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13 Things Servers Won’t Eat at Their Own Restaurants

Updated: Aug. 14, 2023

From reused garnishes to ice cubes with a dirty secret, these servers have seen some things!

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Top view of salad bar with assortment of ingredients
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Unpopular items on the salad bar never get replaced

Note: The statements below reflect individual opinions expressed at the time of writing and are not representative of any group or organization.

“Stuff like lettuce and fresh vegetables gets replaced daily but the less popular or smaller items, like beans and beets, often don’t get replaced more than once a week—if that. With some of the items, like olives and pickles, I’m told to just dump the new stuff on top so the bottom layer could be months old. So vile!” —Chris P. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Find out 57 more secrets your server isn’t telling you.

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ice cubes, ice background

Ice cubes can be bacteria farms

“People do not know how rarely ice machines get cleaned inside and out. Lots of places I’ve worked will take off the nozzles and soak them in bleach and wipe down the outside every day but it’s probably been years since anyone thawed it out and cleaned the inside. I’ve seen ice machines with black mold, slime, and even cockroaches inside them. I don’t love room temperature water but I’d rather drink that than risk a nasty infection.” —Torie T. These are the gross things restaurants do to save money.

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Tatiana Frank/Shutterstock

And then most people put the lemon into their drink

“All the servers would cut the lemons for the day and put them in a big bowl before the restaurant opened. There was zero sanitation. Never washed the fruit. No idea who actually washed their hands. They’d roll off the table, get picked back up, and placed right back in the bowl.” —Heather H. Check out these times employees exposed restaurants’ dirty secrets.

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Hot mashed potatoes with parsley in a bowl close-up on the table. horizontal view from above. rustic style
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Mashed potatoes to die for

“There’s a reason restaurant mashed potatoes are so good—all the butter! I swear the restaurant I work at uses a 50/50 ratio of potatoes to butter. Each serving is like eating an entire stick of butter. They’re delicious for sure but after seeing how they are made I can’t eat them anymore. Every time a customer orders them I weep for their arteries.” —Alexander M. 

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View from above on sliced roast duck served with rosemary, green apple, orange on a white plate on a white wooden table, close-up
Food Via Lenses/Shutterstock

Plate garnishes get recycled

“Most people don’t eat the garnishes on the plate anyhow but I definitely wouldn’t after seeing how many times a chef will grab a leaf of kale or whatever off an incoming plate and drop it onto one going out to customers. We have one dish that has a scoop of cottage cheese on the side. If it doesn’t look touched, the chef will just slide it onto the next plate, or at the end of the night, right back into the container.” —Ashton L. These are the dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won’t tell you.

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Assorted crusty fresh golden bread rolls in a basket in different specialty shapes displayed on a rustic wooden buffet table as an accompaniment to a meal
Ozgur Coskun/Shutterstock

You might not be the first person to get that breadbasket

“With low-carb diets being so popular, we get a lot of breadbaskets back that aren’t touched or only have a piece or two missing. When we’re rushed sometimes we’ll just spruce it up a little and take it out to the next table. If you really want the bread, order it differently from how it’s usually served—so if all the tables have it sliced, ask for the loaf whole.” —Pietro K.

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Our mac-n-cheese comes from the same box you buy at home

“The mac-n-cheese on our kids menu is literally Kraft, right out of the blue box. The funny thing is that everyone raves about how amazing our mac-n-cheese is and it’s one of the most popular items ordered. I like mac-n-cheese but if I want it, I’ll just make it at home for $1. I definitely wouldn’t order it from a restaurant when there are so many better options!” —Sophie R. 

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summer salad with cucumber, tomato and cheese
Matt Antonino/Shutterstock

Consider what “hand-tossed” really means

“Even though some of the most popular items on our menu are salads, I never eat them. The woman who makes the salads for our restaurant has decided hand-tossed is best. Except she doesn’t wear gloves. And I’ve seen her lick her fingers and scratch her scalp. Shudder.” —Kirsten C. 

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Fried chicken legs with french fries
Natasha Breen/Shutterstock

French fries with a side of toxins

“I used to love French fries before I started my current job. Now I see how seldom they change the frying oil and I’m too grossed out to eat them. Fresh frying oil is kind of a light golden color. My restaurant will reuse the same oil until it’s dark brown, like the oil you put in your car. You can smell the rancid-ness as soon as you walk in the kitchen.” —Emmaleigh T. 

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Italian chicken Parmigiana and fresh vegetable salad close up on a plate on the table. horizontaltop view
AS Food studio/Shutterstock

Sauce hides a multitude of sins

“One time the prep chef forgot to turn on the oven before popping in a huge tray of chicken Kiev. Apparently no one noticed it was still cold when it came out and because of the breading it pretty much looks the same cooked as it does raw so they spooned the sauce over it and sent it out. A few customers actually ate some raw chicken before we figured it out. It only happened once but I’ve never been able to eat that dish since.” —Casey C. You’re also going to want to keep an eye out for the red flags you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.

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Homemade Oyster Stew with Parsley and Crackers
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The loneliest clam chowder

“I work for a chain restaurant that serves several soups except people rarely order them, especially not the clam chowder. I don’t know if it’s just the part of the country I’m in but nobody likes clam chowder here. But corporate says we have to keep it on the menu so it just sits in it’s warming machine all day, every day. They do keep it warm but how good can it taste after being cooked for 12 hours straight?” —Antonio M.

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frozen beef ribs, Frozen beef meat
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Meat that’s been more than freezer-burned

“We buy all our meat products frozen which doesn’t sound too bad except when they are delivered sometimes they’ll sit out for hours, slightly thawing before refreezing when we put them away. Also, some have been frozen for months or longer.” —Catherine J.  

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Variety of types and shapes of dry Italian pasta

Pasta for high-profit margins

“By far, our pasta dishes are the cheapest items to make but they’re not always cheaper on the menu. They taste good but if I want to get the most value for my money I’d buy something else. Also, our kitchen is pretty lax with the whole gluten-free thing. They say you can sub gluten-free noodles in any dish but I’ve seen them more than once just use the regular noodles.” —Lillian J. Next, check out the things restaurant owners wish they could tell you.