Before you reach for the pepper shaker, think about how many people have touched it before you. Does it look clean? Is it sticky? Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for restaurants to overlook the cleanliness—or lack thereof—of each individual shaker. (This goes for salt, sugar, cheese, and other shakers, too—pepper just happens to beat them in the germ-harboring surface contest.) According to a study conducted by ABC News, on average, a pepper shaker’s bacteria count is 11,600.
Wrote Olmsted, "The bad news is that the vast majority of what is advertised as Kobe beef continues to be counterfeit, and it remains very difficult for consumers to tell the difference - at least until they taste it..."
Soup Special of the Day
Chefs and waiters took to Reddit to report on their top secrets. One topic the commentators unanimously agreed on? Soup specials, reported The Sun. It's normally comprised of "yesterday's leftovers."
“Soups, specials (when a product is about to go bad and not daily specials like half off pizza Tuesday)” wrote one commentator.
"Soup if it is late. That soup has been sitting on the warmer all day," explained another user.
Most restaurants get their fish orders on Thursday, so by the time the week has started again, the fish is probably old.
Said chef Siliva Barban to Insider, "It could be the most fresh and delicious special, but in some restaurants, specials are the way to clean up the fridge."
"I know how old most seafood is on Monday — about four to five days old," said Anthony Bourdain. He lists Tuesdays and Thursdays as the best days to order the dish.
According to Reddit, customers should never order dishes with Hollandaise sauce.
"I don't trust hollandaise sauce to not come from a jacuzzi of aged bacterial growth," explained a commentator.
'If you go to a popular brunch spot, mid morning in a Sunday, you probably don't need to worry about the sauce getting reused as they're moving through it very quickly. A diner that will serve Eggs Benedict at 4pm on a Thursday...yeah, that's probably gross," explained another.
Explained Health.com, "Raw oysters can carry hepatitis A and a bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus, the latter of which can make you sick with vomiting and diarrhea. If you have certain conditions like diabetes, an infection can be fatal. The FDA notes that oysters from fancy restaurants or slathering hot sauce on the half shell doesn’t protect you. Your best bet is to order them cooked."
A user relayed his kitchen experience to the rest of the Reddit community, explaining swordfish is full of bacteria and parasites.
Sword fish. I've seen a chef cutting up and cleaning one before and it's not pretty. Let's jut say a fish that size picks up a good deal of parasites during its lifetime, and they all start jumping ship at once when they figure out their host is dead..." the user explained. "Any smooth skin fish aka most of the pelagic species (swordfish, wahoo, mahi, sailfish) are more prone to parasites than large scaled fish like snapper or grouper."
Be wary of dishes that are comprised mostly of sauces.
Explained Reader's Digest, "To avoid running out of ingredients during the dinner rush, restaurants often order more food than they need. At the end of the day, surplus ingredients that haven't expired can turn into tomorrow’s specials, disguised with sauce."
Be especially wary if it has meat, chicken or seafood.
Cocktails with Milk
"Having been a bartender, never order a drink with milk. There are hardly any drinks with milk, meaning hardly any milk is used. That partially-used quart they have behind the bar may have been sitting there for QUITE a while," wrote one Reddit user.
Most times, dishes that list "truffle" as an ingredient are actually using truffle oil, which is made up of various chemicals.
Explained chef James Birscione to Insider, "Chances are, the imitation truffle flavor will be offensively strong, and the 20 cents worth of truffle oil drizzled on your plate will result in a surge in menu price."
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“Most salt and pepper shakers are only wiped down if they appear dirty, and even then, only with a damp cloth that bussers keep in their pockets,” Jonas Sickler, Director of Operations at ConsumerSafety.org, told Reader’s Digest. “While some restaurants collect, refill, and wipe down shakers, they are rarely properly emptied and sanitized.” Aside from germs hiding on salt and pepper shakers in restaurants, here are the other places germs hide in your home.
“Another gross fact to consider is that parents, eager to occupy their little ones, will often let toddlers play with the salt and pepper during their meal. This means they will be covered in drool, and whatever else that is on the toddler’s fingers, which will help germs adhere to the glass surfaces even better,” Sickler continues. “Even people who don’t intend to season their food will move them around on the table—definitely something to consider as we enter flu season.”
RELATED: Shocking waiter secrets you never knew
57 waiter secrets
57 waiter secrets
After a certain time, it's all decaf
In most restaurants, after 8 p.m. or so, all the coffee is decaf because no one wants to clean two different coffeepots. I'll bring out a tray with 12 coffees on it and give some to the customers who ordered regular, others to the ones who ordered decaf. But they're all decaf. -Charity Ohlund
At a lot of restaurants, the special is whatever they need to sell before it goes bad. Especially watch out for the soup of the day. If it contains fish or if it's some kind of 'gumbo,' it's probably the stuff they're trying to get rid of. -Kathy Kniss, who waited tables for ten years in Los Angeles
Avoid the lemons
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. -Charity Ohlund, Kansas City waitress
I've never seen anybody do anything to your food, but I have seen servers mess with your credit card. If a server doesn't like you, he might try to embarrass you in front of your business associate or date by bringing your credit card back and saying, 'Do you have another card? This one didn't go through.' -Charity Ohlund
If you ask me how many calories are in a particular dish, I'm not allowed to tell you even if I know. I'm supposed to say, 'All that information is available online.' Here are nine sneaky signs your drinking too many calories. -Waitress at a well-known pizza chain
We don't carry all those types of milk
Skim milk is almost never skim milk. Very few restaurants outside Starbucks carry whole milk, 2 percent milk, skim milk, and half-and-half; it's just not practical. -Chris
Homemade doesn't always mean homemade
Some places buy salad dressings in one-gallon jars, then add a few ingredients, like a blue cheese crumble or fresh herbs, and call it homemade on the menu. Here's how dressing makes salad more nutritious. -Former waiter Jake Blanton
Please don't ask for hot tea
The single greatest way to get your waiter to hate you? Ask for hot tea. For some reason, an industry that's managed to streamline everything else hasn't been able to streamline that. You've got to get a pot, boil the water, get the lemons, get the honey, bring a cup and spoon. It's a lot of work for little reward. (Here are 13+ health benefits of drinking tea, though.) -Christopher Fehlinger, matre d at a popular New York City restaurant
Tips are pooled
In many restaurants, the tips are pooled, so if you have a bad experience with the server, you're stiffing the bartender who made your drinks, the water boy who poured your water, sometimes the hostess, the food runners, and maybe the other waiters. -Christopher Fehlinger
Eggs are normally made from powder
Even at the best breakfast buffet in the world, 99 times out of 100, the big pan of scrambled eggs is made from a powder. -Jake Blanton (Here's the right way to make scrambled eggs.)
It's normally the kitchen's fault
People think that just because your food took a long time, it's the server's fault. Nine times out of ten, it's the kitchen. Or it's the fact that you ordered a well-done burger. -Judi Santana
We know when you're having an affair
When you're with the woman who's not your wife, you're a lot nicer to us, probably because you know that we know it's not your wife. -Caroline Radaj, waitress at a members-only club outside Milwaukee
You'll get rewarded for being a regular
It's much easier to be recognized as a regular on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. Once you're recognized as a regular, good things start to happen. You'll find your wineglass gets filled without being put on your bill, or the chef might bring you a sample. -Christopher Fehlinger
Avoid certain days
Avoid Mother's Day and Valentine's Day like the black plague. It's crazy busy, so they're not going to be able to pay as much attention to quality. Plus, they bring out a special menu where everything is overpriced. -Steve Dublanica
Order for your kids
If the restaurant is busy and your child is shy, please order for him. Kids can sit there forever trying to decide, or they whisper and you can't hear them. Meanwhile, the people at the next table are yelling at you to come over. -Derek Dudley, a waiter at a casual pizza restaurant in Phoenix
Know how to tip
The best tippers tend to be middle-class or people who have worked for everything they have, not the really wealthy or the kid who inherited the trust fund. Which is not to say that we mind if you use coupons. But when you do, tip on the amount the bill would have been without them. -Judi Santana
First dates are the best for tips
First dates, especially blind Internet dates, are great for tips. You know he'll probably order a bottle of wine and leave a 20 to 25 percent tip because he's showing off. -Jeremy Burton, waiter at a grill in southwest Michigan
Don't order fish early in the week
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. -Steve Dublanica
We can't be honest about what we don't like
We're not allowed to tell our customers we don't like a dish. So if you ask your server how something is and she says, It's one of our most popular dishes, chances are she doesn't like it.
I'll make you feel guilty if I work on a holiday
On Christmas Day, when people ask why I'm there, I might say, My sister's been in the hospital, or, my brother's off to war, so we're celebrating when he gets back. Then I rake in the tips.
-Chris, a New York City waiter and the founder of bitterwaitress.com
We cover when our coworkers want to go have a quick smoke
If you're looking for your waiter and another waiter tells you he's getting something out of the stockroom, you can bet he's out back having a quick smoke.
If someone orders a frozen drink that's annoying to make, I'll say, "Oh, we're out. Sorry!" when really I just don't want to make it. But if you order water instead of another drink, suddenly we do have what you originally wanted because I don't want to lose your drink on the bill.
-Waitress at a casual Mexican restaurant in Manhattan
We do snack on the food
When I was at one bakery restaurant, they used to make this really yummy peach cobbler in a big tray. A lot of times, servers don't have time to eat. So we all kept a fork in our aprons, and as we cruised through the kitchen, we'd stick our fork in the cobbler and take a bite. We'd use the same fork each time.
We'll trick you into thinking we made your soup hotter
If you make a big fuss about sending your soup back because it's not hot enough, we like to take your spoon and run it under really hot water, so when you put the hot spoon in your mouth, you're going to get the impression—often the very painful impression—that your soup is indeed hot.
We want you to enjoy yourself while you're there eating, but when it's over, you should go. Do you stay in the movie theater after the credits? No.
If you're a large party, don't order waters for everyone
My biggest pet peeve? When I walk up to a table of six or seven people and one person decides everyone needs water. I'm making a trip to deliver seven waters, and four or five of them never get touched.
-Judi Santana, a server for ten years
We'll give you things 'on the house' to get better tips
Sometimes, if you've been especially nice to me, I'll tell the bartender, "Give me a frozen margarita, and don't put it in." That totally gyps the company, but it helps me because you'll give it back to me in tips, and the management won't know the difference.
We love to eavesdrop
If you're having a disagreement over dinner and all of a sudden other servers come by to refill your water or clear your plates, or you notice a server slowly refilling the salt and pepper shakers at the table next to yours, assume that we're listening.
We know you're not that close with the chef
I get this call all the time: "Is the chef there? This is so-and-so. I'm a good friend of his." If you're his good friend, you'd have his cell.
We always check the reservation book, scan the names, and hope for someone recognizable. I'm happy if the notes say something like "Previous number of reservations: 92." If they say something like "First-time guest, celebrating Grandma's 80th birthday, need two high chairs, split checks, gluten allergy," then I start rummaging through my pockets for a crisp bill for the hostess and I make sure to tell her how much I love her hair fixed like that.
We've been asked to do strange things
The strangest thing I've seen lately? A man with a prosthetic arm asked me to coat check it because the table was a little bit crowded. He just removed his arm and handed it to me: "Can you take this?"
Use my name
Use your waiter's name. When I say, "Hi, my name is JR, and I'll be taking care of you," it's great when you say, "Hi, JR. How are you doing tonight?" Then, the next time you go in, ask for that waiter. He may not remember you, but if you requested him, he's going to give you really special service.
-JR, waiter at a fine-dining restaurant and author of the blog servernotslave.wordpress.com
Trust your waitress
Say something like "Hey, it's our first time in. We want you to create an experience for us. Here's our budget." Your server will go crazy for you.
Please take home the right receipt
If you walk out with the slip you wrote the tip on and leave behind the blank one, the server gets nothing. It happens all the time, especially with people who've had a few bottles of wine.
If you say, "Don't worry—I'm a really good tipper," that always means you aren't.
We can tell when you don't eat out often
When you say, "I'll have the pasta Alfredo," it tells me two things: You aren't interested in trying new things, and you don't eat out much. Restaurants put this dish on their menus because it's "safe," it sells, and it's cheap to make.
The salads sit
At one restaurant where I worked, the salads were made up to three days earlier. They were sitting on a tray with a thousand other salads in the refrigerator. The waiters went back, grabbed a plate and some dressing, and handed it to the customer.
If you don't like something, don't muddle your way through it like a martyr and then complain afterward. If you don't like it, don't eat it. Send it back and get something else.
Check on the ingredients
Ask what's in your smoothie. A lot of restaurants use half-and-half. So you think you're ordering a healthy strawberry-banana smoothie, but it's really full of fat.
Watch when I pour water
Watch out for what I call the touchdown. That's when the waiter comes around to refill your water and the pitcher actually touches your glass. If he's touching all the other glasses with the same pitcher, think about all those germs.
Ask to speak to the owner, not the manager
If you're having a problem, speak to the owner if you can. Managers may have very little power. They're less likely to comp a meal, and most aren't authorized to give away free alcohol. They'll also take it out on the server if you have problems.
The bathroom is a good judge of cleanliness
If you're worried about cleanliness, check out the bathroom. If the bathroom is gross, you can be sure the kitchen is much worse.
It can help you get a job in the future
When I'm hiring, I always look for someone who's spent some time as a waiter. What I learned waiting tables was far more valuable than anything I learned in college as far as how to interact with the human race.
-Jim Sheehan, former stockbroker and waiter who now owns a successful IT consulting firm
We like doing nice things for our customers
Once on Mother's Day, this older lady came in alone and told me that her kids weren't able to be with her that year, but they had mailed her a gift card. So I told my manager that we had to make this an exceptional experience for her. I told her to come back with a friend some time and use her gift card because tonight, her meal was on us. We comped her dinner, and I sat with her through dessert while she told me about her kids. My coworkers were happy to cover my other tables for 15 minutes. The woman told me she would remember that dinner forever.
-Melissa McCracken, longtime waitress in Hawaii
Watch out for this server lingo
Drive-by: Finding an excuse, such as refilling the water glasses or clearing plates, to stop by a particular table. "You've got to do a drive-by on the woman at table 22. She's hot."
Upsell: Swaying diners to order more than they normally would or to order a higher-priced item, driving up the bill and hence the tip. Customer: "I'd like a gin and tonic, please." Waiter: "Bombay Sapphire?"
Camper: A diner who hangs around too long after he's eaten. Restaurants typically allot about 50 minutes for lunch and up to 90 minutes for dinner, depending on the type of restaurant. You can make up for camping by leaving a bigger tip. Here are some other little dining etiquette rules for eating in a restaurant.
Think twice about being rude to your waiter
CEOs say the way a potential employee treats a waiter offers insight into that person's character and ability to lead, according to an article in USA Today. And a 2005 survey of 2,500 members of Itâs Just Lunch, a dating service for professionals, found that being rude to waiters ranked No. 1 as the worst in dining etiquette, at 52 percent, way ahead of blowing your nose at the table, at 35.
Studies indicate that waiters can boost their tips by: lightly touching the customer, crouching next to the table, introducing themselves by name, and—believe it or not—drawing a smiley face on the check.
If you are a pack of females, you want separate checks
And I don't mean split evenly by the number of people. I mean split down to the exact number of Diet Cokes with lime each person consumed. And if eight gals order a $14 appetizer to share, that needs to be split into $1.75 each. If you are a pack of females over age 55, I'm near tears. You want all of the above, plus you're going to complain about every single thing.
-Kansas City waitress Charity Ohlund
If you look like you have an eating disorder, you do
Beautifully skinny model types move their food around the plate for two hours, or they devour the whole porterhouse and head to the ladies room immediately.
If you have a European accent, you are a horrible tipper
Accent = 10 percent. Always.
-Kansas City waitress Charity Ohlund
Know your wine
If you order a Zinfandel and I ask, "Red or white?" and you look at me with an annoyed face and say, "Pink," I go tell the other servers and we laugh.
-Kansas City waitress Charity Ohlund
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Besides bacteria, restaurants’ shakers are also allergy hazards. “Shakers can accidentally be dipped—or even dropped—into your meal while seasoning. If the previous diner at your table contaminated the salt dispenser with their shrimp scampi, and you have a serious shellfish allergy, you could be putting yourself at risk by using it,” says Sickler. Don’t miss these germ-spreading habits you need to give up right now.
“Instead, ask the chef to spice the dish up in the kitchen if you like it hot. As for the salt… use the opportunity to cut back on your sodium,” Sickler suggests. “Your body will thank you when you’re older.”
RELATED: What you never knew about fast food restaurants
What your fast food worker won't tell you
What your fast food worker won't tell you
After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.
When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)
That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package...
But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill. On the other hand, these healthy fast foods can satisfy unhealthy cravings.
There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less
If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac. Check out more trivia facts you probably didn't know about McDonald's.
Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day
That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won't believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants.
Those grill marks on your burger?
Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it's probably best to make your own at home with one of these burger recipes.
Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask
But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they'll still taste the same. That's because of the secret ingredient that makes McDonald's fries so addictive.
Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce
As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.
Yes, our chili is made from what you think:
Meat from old burgers.
It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken
At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing. Also, be wary of these "healthy" fast food choices that definitely aren't.
We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through...
...so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter. And after you leave the drive-through, use this trick to keep your fries crispy the whole way home.
One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food
He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.
Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:
When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.
Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?
They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.
Please, please, get off your cell phone
I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me. Here are some more crazy stories from drive-through workers.
At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food
Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.
We hate it when you order an ice cream
Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.
Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald's:
Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, 'Ewww.'
We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but...
We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn. Love tacos? Here are some fun taco recipes to try.
Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule
I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.
No, most of us do not donate our leftovers
I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part. Here's how you can cut back on food waste at home.
All fast-food restaurants are not created equal
Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.
When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets...
I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.
Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce
All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them. But we can tell you why McDonald's Coke tastes better than anywhere else.
At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down
That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.
Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage
You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.
At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day
That’s why I never take my lunch break early. Plus, fast food can have some weird effects on your brain.
For the best deal at McDonald's, order off the dollar menu
You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.
We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food
But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out. Here are more dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won't tell you.
Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should
Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.
Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot
And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them. That's just one of the things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.
Once your order is in at the drive-through...
We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.
We do laugh at you behind your back
Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.
When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out...
And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it's true. Want more crazy food service stories? Here's everything your waiter isn't telling you.