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21 Shocking Secrets Restaurant Workers Know—and You Don't

Your server has seen it all.

Restaurant workers have been through a lot this year. While some of them have been furloughed or have lost their jobs, others are having to face unexpected challenges at newly reopened restaurants. From handling rude customers to insider secrets about what goes on behind the curtains, here are some things the restaurant staff won't tell you.

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They Don't Actually Think It's Safe For You to Be There

restaurant dining

Knowing that the potential for getting infected with coronavirus is greater in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces makes many restaurant workers feel unsafe about going back to work. If there's an AC or a fan in the restaurant's dining room, the virus could be circulating through the space and traveling distances much larger than six feet. " Just because the state says it's OK to open up doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe to," said one food service professional in Chicago. Here are 9 Things in Restaurants You'll Never See Again.

They May Have a Coworker Who's Tested Positive for Coronavirus


Due to a lack of guidelines from health agencies, a restaurant isn't mandated to shut down or inform the public when they learn of a confirmed COVID-19 case among their staff. This means that your servers may know someone on staff has recently tested positive for coronavirus, but they have to go on about business as usual. Here's The Single Worst Thing You Can Say to a Restaurant Server Right Now.

They Hate the New Outdoor Dining Policy

outdoor dining

A restaurant worker in NYC told Gothamist the experience of serving diners on the patio is actually horrible for the servers. "You are dripping with sweat. Your face is melting because you're wearing a mask, and you cannot put the goddamn gloves on because your hands are wet and sweaty, also. It takes a lot of time to keep those necessary measures, and you have to also go on and keep serving people," he noted. Read about these 5 New Dangers of Dining Out No One Saw Coming.

They're Scared of Getting COVID-19 On the Job


Restaurant workers are literally putting themselves in harm's way just to be able to do their jobs during this pandemic. Restaurants are definitely not the safest places to be when it comes to the spread of the virus, and restaurant staff are working for the exact same base pay while taking on much greater risks than usual. "There's some really basic stuff that hasn't been addressed for workers and we're getting completely overlooked as the state pushes for reopening," said a service industry professional in Chicago.

Outdoor Dining May Be Grosser Than You Think

outdoor tables on the street

At first glance, outdoor dining seems like a great alternative to cramming dining rooms full of customers. However, some restaurant staff have started noticing completely disgusting side effects of dining on the streets, especially in big cities. A restaurant in New York reported their customers are having to deal with the most unwanted guests at the dinner table—rats.

Large Parties are Their Worst Nightmare

large group bar

Right now, your serves are responsible for enforcing social distancing rules while you're at their establishment. If you show up in a large group, it's going to be extremely difficult for them to accommodate you. When servers see a group larger than four, they know they're in for a difficult job of seating you. "The biggest issue of concern is some people's aversion to social distancing," said a server in North Carolina.

They Get Questioned for Wearing Masks

masked waitress

We've spoken to a server from an upscale restaurant in North Carolina who says she has had customers make rude comments on account of her wearing a mask. Some customers were also looking to prove her wrong, "I've been asked several times if I even knew anyone who has caught it, [and] I know of at least four people who have, and those customers get visibly upset when you let them know you don't think it's a hoax." Here are 5 Horrifying Mistakes Servers Have Seen at Reopened Restaurants.

They're Worried About Enforcing the Mask Rule

wear mask sign

We've all seen meltdowns over mask policies that have gone viral, but imagine you were the person actually having to enforce the mask rule with customers—it can feel like you're walking through a mine field. Your servers really don't want to have to deal with a violent outburst just for doing their job. A restaurant owner in Royal Oak said he's now working the front of the house himself to spare his staff from angry customers, "I've been trying to do most of the seating, because it's just really difficult when you have like an 18- or 19-year-old [employee] at the front having to enforce mask wearing."

Aggressive Customers Are a Real Concern

upset customers

And they don't just hate enforcing the mask and social distancing rules because they hate confrontation, but because restaurant workers are genuinely afraid for their own safety. "It is very upsetting. You're shaking after having these conversations with people, because you just don't know. What if someone got killed because they told them to wear a mask? You worry about it all the time," a cafe owner told Eater. And their fears are completely justified—a restaurant in Michigan decided to close their doors after their servers were continuously verbally attacked and berated over the mask-wearing rule.

Some Customers Have Stopped Tipping

empty tip jar

Restaurant workers are reporting that some of their customers have reverted to thinking that tipping is optional during the pandemic. "Some of [the customers] feel that the way we interpret and enforce the guidelines is part of their tip calculation," a restaurant director told TODAY. A Mac Daddy's server told us a similar story, "Customers have not been tipping well at all. I've worked the hardest I ever have as a server and I'm making the least amount of money I could imagine."

There Are Menu Items They Would Never Eat Themselves

busy restaurant

Restaurant servers always have the best scoop about what goes on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, there's often something about the way the restaurant operates or prepares your food that would probably horrify you. To that end, many restaurant workers have confessed (anonymously, on the internet) that there are certain menu items they serve their customers but would never eat themselves. Yikes!

Lemons Are One of the Dirtiest Items Around

Lemon water

That refreshing lemon wedge that comes with your drink or on your plate of seafood could be a cesspool of germs. A waitress from Kansas City confessed on the internet, "Now that I've worked in a restaurant, I never ask for lemon in a drink. Everybody touches them. Nobody washes them. We just peel the stickers off, cut them up, and throw them in your iced tea." Do you know these 40 Grossest Things Found In Food And Fast Food?

Daily Specials Are More Expensive But Not Always Fresh

daily specials

Although daily specials usually sound delicious and tempting, a restaurant insider tells us they're almost always going to be more expensive than regular menu items. And not only are you going to be paying top dollar for it, you might end up splurging on something that's actually less fresh than other items. Many chefs and waiters have confessed the specials are usually crafted around ingredients the restaurant is trying to get rid of because they're expiring.

They Prefer Their Regulars Over "Newbies"

Waiter acting friendly and normal to customers at a restaurant.

It may be no surprise that waiters prefer seeing regular customers they have a relationship with (and who tip them well), than a new person they don't know. But what might surprise you is that the regulars often get numerous perks because of their status. "Once you're recognized as a regular, good things start to happen. You'll find your wine glass gets filled without being put on your bill, or the chef might bring you a sample," one insider noted.

"Fresh" Menu Items Are Rarely Not Frozen

bread basket

That "catch of the day" fish special or the piping hot bread in your bread basket were most likely made several days ahead and frozen, then reheated to taste like they were freshly made. It would be extremely cost-prohibitive and complicated for restaurants to serve fresh foods made from scratch, so more often than not, the "fresh" items on the menu are anything but. Here are some items that are never made fresh in restaurants.

They Have to Follow Very Strict Rules of Conduct

Panera employee
Panera Bread/Facebook

Restaurant employees often have to follow very strict rules of conduct and food preparation which are set by their higher ups. These are things you definitely aren't aware of—the way your waitress greets you, the way they handle your complaints, and even the number of olives they're allowed to put in your sandwich have all been pre-approved by their manager. Here are some of the most bizarre rules fast food employees have to follow.

They're Not Actually Allowed to Give You "Just a Little More"

Fast food worker taking order

You may think that your server at a fast casual restaurant is skimping on your meat or sauce on purpose, but that's actually not the case. Fast food restaurants have strict policies about how much of each ingredient goes into building a burrito or a sandwich. Employees at Chipotle are instructed not to give into requests for "just a little more meat" without charging you extra, and employees at Subway have a set number of tomato slices and olives that go into each sandwich. Read more about it here.

There's a Day When You Should NEVER Order Seafood


Even at top notch restaurants where food quality standards are high, there are certain days of the week when things are at their freshest. This especially pertains to ingredients that are highly perishable and less-than-fresh in just a short day or two, like seafood. "Don't order fish on Sunday or Monday. The fish deliveries are usually twice a week, so Tuesday through Friday are great days. Or ask the restaurant when they get theirs," advises one restaurant worker. Here are 8 Reasons You Should Never Order the Salmon.

Kids' Meals May Have More Added Sugar

Gus Valente/Shutterstock

One waitress said that items on the kids' menu may be prepared with more sugar than the same item on the regular menu, "We put sugar in our kids' meals so kids will like them more. Seriously. We even put extra sugar in the dough for the kids' pizzas."

They Can Guess If You're On a First Date

first date

It's not just the awkward blushing or the obvious flirting that can tip a server off about a first date—they can usually tell by what you're ordering and how much you're tipping. "First dates, especially blind internet dates, are great for tips. You know he'll probably order a bottle of wine and leave a 20-25%  tip because he's showing off," said a waitress from Michigan.

Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura
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