Here is a look into the inner-workings of a chain restaurants that you've always wondered about.
Why You Have To Order Your Steak “Pink” Or “No Pink”
“I used to be a waitress at Applebees. I would love to tell people that the oriental chicken salad is one of the most fattening things on the menu, with almost 1500 calories. 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. Don’t even bother trying to ask to see the nutritional guide in the restaurant. At least at the location I worked at, it was stashed away in a filing cabinet somewhere and I had to get manager approval to show it to someone. We were pretty much told that unless someone had a dietary restriction, we should pretend it isn’t available.
Also, whenever someone wanted to order a ‘medium rare’ steak, and I had to say we only make them ‘pink’ or ‘no pink.’ That’s because most of the kitchen is a row of microwaves. The steaks were cooked on a stove top, but then microwaved to death. Pink or no pink only referred to how microwaved to death you want your meat.”
No Such Thing As An Expiration Date
“I work at Panera Bread. Please don’t order anything besides bread and pastries. They are the only things made fresh on a daily basis. The sandwich ingredients are always old or expired. When we find that something has passed its date, we simply switch the date to the next day, and the next and the next. The prep stations get cleaned maybe once or twice a week, the rest of the time they get wiped down with the same dirty rag I washed them with yesterday. The food all gets mixed together. There’s Caesar dressing that has chipotle mayo in it, the horseradish has some olives dropped in there, I have no idea if this is turkey or chicken, but it’s leaking and smelly and it’s going on your sandwich. The soup comes in bags that get heated, frozen, and reheated until they’re empty. They film over on an hourly basis, and we just add hot water to them and mix them up; It’s really gross.
Also, Panera is pretty much just as bad for you as McDonald’s. People come in thinking they’re eating healthy, but they’re really not. The Italian Combo used to have more than a thousand calories, but they took some stuff off so it’s 980 now. All the soups have >1000mg of sodium (Italian Combo has >2000mg or a day’s worth). A You Pick Two with Broccoli Cheddar, Frontega, and bread on the side is not significantly different from a McDouble with medium fries.”
“Olive Garden breadsticks? DO NOT EAT THEM. They come out of the oven every 3-5 minutes. During dinner rush especially, they’re in high demand. They are dumped into a warming drawer for servers to grab with tongs. There are 2-3 pairs of tongs and 5-8 servers waiting for them. The tongs get used by the nice servers who don’t end up getting any breadsticks to their table. Servers DO NOT wash their hands enough and they will grab that stuff with their bare hands in order to get breadsticks to their table because people rage if they don’t have enough breadsticks. I worked there for ages, and I love those breadsticks. They come frozen in a bag. But I just avoid Olive Garden now because I know I will eat them and they will be gross.”
Oh, Pizza Hut And Their Oil
“Pizza Hut secrets: The only fresh veggies are tomatoes, green peppers, and red onions. Everything else comes from cans and prepackaged bags. The only pizza dough that isn’t saturated in oil is hand tossed dough. The Edge/Original Pan dough is made with excessive amounts of oil. I make pizza dough at home and I know you can make it with 1/10th the oil. The dough is not prepared daily. If there is left over dough from the previous day, it will be used the following day. If you’ve ever eaten a Pizza Hut pizza and felt the dough was thicker than usual, you’ve eaten day old dough. Ham, Black Olives and Salami are the three least used ingredients in Pizza Hut pizzas, so avoid ordering pizzas with these ingredients because they are most likely going bad and haven’t been changed in quite some time. The ‘natural pizza sauce’ or whatever they tell you it is comes from a bag. We mix it with tap water until it’s a pizza sauce-worthy consistency and keep it stored in an industrial sized bucket in the walk-in freezer. The oil in the Wing Street fryers is changed upon managerial request, usually based on the color and consistency of the oil. If it can be used for another weekend it will be. It will be topped up with fresh oil when needed, but the oil is rarely changed over completely. Knowing that, consider the amount of potentially spoiled meat products that have been sitting in the same oil that fried up your chicken wings, tater tots and mozzarella sticks.”
After Hours Shenanigans
“I worked at Taco Bell in the mid-nineties. The beans were dehydrated and in plastic bags like Cocoa Pebbles cereal. There were always two big pots of hot water. One pot was to add water to the beans, and the other pot was for heating the bags of ground beef, chicken, and steak. Also, I worked the closing shift. When we closed the lobby, we’d get beer and put the bottles in the ice machine. We paid for the beer by making up prices at the register and never ringing it up. We would take orders and write them on a napkin rather than entering them into the system. We would make up a total. The manager would take the money and go get beer. When we had enough for beer we’d operate normally again. Though I never saw anyone do anything to the food. I still eat Taco Bell.”
What’s “Safe” To Eat, And How To Work The System
“Former McDonald’s employee, I have many. The burgers are (what seems like) 50% oily fat. The seasoning that goes on the patties is salt and pepper mixed together. Also, the fries are made with animal byproduct, whatever that is. The only thing that is ‘safe’ to eat I guess (or at least the only thing I ever had while I worked there) were the apple pies. I wouldn’t trust anything else, even though (like others have said) food was handled properly and what not. Here are some other things I learned working at McD’s. It’s significantly cheaper to order a McDouble and get it dressed like a Big Mac. You can order your burgers without seasoning to cut down on a LOT of sodium intake. Ask for extra pickles. They will usually give you 2-3 times as much, and every once in a while you will get a LOT of extra pickles. Onions are the same. The ketchup and mustard that goes on burgers is much more concentrated then the stuff they have outside. On Tax Day some stores sell Big Macs + 1 for an extra penny. If you are getting iced tea ask for little/no ice. The iced tea is already chilled, and cutting the ice nets you a LOT more iced tea. McD’s is in pretty big competition with Dunkin’ Donuts (or similar coffee shop in your area) when it comes to selling coffee. The only thing made with real eggs in the morning is the Egg McMuffin. Stores like this make a HUGE % of their profit off of soft drinks. A 10th (referring to 1/10 lb) or regular patty costs about 16 cents.”
“It Was So Clean You Could…”
“I worked at Raising Cane’s, and the chicken was never frozen, it was marinated, hand battered and fried to order. The toast you can order buttered on both sides, and you can substitute just about anything for anything. They would shell out for the best longest french fries of the cut, usually getting 3-4 fries per potato, but they would get broken frozen in the bag so I didn’t see the point. It was insanely clean in the kitchen too, you could do surgery in the kitchen after we left at night.”
Lots Of Reheating And Dirty Dishes
“At Chili’s, the molten cake that everyone seems to love is frozen. The paradise pie is frozen. If you complain that your food isn’t hot enough, it just goes into the microwave. Oh, and people used to ask for the queso recipe all the time, but it’s delivered to the restaurant in a bag. The cooks would just heat it up and dump it in a skillet. When the dishes came out of wash, there would still be wet lettuce and food particles stuck on the plates and silverware, and we’d just wipe it off. Makes me want to use plastic ware at every restaurant now.”
Not The Nachos
“I worked at Taco Bell when I was in high school. The beef is, I kid you not, USDA Grade D Beef. It was somewhere around 50% beef and 50% filler, mostly soy products I would assume. And it comes in 10 lb boiling bags that you just plop into a tank of near-boiling water until it’s hot. But the worst thing, I think, were the stainless steel pans that we would put nachos in. The nachos start out as just triangles of flour tortillas, which are deep fried and voila. Once they’re done they’re put into these big, flat, stainless steel pans. These pans are just shallower versions of the pans used to hold sliced tomatoes/lettuce/cheese on the ‘assembly line,’ and they all have to be washed by hand in a sink, usually by the drive-thru cashier in between orders. The lettuce/tomato/cheese pans got washed after ever use, but for some reason, the nacho pans just kept getting reused, and reused, and reused. Eventually, all of the nacho pans had a fairly thick cake of solidified oil/salt/nacho covering it, especially in the corners. It was impervious to washing of any kind, so the pans just kept getting recycled again and again. Nothing at Taco Bell is good for you, but I have a feeling that anything involving nachos has a strong likelihood to get you very, very sick.”
What Not To Order
“I worked at Papa Johns for several years. Overall it was very sanitary and I would still eat their pizza. The one thing to take away is if you are ordering toppings that are NOT used in any of the specialty pizzas, beware! Some of those toppings can sit in the make-line fridge for weeks. ‘Regularly’ ordered toppings were always safe, though. We did changeovers daily, meaning we put the oldest product on top so that it was used first. The produce was always fresh and cut daily. The sauce was from cans and opened daily so that was good, but did you know all the sauce was canned once a year? It’s true! Read the side of the can (most stores will have a can sitting out so you can). The toppings I might avoid are anchovies, jalapeños, banana peppers, and ground beef. They are probably the least ordered toppings and sit around for a while. The blue cheese, ranch, nacho cheese, garlic sauce, and tomato sauce cups all said to ‘keep refrigerated,’ but were always taken out at dinnertime and put back near the end of the night. Those pepperoncini peppers that came with the pizza were supposed to be placed in the box with tongs, but never were, those were always placed there by hand.”
Way To Go Ruining Bacon
“I used to work at McAlister’s. I know they’ve changed a few things since I worked there, but I’ll lend what I know. Some brilliant people would always ask where we got our huge potatoes. They aren’t huge potatoes. Two potatoes have the ends cut off of them and are stuck together to make a larger serving. If we are out of potatoes, don’t complain to me. A potato in the microwave might only take 5 minutes to cook, but in the oven they take an hour. Every half hour a buzzer goes off. The sheet pan on the top rack is removed and those potatoes are put in a warming bin. The sheet pan on bottom is moved to the top, and then either a full sheet pan or half sheet pan is put in on the bottom. The leftover potatoes in the bin are thrown in the garbage, and employees are fired if they try to put some back instead of putting them in the dumpster. So, again, if we’re out just ask how long until another batch is ready, or shut up. Cooking times can’t be decreased just because you want a potato.
Also, every single soup comes in a frozen bag. They’re defrosted in what we called ‘nitros,’ which are basically just a big pot of water that circulates constantly. I can’t give you a recipe for the cheese/broccoli soup because only the people at the McAlister’s headquarters know it. All I do is take the soup brick out of the deep freeze and put it in a pot of water. I can, however, tell you that it’s stupidly unhealthy for you.
And you probably don’t want lemons from McAlister’s. Our boxes of lemons were quite large, upwards of 25lbs. Often times over half the box would be moldy. We’d be told to just toss the moldy ones and cut the rest of them up. The front-of-house girls generally did lemon cutting, though, for whatever reason. That being said, those girls really don’t care how sanitary your lemons are. They got hired to be pretty and run a cash register, not to do food prep work. That means they aren’t washing lemons, even if they were touching other moldy lemons, nor are they washing them if one touches the floor before they cut it up. It wasn’t cut up yet, only the outside touched the floor! Uhh, yeah, but that lemon goes inside a drink. During really big rushes I’ve also seen some employees drop a potato on the floor and hurriedly pick it up, to be sold to an ignorant customer. Dropping potatoes during a rush is not acceptable, so lots of guys would hide it to avoid being written up, yelled at, or worst case, fired. Logic was that the vast majority of people don’t eat the skins of their potato, so it didn’t matter if it hit the floor for just a second.
Also, if you ask for sweet tea with no ice, don’t complain that it is super strong and hot. The tea is designed to be at its ideal concentration when the cup is filled to the brim with ice, then melted with the hot tea.
As for the bacon, it’s precooked and comes in bags of something like 64 strips. The way we were taught to prepare the bacon was to roll up the entire bag as tightly as possible and cut the whole thing in two, bag and paper included. After doing that, you dump everything on the counter, then separate the bag and pieces of wax paper from the bacon halves. Yes, sometimes a piece of paper or a piece of plastic might wind up in the final product, and no, ordering another one won’t change the fact that it was all prepared the same way. There is no way to tell how old said bacon is, and it tastes horrible anyway, so you’re better off not ordering it.”
Everything You Didn’t Want To Know About The Shake Machine
“It’s been nearly 15 years now, but I worked at McDonald’s. In general, it was not terrible, with one exception – shakes. Shakes have their own machine (separate from ice cream), or at least they did — I understand the McCafe thing may have changed shakes around. At that time though, the ice cream was low fat, but the shakes weren’t. They had their own mix. The same mix was used by all the shakes, and then a syrup was added by the machine. Four flavors — vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and the seasonal flavor (e.g. shamrock, but when I was working, it was mango, and it lasted forever because it didn’t sell). You open up the bottom back of the machine and you basically put in this big open metal container (like a big bucket, basically) and stick a tube in it. Now, the front of the machine with the spout and stuff does get cleaned each night. But, most of the innards of the machine were never touched. They were completely infested with cockroaches in the inner workings. When you’d open the back to refill the bucket, it’d be all skitter skitter skitter while the cockroaches would run and hide. The idea of this big roach swimming pool of shake mix permanently put me off McDonald’s shakes (or any fast food shakes whatsoever). The shake mix would sit in there all day, from opening, because people did actually order shakes at breakfast. So it’d sit in there all day with the roaches from about 5 pm to 1 am or so, then stored in the fridge, and pulled back out. The rotation was terrible too, you’d usually just dump more stuff in on top because otherwise, people would complain terribly because the shake machine was down while it was cleaned or coming to temp. Some of the employees figured out how to rig the shake machine to dispense just syrup, so they could make vanilla Cokes and stuff. The syrups weren’t in open buckets or anything (I think plastic packs, never replaced them) so it was probably okay but I didn’t partake. Oh, and our ice cream machine ‘broke’ (the night manager decreed it) right after July fireworks so that we didn’t have to do about 1,000 cars getting nothing but ice cream cones. Instead, we hung out on the roof.”
Getting Written Up For Actually Washing Their Hands
“I have no problem at all naming Wendy’s as one of the most disgusting places to work. Period. I know chains are just that, places run by different people so this is MY Wendy’s story (though it is similar to others). First off, I was never told to wear gloves as a cook or food handler. The only time I EVER had to wear gloves, was when I brought someone their bag from the back for whatever reason. We were never told to wash our hands, but I always washed. Was actually written up for wasting time for washing my hands multiple times through the day. The pipes were busted and there was water right outside the cooler. Slipping was extremely probable and happened a lot. The oven door was broken and was held shut with a slip of cardboard that was replaced every hour or two since the other would turn into char from the flames. Fryers? Oil changed every THREE days. Sometimes it was not even cleaned, more fry oil just added, or sometimes just drained before new oil was put in. The tank was always dirty and gritty, and year-old fries and nasty crusties were always touching new food.
Everything was hand made. As in, no gloves, hand made at the creation line. You used the spatula or grabbers to get hot items, and anything else was fair game, cheese included. Vegetables, too. The chili is literally patties that we didn’t use the day before. I don’t even mean every X hours we take patties off the grill, no. We serve them, we only throw patties in the freezer at closing time. So you pretty much eat old patties if we haven’t cooked new ones recently. Burritos with chunks of sausage? Same thing, old sausage. The worst thing I can think of may be a little personal, and it might just be my personal grudge, but I was asked to ignore the local fire departments orders and use our fryer. When I walked in the store to help open, I noticed the fire departments letter, I skimmed it. ‘DO NOT USE FRYER! ELECTRICAL HAZARD.’ Boy, was I happy, I got an easy day! Well turns out the manager who opened hid the paper in the trash and asked me to hook the fryer up. I told her I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. She said the fire department never came, I looked for the paper and found it in her trash bin. She said it didn’t matter and to hook it up. I pulled the fryer back and saw the outlet was damaged and might create a fire hazard. She said plug it in or lose my job. I STUPIDLY walked out and went home, never looked back. Shoulda took it up with someone since I’ve been out of a job since. BUT HEY! At least I feel no ‘company pride’ to keep anything secret.”
Biscuits, Crab Legs, And Frozen Fish, Oh My!
“I used to work at Red Lobster. The biscuits are dry mix, mixed with water and shredded cheese and then brushed with garlic butter. They are soooo fattening, but still delicious. Usually, the batches are hot and fresh, but in a weirdly shaped warmer that would be hard to grab with bare hands. So don’t worry about dirty server hands on your biscuits, everyone used tongs at our restaurant. Also, surprisingly, crab legs and lobster are very healthy if you don’t slather them with butter. And the crab legs are usually in excellent condition because something about how they get a good pick from their source. I served maybe one pair of yucky looking crab legs and it was only because of the barnacle thingies on the outside, which, by the way, doesn’t affect the inside meat really at all, it’s still amazingly delicious. All the ‘fresh’ fish in our area (near Chicago and thousands of miles from any ocean) is flash frozen, not fresh, that’s garbage. But for some reason frozen and fresh frozen are different and I don’t know why exactly. Exceptions are made for a few fish, but all the salmon, mahi, etc. are all frozen. And their ‘wood grill’ is the exact same as any grill except some smoked wood chips are added to the bottom to allow some smoke to get up into the food. They act like they throw chunks of cedar into a wood fire place in the commercials.”
The Same Biscuits As Red Lobster
“I work at a Ruby Tuesdays, and we have the same biscuits as Red Lobster. I looked up the ingredients once, and they are literally the same, down to the way they are prepared. I have always wondered if the staff at Red Lobster have the same issues with the biscuits that (at least in my location) our staff has. It’s the cooks’ jobs to keep the biscuits made and cooked, but more often than not it’s the servers doing it. When we are really busy, we will run out. When we run out of them, our customers will begin to flip out, from threatening to call corporate, to threatening to sue, to just plain walking out. I want to remind these people that the biscuits are free! Our steaks are actually cooked on a grill, but just about everything we serve has been frozen for at least some time. Everything that says ‘freshly steamed’ on the menu has been microwaved. Oddly enough, the ‘Fresh Garden Bar’ is actually fresh, at least in my store.”
This Will Surprise You
“I work at Jimmy John’s. You might be surprised with what I’ve found. It’s a franchise restaurant so I can’t speak for every location. Our stores are precisely run. Everything is done by the book. Everything in the store is cleaned, and frequently. Food is carefully prepared and measured to maintain consistency. Everything is fresh, nothing is old. Day old bread isn’t a day old, it just means it’s more than 4 hours old. We don’t sell any bread that’s a day old. You might be inclined to get the tuna because it’s healthy, but a tuna sub has around 30 grams of fat. The meats are kind of on the watery and salty side. The roast beef is dyed pink. The most expensive subs for us to sell are roast beef and bacon (in fact, we don’t get these for our shift subs). The bacon is freeze-dried, but we do slice all other meat and veggies in the store.”
Only Their Custard Is Frozen
“I worked at a Culver’s a few years ago, and some people know, but I don’t think many do, that the burgers are fresh. They are portioned out hamburger, not pre-made patties. They take a cube of hamburger and press it on the grill as soon as you say you want a Butterburger. So unlike Wendy’s that says they have fresh, never frozen burgers (I find it hard to believe), Culver’s actually does. Also, chicken salad is made fresh every Wednesday morning. After eating there for a year, I still am not sick of it.”
“I used to work for Chick-Fil-A back in high school. Practically everything but the waffle fries and maybe the chicken salad were made in the store. We breaded the chicken, we assembled the cool wraps, and I would cut countless boxes of fresh lemons, squeeze them in a machine and add sugar every shift. There is not a thing on the menu that I would not eat. Moreover, the employees would get to take home the cool wraps if there were any at the end of the night.”