If you're slowly getting back to dining out, you should know that every restaurant has something up its sleeves. That hasn't changed! So what exactly does this mean? Well, essentially, there are secrets being kept that these establishments don't necessarily want customers to know about. And after reading these restaurant secrets, you will agree that keeping these quiet may be in your best interest.
While you're sitting at a table and enjoying a meal in your favorite eatery, a lot is 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.
And for more nostalgia, check out these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Menus are designed to make you spend more.
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.
The soda machines are expensive to clean.
"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 where there was allegedly 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.
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Wait times might be made up.
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 the restaurant environment. If the wait time is long, don't panic—chances are it will be shorter than that.
If you want to be a good customer, be sure to avoid these 21 Ways You're Annoying Your Waiter and Didn't Know It.
The specials might not be the freshest.
"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 gone bad, and you'll be preventing food waste.
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."
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The meat might be microwaved.
"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 something to be aware of.
You'll get more food in a burrito bowl than in a regular burrito.
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 your money.
For more secrets from the burrito purveyor, don't miss these 30 Secrets From Chipotle Employees.
The grill marks probably aren't real.
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.
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. The iced green tea also comes from a pre-made mix.
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It's best to eat out on Thursdays.
"Always go out to eat on Thursdays," wrote Reddit user and waiter Wepawet1. "Most restaurants get their food deliveries that day." 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.
The waiter is a salesperson.
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.
Your drive-thru order is being timed.
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.
There's a reason Chick-fil-A employees say "my pleasure."
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."
Your bread basket could be a hand-me-down.
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.
There might not be real maple in the syrup.
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.
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The music is blaring for a reason.
Restaurants intentionally blast the music to make you order more food, eat faster, and leave sooner. If you tune out the music while you order, you'll be able to concentrate and order only what you want.
You might want to avoid the drink garnishes.
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.
"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—just know that you might not be getting the freshest food at that salad buffet.
The plastic trays are dirtier than you think.
The plastic trays at most restaurant chains are filled with bacteria, so always opt-out of using them. If you're eating inside, simply use the table and napkins.
Packing your leftovers can be a hassle for servers.
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 in a box without much thought. If you pack your leftovers, you'll find that it will be easier to eat the next day. Plus, bringing your food containers is an easy way to make your meal more sustainable.
Whatever you do, make sure to avoid these 14 Things You Should Never, Ever Eat at a Restaurant.
The restaurant staff can hear you.
You'd be surprised how much the servers can hear from your private conversations. While the restaurant may be loud and the music could be blasting, your servers can listen in on what you're talking about if they want to.
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 won't be fresh. Restaurants don't mention this, but it's good to know the next time you plan your Sunday supper.
Your waiter might not like being asked for their opinion.
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 fair game to ask what are the most popular items on the menu, and order based on the customer consensus.
The food isn't usually made from scratch.
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.
Ingredients may be repurposed.
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.
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The ice is usually dirty.
Just like the soda fountains, ice machines at most restaurants are rarely cleaned. When the staff does clean it, there could be mold that comes out of the filters and ice-holding bins after six months or even a year.
Ketchup bottles and salt shakers might be teeming with germs.
The ketchup bottles on the restaurant tables are usually pretty gross . . . and might never get washed. Yes, whenever you're in public, you are exposed to germs, but you might want to give the condiments a second thought.
The regular coffee might actually be decaf.
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.
You don't have to order fries without salt.
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.
Restaurants might use the five-second rule.
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 isn't exactly ideal.
Salads are often made in advance.
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 delivered to you quickly.
The kitchen is chaotic.
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.
Politeness goes a long way.
Always treat your waiter with respect because they'll favor tables that 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 it's 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.
You should always double-check the bill.
Everyone is human, and that means that you might be charged for items you didn't order. 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.
Regulars might get special treatment.
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.
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Restaurants often mark up the second-least-expensive wine bottle.
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.
Waiters can tell when you're lying.
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.
Restaurants use the "anchoring effect."
Restaurants use a specific pricing anchoring method, meaning they typically make 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.
Kids' meals can be loaded with sugar.
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 dinner.
Restaurants might not have your preferred milk alternative.
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.
Ordering hot tea can be a hassle for waiters.
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 a spoon. It's a lot of work for little reward for the waiters, and they would rather customers not ask for hot tea.
Tips are often communal.
Many restaurants have pooled tips, so if you give one waiter a bad tip, it could 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.
You might not want to eat out on holidays.
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.
Problems with your order could be the kitchen's fault—not your waiter's.
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.
First dates bring in the best tips.
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 conversation going.
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Waiters might snack on the food.
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.
If you don't like something, you can send it back.
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.
You can judge a restaurant's cleanliness by the state of the bathroom.
The bathroom of any restaurant is a good judge of 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.
The soups might not be made fresh in-house.
"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."
The pizza sizes might be a bit of a trick.
That large pizza might just be a stretched-out medium pizza aka 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 opting for the 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.