Eating out at a restaurant is an inherent roll of the dice. While we’d like to believe our favorite lunch and dinner spots adhere to only the strictest hygiene and food-quality standards, the truth is, we just don’t know. The silverware may look clean and the food may be delicious, but at the end of the day, we have no idea what’s really going on in the kitchen.
For those wary about what their favorite restaurant is actually serving them, these 20 employee secrets will have you tossing out that drawer full of take-out menus in a heartbeat. And if healthy, leafy greens are your go-to? Sorry salad lovers, but you may want to consider a change in diet, too…
1. High-End Gravy: For those looking for a vegetarian-friendly gravy option, cheaper fast-food restaurants like KFC are actually a better choice than most high-end restaurants. Cheap takeout spots will often use dry, pre-mixed gravies, whereas your local five-star French eatery likely uses pan drippings from meat dishes.
2. Buffalo Wild Wings: Let’s be honest: everything on the menu here is questionable at best. But for those that do opt to put their stomachs on the line, it’s best not to miss the lunch and dinner rushes. Between the hours of 12:45 and 4:30, daring diners can expect a nice heaping plate of crusty, hours-old wings.
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3. Ballpark Hotdogs: Shelling out $15 for a hotdog is already insane, but actually eating one might be even crazier. After being grilled, the hotdogs are left in a vat of water until someone orders one. If there are any dogs left over at the end of the shift, they simply get put in the fridge and are tossed back in the water the next day.
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4. Beer On Tap: Sure, it may make you feel like a big shot when you order from the beer taps, but maybe it’s best to just stick to the bottle for now. Beer taps are rarely cleaned, causing mold and bacteria to build up in the lines… and fall right into your drink.
5. Burger King Chicken Fries: If the taste of these strange Burger King creations wasn’t enough to get you to stop eating them, maybe their cooking method will. BK’s chicken fries are fried immediately upon delivery, left to sit on an open tray, and then fried again when someone wants them “fresh.” Rock-solid chicken anyone?
6. Pickles: Lovers of these crispy cucumbers will be heartbroken to hear that pickles are one of the most unsanitary food items in the kitchen. Servers and cooks use their often-unwashed hands to fish pickles out of their briny buckets, contaminating the pickle juice with a thin layer of film that builds on the surface.
7. Milkshakes: Like beer taps, milkshake machines are rarely cleaned, due in large part to how difficult they are to disassemble and sanitize. But if clumps of dirty ice cream floating in your shake aren’t enough to get you to swear off them, you’ll be happy to know that the metal straws they’re served with barely get cleaned either. Yum!
8. Dirty Martini: Bacteria-wise, this popular cocktail is actually one of the dirtiest out there. According to one bar expert, most bartenders pour the olive brine right from the garnish tray when mixing this drink. But, hey: at least they’re upfront about it.
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9. Lemon Water: Though it may look fancy, it’s best to avoid water that’s had any kind of citrus fruit floating in it, especially lemons. More often than not, lemons aren’t washed or disinfected before being dropped in water, leaving you to take a nice big gulp of whatever they were rolling around in on the delivery truck.
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10. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish: Shockingly, this fish sandwich is actually one of the freshest of all the McDonald’s menu options — that is, unless you live in the central U.S. While the fast-food giant boasts a steady supply of fish to their coastal restaurants, you’ll need some extra tartar sauce at their franchises in most land-locked states.
11. “White Tuna”: Sushi lovers be warned: you might want to pack an extra pair of underwear the next time you order “white tuna” from your favorite sushi spot. While this fish – actually called Escolar – is buttery and delicious, its high oil content causes intense gastrointestinal distress when eaten in excess.
12. Wendy’s Chili: While it won’t come as a shock to know that Wendy’s uses old burgers to make their signature chili, the method they use to recycle the meat is enough to make anyone reconsider their next visit. After putting all leftover patties in a vat of water, restaurant workers microwave them for ten minutes and then chop them up for later use.
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13. Salads: Now, you may be wondering: all salads? Pretty much. Salads are one of the most mishandled dishes at restaurants, as they’re usually thrown together by un-gloved waiters looking to quickly get back to waiting tables. And forget about salads at pizza places: they’re basically just heaps of rotting, frozen lettuce.
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14. McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast: Being able to grab a McMuffin or a stack of pancakes at all hours of the day might sound enticing, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that sausage patty is fresh off the grill. Unless it’s before 11 AM, any breakfast item you order will come to you straight out of the microwave.
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15. “The Daily Special”: It may seem counterintuitive, but the dishes that waiters push the most are usually the least fresh out of all the menu options. When chefs want to get rid of ingredients that have been sitting around too long, they simply toss them together and call it a “special.” Bon appétit!
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16. Veggie Burgers: The next time you’re looking for a meatless alternative to satisfy your barbecue cravings, it’s probably best to grill one up yourself. Unless you’re at a restaurant known for its vegetarian options, odds are your “Beyond Meat” burger is being grilled on the same flat top as someone else’s bacon cheeseburger.
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17. McDonald’s McNuggets: If you thought one of McDonald’s signature menu items would be exempt from this list, you’re sadly mistaken. While they may seem warm and fresh as you’re dipping them into your Szechuan sauce, nine out of ten times you’re being served McNuggets that are well beyond their shelf life.
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18. Subway Tuna Salad: Though Subway may advocate for their customers to “eat fresh,” their tuna salad is anything but. Not only is this rarely ordered menu item often expired before it’s ever opened, but some workers even cover old date labels with new ones to avoid getting in trouble when serving it.
19. IHOP Eggs: This international pancake house may be known for its egg dishes, but it turns out that your omelet would probably go better with syrup and butter than with any of your favorite salty toppings. IHOP is known to mix pancake batter with its omelets, so if you’re looking for a real protein boost, you’ll have to get it the old-fashioned way.
20. Eggs Benedict: No, it’s not the eggs or the meat that’ll get you: it’s the sauce. Bacteria love hollandaise, and according to the late Anthony Bourdain, most restaurants let the savory sauce sit in open vats for weeks on end, allowing mold and other contaminants to accumulate.