We 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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?