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50 Things Popular Restaurant Chains Don't Want You to Know

We bet you've never noticed these things at restaurants before—but now you will.
50 Things Popular Restaurant Chains Don't Want You to Know

If you dine out often, you should know that every restaurant has something up their sleeves and are keeping secrets that they don't necessarily want their customers to know about. And after reading these restaurant secrets, you will agree that keeping it to themselves may be in your best interest.

While you're sitting at a table and enjoying a meal in your favorite joint, there's a lot going on behind the scenes in the kitchen that only people in the food industry would know about. We've rounded up the 50 things popular restaurant chains don't want you to know so that you're aware and keep an eye out during your next dining experience.

1

Menus are designed to make you spend more.

menu prices listed with no dollar signs on open menu Shutterstock

Restaurants usually list their most expensive dishes on the right side of the menu, because that's where customers' eyes naturally look. Some restaurants put their most expensive items at the top of the menu so that other items will look more reasonably priced.

2

The soda machines are expensive to clean.

Women hand pour or fill drink in glass, double glass of soda on wooden table Shutterstock

"Most of the drinks machinery is cleaned once every 2 months," Reddit user Branzarraga wrote in a thread about restaurant secrets. Another user, Jonbrant, wrote that they worked at a Pizza Hut and there was black mold growing in the soda fountain, but the manager refused to get it cleaned because it was too expensive. You may want to think twice before you opt for your favorite fountain soda.

3

Wait times might be made up.

Restaurant hostess

Ever wonder how your favorite restaurant comes up with that obnoxiously long wait time? Many wait times are guesses based on the average customer dining time and restaurant environment. If the wait time is long, don't panic, because chances are it will be shorter than that.

4

The specials might not be the freshest.

Grilled fish with lemon slices also grilled on a plate Shutterstock

"Most restaurant 'specials' are comprised of components that are days old and need to be used up so they're not thrown out," user Wepawet1 wrote on the same Reddit thread.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't order the specials, though. Restaurants wouldn't serve you food that's actually gone bad, and you'll be preventing food waste.

5

Salads can be some of the least healthy menu items.

"I used to be a waitress at Applebee's. I would love to tell people that the oriental chicken salad is one of the most fattening things on the menu, with almost 1,500 calories," wrote Reddit user creeper_of_internets. "I cringed every time someone ordered it and made the comment of wanting to 'eat light,' but we weren't encouraged to tell people how fattening the menu items were unless they specifically asked."

6

The meat might be microwaved.

medium rare steak full fat health foods Shutterstock

"Also, whenever someone wanted to order a 'medium rare' steak at Applebees, and I had to say we only make them 'pink' or 'no pink,'" the same Reddit user wrote. "That's because most of the kitchen is a row of microwaves. The steaks were cooked on a stovetop but then microwaved to death. Pink or no pink only referred to how microwaved to death you want your meat."

In many chain restaurants, if you complain that your food isn't hot enough, it just goes into the microwave. That's not a bad thing, but it's good to be aware of.

7

You'll get more food in a burrito bowl than in a regular burrito.

Vegetarian black bean burrito Shutterstock

Want to get more bang for your buck? Well, according to the same Reddit chain, Chipotle servers will put more food into a burrito bowl than a burrito.

Missing the tortilla? You can always ask for it on the side to get the most food for the money.

8

The grill marks probably aren't real.

grilled chicken thigh Shutterstock

Many restaurants will add fake grill marks for the illusion that it's freshly grilled meat. If your meal's grill marks look too perfect to be true, they just might be.

"Worked at a Subway. My best bet is [that] they are just there to give off the illusion that it's fresh. When they get the shipments of them the grill marks are already [there]. It's not fresh, don't be fooled," wrote Reddit user Rightisrightright92.

9

The lemonade may not really be "fresh-squeezed" or "homemade."

Yes, you can see lemons and oranges being juiced at some smoothie places and smaller restaurants. But at bigger chains, you're probably drinking a concentrated juice mix.

"You just ripped the top open and the big chunk would slide right out and plop into the plastic bin," Reddit user capgras_delusion wrote of Panera's lemonade. Apparently, the iced green tea also comes from a pre-made mix.

10

It's best to eat out on Thursdays.

Waiter and guest Shutterstock

"Always go out to eat on Thursdays, most restaurants get their food deliveries that day," wrote Reddit user and waiter Wepawet1. Restaurants wouldn't want you to know that eating out on one specific day is better than the other days of the week, but it's true—you might get the freshest food if you dine out on Thursdays.

11

The waiter is a salesperson.

Waiter at restaurant Shutterstock

While the waiter wants their customers to be happy with their orders, they are also programmed to make suggestions that increase the bill. Waiters recommending that you add fries, a cocktail, or another side of veggies can do just that.

12

Your drive-thru order is being timed.

Fast food worker handing customer McDonald's ice cream sundae from drive thru Shutterstock

If you're driving through to order McDonald's, your servers and cashiers are being timed. "As soon as your car drives up to the speaker a timer starts for the store (uses the same magnet technology as stoplights)," wrote Reddit user GFGbilly. "The major target is to keep their average time under 3 and a half minutes."

The timer is one reason why you shouldn't make common drive-thru mistakes like adding on more items or checking your food while still in the line. You could end up getting an employee in trouble with their manager.

13

There's a reason Chick-fil-A employees say "my pleasure."

Chick fil a sign Shutterstock

Every time you say "Thank you!" to a Chick-Fil-A employee, they may respond politely with an upbeat, friendly "my pleasure." However, the employees are technically trained to say this. A Chick-Fil-A employee and Reddit user Bcoop865 wrote, "It does become a habit from hearing others say it (and I have never been reprimanded for not saying it). It does seem like a more elevated way to speak to our guests and express our appreciation of them."

14

Your breadbasket could be a hand-me-down.

Hand reaching for dinner bread roll out of basket Shutterstock

Next time you receive your complimentary bread basket when you sit down at a restaurant, be cautious before you dig in. "The complimentary bread? If another table doesn't finish theirs, the 'untouched' bread goes into whatever new breadbaskets are being served," wrote Reddit user tina_groan in a thread about restaurant workers.

15

There might not be real maple in the syrup.

maple syrup Shutterstock

Ordering pancakes or waffles for breakfast? Most restaurants don't have real maple syrup. It's usually just high-fructose corn syrup to add that extra sweet taste you know and love.

16

The music is blaring for a reason.

open menu with photos and description of dishes Shutterstock

Restaurants intentionally blast the music in order to make you order more food, east faster, and leave sooner. If you tune out the music while you order, you'll be able to concentrate and order only what you really want.

17

You might want to avoid the drink garnishes.

assorted sangria cocktails in short wine glasses Shutterstock

Next time you order extra lemons or olives, think twice. The drink garnishes can hold some of the most bacterias in the restaurant. If you do like lemon or lime in your drink, ask for it on the side and squeeze it in after.

18

"All you can eat" meals aren't always the safest.

Buffets are known to have questionable cooking conditions, as the staff tries to get out as much as possible. You should consider how many people will be handling and hovering over the food that you are potentially consuming at all-you-can-eat buffets.

An anonymous Reddit user wrote, "I worked in a kitchen for a summer and here's what I learned: don't eat from a salad bar! Don't do it! The toppings (chickpeas, tofu, carrots, etc) that aren't used one day are just put in the fridge in the salad bar container and re-used every day until they run out."

Of course, reusing toppings from day to day is just preventing food waste—but just know that you might not be getting the freshest food at that salad buffet.

19

The plastic trays are dirtier than you think.

Mcdonald's french fries on red tray Shutterstock

The plastic trays at most restaurant chains are filled with bacteria, so always opt-out of using the trays. If you're eating inside, simply use the table and napkins.

20

Packing your leftovers can be a hassle for servers.

Putting leftovers away Shutterstock

Chances are, you can pack your leftover food better than the restaurant will. Because they are busy and waiting on other tables, they throw the food altogether in a box without much thought. If you pack your own leftovers, you'll find that it will be easier to eat the next day. Plus, bringing your own food containers is an easy way to make your meal more sustainable.

21

The restaurant staff can hear you.

customer asking question with date about menu to waiter Shutterstock

You'd be surprised how much the servers can actually hear from your private conversations. While the restaurant may be loud and the music could be blasting, your servers can definitely listen in on what you're talking about if they wanted to.

22

Don't order fish on Sundays.

It's a fact that fish doesn't get delivered on Sundays, so if you order the fish then it will not be fresh. Restaurants don't mention this, but it's good to know the next time you plan your Sunday meals.

23

Your waiter might not like being asked for their opinion.

Waiter and customer at restaurant Fraser Cottrell/Unsplash

Waiters would rather you not ask what their favorite thing on the menu is or what they prefer, mostly because they haven't tried every single thing and everyone has different tastes. However, it's totally fair game to ask what are the most popular items on the menu and order based on the customer consensus.

24

The food isn't usually made from scratch.

Turkey soup Shutterstock

While some smaller family-owned restaurants make food from scratch, chain restaurants don't have as many freshly made meals. Soups and other ingredients are often frozen, vacuum-sealed, and heated up in the microwave before they serve it to you.

25

Ingredients may be repurposed.

Teriyaki chicken stir fry peppers spinach Shutterstock

It's common for restaurants to repurpose ingredients, but not always in the most sanitary way. However, this is a way to cut costs and not let food go to waste. Some companies have creative ways to repurpose ingredients, but they usually go towards making the "specials" the next day.

26

The ice is usually dirty.

fountain soda with striped straw on wooden table Shutterstock

Just like the soda fountains, ice machines at most restaurants are almost never cleaned. When the staff does clean it, after six months or even a year, there can be mold that comes out of the filters and ice-holding bins.

27

Ketchup bottles and salt shakers might be teeming with germs.

Heinz ketchup Shutterstock

The ketchup bottles on the restaurant tables are actually pretty gross and are never washed. Yes, whenever you're in public, you are exposed to germs, but you might want to give the condiments a second thought.

28

The regular coffee might actually be decaf.

Cup of pour over coffee being poured into a mug in the morning. Mike Marquez/Unsplash

During the morning rush, keeping two different coffee pots clean for regular coffee and decaf is time-consuming for restaurant employees. For that reason, it's not uncommon for restaurants to serve decaf coffee all day long, whether you ordered it or not.

29

You don't have to order fries without salt.

fast food fries coming out of fryer Shutterstock

It's a common "hack" to order unsalted fries at McDonald's so you'll get a fresh batch. But the truth is, asking for unsalted fries can be pretty time-consuming for McDonald's employees. Just ask for fresh fries, and the employees will make a new batch for you.

30

Restaurants might use the five-second rule.

Waiter and customer Shutterstock

The restaurant loses money whenever food falls on the floor. And while you might be used to following the five-second in your own home, you typically wouldn't expect restaurant workers to rescue fallen food from the floor. Restaurants sometimes place the food back onto your plate, which is not exactly ideal.

31

Salads are often made in advance.

Caesar salad with dressing Shutterstock

When you order a fresh salad at a restaurant, you'd assume that the kitchen is chopping and mixing in real-time. But most restaurants will make their salads several days or even a week in advance. Doing this saves them time and allows the salad to be quickly delivered to you.

32

The kitchen is chaotic.

Angry chef yelling in kitchen Shutterstock

While the dining area may be sophisticated and organized, the restaurants don't want you to know that the kitchen is all controlled chaos. There's yelling, stress, and rushing behind those swinging doors.

33

Politeness goes a long way.

woman pointing and admiring item on menu Shutterstock

Always treat your waiter with respect, because they'll favor tables who are polite and respectful. This is important to the restaurant and its staff, even if the waiter gets something wrong or is slow. "The employees are human too and honest mistakes happen. People act like its the end of the world if a mistake happens on their pizza order," wrote Reddit user Good-timez. And if you tell your server the issue—rather than leaving a bad tip at the end of a meal—they'll likely do their best to fix it for you.

34

You should always double-check the bill.

Couple looking at restaurant bill Shutterstock

Everyone is human, and that means that sometimes you will be charged for items you may not have ordered. Do yourself a favor and double-check the bill before paying, especially if you're dining with a big group. Also, make sure to check if the tip is included in the bill or not.

35

Regulars might get special treatment.

Waiter pouring glass wine at restaurant Shutterstock

Regular customers will get the VIP treatment from the restaurant staff, so don't be surprised if you see another table get a round of free drinks or some additional appetizers to try out. It's always a good idea to get friendly with the owner and waiters if you plan on visiting the restaurant again in the future.

36

Restaurants often mark up the second-least-expensive wine bottle.

Man cheers glass red wine Shutterstock

Wine sales rack up a large part of the income for restaurants, so pricing wine bottles is strategic on their part. Many customers won't feel comfortable ordering the least expensive bottle, so the second-least-expensive is usually the go-to. That's why restaurants will mark up the price on that specific bottle.

37

Waiters can tell when you're lying.

Waiters hands full Shutterstock

If you don't like an item in a dish you're about to order, don't lie and say you're allergic. Waiters know when you're lying (for the most part), and they'd rather you just simply say you don't like the ingredient and want it to be left off the dish.

38

Restaurants use the "anchoring effect."

woman looking over menu outside Shutterstock

Restaurants use a specific pricing anchoring method, meaning they make typically expensive dishes seem less expensive compared to other menu items. For example, when looking at dinner dishes, a $20 chicken dish compared to a $50 fish dish will seem much less expensive.

39

Kids' meals can be loaded with sugar.

White sugar in wooden spoon resting on brown sugar Shutterstock

Restaurant chains will often put sugar in kids' meals so kids will naturally like them more. Of course, added sugar is nothing new, but it's still worth looking at the nutrition info before your kids order their dinner.

40

Restaurants might not have your preferred milk alternative.

oat milk Shutterstock

Restaurants don't carry all types of milk, and skim milk is rarely even skim milk. With so many different kinds these days, from oat milk to almond milk, it's hard for restaurants to keep up.

41

Ordering hot tea can be a hassle for waiters.

Couple drinking tea in the cafe Shutterstock

Asking for hot tea will automatically make your waiter's job harder. They'll have to get a pot, boil the water, get the lemons, get the honey, and bring a cup and spoon. It's a lot of work for little reward for the waiters, and they would rather customers not ask for hot tea.

42

Tips are often communal.

Many restaurants have pooled tips, so if you give one waiter a bad tip it will actually affect the rest of the waiters' tips for the day. Even the bartenders and busboys share the tips with the wait staff, which is something to keep in mind the next time you consider under-tipping the restaurant staff.

43

You might not want to eat out on holidays.

Man shocked by menu Shutterstock

Big holidays like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day are usually gimmicks for restaurants—and just another reason to upsell and raise the prices on the menu. It's a busy time for the restaurant, so they may not have the time to do their diligence on the actual quality of the food.

44

Problems with your order could be the kitchen's fault, not your waiter's.

Waiter handing out cake to guests.

When the food order comes out wrong or it takes way too long, it may be the kitchen's fault. The waiter won't place blame, but it's likely the fault lies in the kitchen.

45

First dates bring in the best tips.

Waiter playing favorites with a customer as they order. Shutterstock

On a first date, whoever grabs the bill will want to show off and usually tips above average. You also can expect for them to order a bottle of wine or champagne, and order more food than usual to keep the conversations going.

46

Waiters might snack on the food.

Waiter tricks diners do not notice. Shutterstock

During a long day, waiters sometimes will grab a fry or order food for themselves. After all, waiters normally don't have time to eat so it's usually a grab-and-go situation.

47

If you don't like something, you can send it back.

Waiter talking to customer at a restaurant Shutterstock

The restaurant gets annoyed when you eat half of a dish and then decide you don't like it. If you don't like it at first, send it back right away. You'll be able to order something else without an issue, but it's worse when you play around with the food and then extend the process.

RELATED: The easy way to make healthier comfort foods.

48

You can judge a restaurant's cleanliness by the state of the bathroom.

Bathroom toilet paper Shutterstock

The bathroom of any restaurant is a good judge on what the kitchen looks like. If the bathroom is spotless and has a sign for employees to wash their hands, then you know the kitchen is in good shape. If the bathroom is questionable, you should probably head out of there.

49

The soups might not be made fresh in-house.

Barley soup Shutterstock

"Panera bills their soups as made from scratch, but the[y] actually come frozen in plastic bags and are reheated in a hot water bath," wrote Reddit user Evolved_as_one. "Employees are required to bring scalding hot pans back from the soup well for refills. I thought this was inefficient and dangerous but you were reprimanded if you didn't do your part to preserve the illusion."

50

The pizza sizes might be a bit of a trick.

Hawaiian pizza

That large pizza might just be a stretched-out medium pizza. It's the same amount of dough but marketed as more. Reddit user Blindtheivery wrote in the same chain that "the 'large' cheese stuf'd pizza from Pizza Hut is just a medium stretched larger." So you might be better off just ordering a smaller size.

Of course, not all of these stories are true at every restaurant, and they shouldn't encourage you from eating out. But it's good to know a little about what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite restaurant chains.

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Lindsay Paige Stein
Lindsay Stein is a freelance writer specializing in food and travel stories. Read more