Oh and one of the owners of one of the two places is a nurse, I think that is likely a very good thing.

  19. says

    Another reason to pack your own leftovers: you can avoid wasteful disposable packaging (plastic, styrofoam, or even paper) by bringing your own stainless steel containers to the restaurant. Also, one way to lose weight… pack half of your plate in your own container right away and have it the next day.

    However, I have to disagree with you about ordering drinks. Seriously, wine is one of the most important parts of the meal, in my book. Yes, they charge more. I realize that. But I’m paying for an experience, and to me it’s worth it.


    • says

      Of course, how can I forget to mention bring your own take out containers! Absolutely!

      If you are willing to pay for that glass of wine that may cost more than your meal, I say, go for it. I just didn’t know that from a business’s perspective, they really make a point on making money from overcharging on alcohol to offset the profit that they don’t make on food. I found that to be surprising, considering how some entrée cost $30’s or higher.

  20. says

    I had a friend once who worked as a restaurant inspector and after she quit she said she could never eat at a restaurant again, she’d seen too much. Even the most expensive restaurants can have severe problems. That’s not to say they all do, but enough do that it’s really frightening. For an even more scary view, read “Waiter Rant.” Even if he exaggerates by 50% it’s enough to scare me into eating at home a lot more often! Thanks for this Karen. It’s great to be made aware of the potential for problems. That’s why they HAVE inspectors!

    • says

      Oh boy, I didn’t know about “Waiter Rant” but now you intrigued me. Yes, eating at home is the best. But knowing some of these issues, we can make sure to go to restaurants that we can trust.

      Thanks for sharing.

  21. Penelope says

    Marissa, I saw a television program, which was an undercover investigation into restaurant practices. They found many of the above instances that Karen mentions. Not all but many. They showed undercover footage of one of the chef’s wiping a steak along the INSIDE of a toilet bowl. It was disgusting. Not every restaurant is going to be like this, but many are. You are such a troll calling her work “garbage”? I’m grateful for Karen’s post and I’m going to share it everywhere.

    • Lisa Sharp says

      Yeah someone that does the plumbing for the restaurants in my town will only eat at two restaurants in town after being in the kitchens.

    • says

      @Penelop – EWWWWW…. wiping along the INSIDE of a toilet bowl? Now, THAT is criminal. Hope that person was arrested.

      @Lisa – I’m sure plumbers see all the places we don’t get to see….especially all the gunk that he has to unclog in the back and below the restaurant…places where customers can’t view.

      Thank you both for sharing. I think.

    • says

      Penelope, I saw another undercover show as well. Once I saw how they handled the lemons I never want to use one again. Karen, thanks for sharing.

      Marissa, no one says you have to agree with Karen, but when you come in someone’s house do you track mud? I didn’t think so. So, please be polite when you disagree.

      • says

        People don’t think about lemons when they ask for it. I guess it’s because it’s FREE?? But no one would question to see if it’s handled properly. And who has the time or the desire to use tongs or wash them before cutting. I always wash my fruits, even the ones I peel since you are touching the skin and contaminating the inside but restaurants wouldn’t take the time to do that. Time + water = money.

  22. Marissa says

    My s.o. is a professional cook and has worked in various types of restaurants from college cafeteria to working under James Beard award winning chefs. Perhaps you should visit nicer restaurants. The majority of the items listed above are blatantly untrue if visiting a decently managed restaurant and kitchen. Maybe they cost a little more money… but you pay for what you get, eh? Reusing bread?!? Really? Even if dirty dishes are stacked on top of it?!? Where the Heck are you getting this information? Absolute Nonsense. My s.o. makes mussels at home and has incorporated his signature mussel dish as GASP! A SPECIAL!!!!! at restaurants. If they’re going to serve mussels he insures that all kitchen staff are educated on how to store and test before preparation that they are acceptable for serving. Also, food ordered on Sunday night, by necessity, is older than what you eat on Wednesday. How often do you go to the store to buy food? My house it’s about twice a week…sometimes we eat things that are more than 3 or 4 days old! Heaven forbid!! Good restaurants usually get the pick of the produce, better that what shows up in your grocery store and it stays fresh longer…. I can’t even waste any more time on this garbage….

    • says


      I listed the sources at the bottom of the post, if you want to know where I got this “garbage” from. And kudos to you for being able to eat at “nicer restaurants” and award winning James Beards of the world. But most of Americans don’t have the luxury to eat out at fancy restaurants like you and your s.o. do.

      Thanks for your time.

  23. Linda Everett says

    Oh wow Karen. Those are some nasty secrets! Funny – my husband and I got in the habit of going out for dinner mostly on Thursdays. I guess we have good instincts!

Leave a comment!