15 Dirty Secrets Restaurants Don’t Want You To Know

7 May 2021

Even Your Favorite Restaurant Has Some Dirty Secrets. Find Out What Restaurants Are Hiding From You.

Anyone who has worked as a server will regale stories of what happens behind the scenes in a restaurant business. Yes, half empty glasses of wine are drunk, yes, tasty leftovers are popped into mouths and yes, the 5-second rule applies… those are all par for the course … but here are another 15 Dirty Secrets Restaurants Don’t Want You to Know.

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It’s All in the Wording

Creating a menu is a copywriter’s dream. It’s an opportunity to use all the fancy words and attract customers to certain dishes that have a high profit margin, are easy to make and have been perfected by the chef.

Even the simple word “fresh” is one to be wary of, because often the word “fresh” really just means “never frozen.”

As pointed out by qsrmagazine.com, in their article on how to name a winning menu item, even just adding a place before a food item, could help sell it by insinuating certain characteristics.

For the article, Joseph Brady, president of the Foodservice Research Institute, said “Adding a place name is a common strategy to give an item a sense of what customers can expect. “Using California to describe something usually implies that it’s fresh and healthy, both terms that are desirable when you’re naming menu items.”

Aluxers, this business goes deeper– restaurants know what you’re going to order, and here’s how.  


Restaurant’s Order for You

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Afterall, you make the final decision of what you’d like to eat. But think about how the menu is laid out and designed. Are some dishes placed in boxes or boast a prettier outline than others?

Are some more eye-catching while other’s you tend to glaze over?

Are some meals given the unusual names? For example, an Old Skool Burger from Roco Mammas is an ordinary bun, patty, tomato, and mayo… but ordering an Old Skool Burger sounds a whole tastier than a Classic Burger.

Or if you’re at Rock Wood-Fired Pizza, you can order a Rock n Roll inspired pizza like Bat Out of Hell or Crazy Train.

By doing this, restaurants steer customers to what they would like them to order.

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Next up, something to be aware of when eating out.


Menus That Have a Large Variety of Options, Don’t Have the Freshest Ingredients

Many restaurants offer their customers too many options and if you’re eating out and receive a menu card that could be a magazine, be aware that not every dish will have the freshest ingredients.

It’s impossible to offer customers a choice of 100 meals and be able to store and keep all the ingredients crisp and firm.


There’s a Lot of Hidden Information on a Menu Card

Where something is placed on a menu, it’s not random. The eye naturally migrates to the upper right of centre of page, and menu designers play on this. Often the most expensive items, or those quick to make are placed there to catch your gaze.

Burgers and more mandatory items that people seek out are placed on the bottom left.

Another trick of the trade is leaving off the dollar sign next to the price and placing the price in the same font and near the end of the description. These all detract from the cost and reduce the readers consideration of it.

No one wants to order the cheapest bottle of wine, and restaurants use this human pride to cash in for their business. The second cheapest bottle of wine usually has the biggest markup because it is the most ordered bottle, and generally not a huge step up in status from the cheapest.


Even if You’re Ordering the Healthiest Option, There Is Still Sugar Added

When people are given the nutritional information of the food they are eating, they generally consume 230 fewer calories. But despite our best efforts to choose less calorific items when we dine out, the truth is there is sugar added to everything. Sugar makes food look shiny, cuts bitterness and adds a “glaze” to vegetables.

If you’re trying to eat a healthier, more balanced diet – we recommend you watch our video – 15 HEALTH MISTAKES You Don’t Know You’re Making.

Let’s move onto the finances…


Upselling Makes the Restaurant Profit

Once you’re through the doors of a restaurant then the selling really begins. And any good restaurant business owner knows that increasing the dollar spend per head is the ultimate goal. Carefully placed promotions motivate you to order more than you had originally bargained for. Specials that pair drinks or desserts or push high profit margins all help you part with your cash.

Restaurants will promote items that are near expiry date to ensure less wastage and maximum profit for their business. And there is nothing like a bit of friendly competition and the promise of a bonus to motivate servers to upsell their hearts out.


Simple Tricks to Upsell Easily

To help increase your total bill at the end, servers have a few handy tricks in their sales itinerary. Instead of asking if you want bottled water, they ask “Still or Sparkling?” so before you’ve had a minute to consider if you WANTED water, you’re ordering it.

Casual questions also disarm us and help us relax into ordering. A waitron might say: “Can I Start You Off with a Cocktail?” It’s casual enough to not appear pushy, so you will answer yes easier than “Would you like a cocktail?”

Then there are the “specials”, the type the server tells you about verbally. Usually, the most important detail is left a mystery, the price! Usually these “Specials” carry a much higher price than most items and are just “special” because it is a new dish, or there was a cut of meat the chef wanted to prepare.


Don’t Eat the Garnish

So, you ended up “starting off with the cocktail,” and while you sip the pina colada and consider crunching into the pineapple slice, stop yourself. That slice of sunshine should be tossed.

Bar toppings are prepared at the start of a shift, if you’re lucky, or recycled from the day before. They generally sit atop the bar, unrefrigerated and often uncovered. That means they are privy to any and all germs of people trying to order drinks over loud music, or the whole bar team.


The True Cost of Running a Restaurant

You might judge every menu item based on the merit of how much it would cost you to make it at home, but if you are, you’re missing the point of eating out. You’re there to get away from cooking at home, sitting at your own table, and having to choose the playlist or sit in silence.

The devil is in the detail when you consider the cost of a restaurant, from secure parking to serviettes, being spoilt for choice to the skills of a chef. Sure, you can have a beer at home for a fraction of the cost, but you have to keep it cool, go to the shop and collect it, and dispose (hopefully recycle) the bottle yourself. All that is taken care of at a restaurant.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about wastage, buying-in fresh or factoring in breakages or owning all the appliances and equipment each recipe needs. Not to mention uniforms, staff increases, training, music licencing, repairs, décor and the biggest expense: rent.

If this is an industry you love and you’d like to have your own restaurant business one day, we suggest giving this book a listen: How to Start, Run, & Grow a Successful Restaurant Business: A Lean Startup Guide by Tim Hoffman – remember to grab your free listen by using alux.com/freebook.


These Items Have the Biggest Mark-Ups

So, what are the biggest wins for a restaurant? Where do they score in the mark up? The best mark ups are soda fountain, and more on why you shouldn’t order that later. Then there are hot beverages, like tea and coffee which have a great profit margin.

Breakfast items like Eggs, avo and toast all have a great slice added on. Pancakes pile on the profit. That extra slice of cheese to make a burger a cheeseburger is a pay day for a restaurant, and extra toppings are pure payday.

Wine, beer, shots and mixed drinks are big earners, with their mark ups once the initial cost of refrigeration is paid off.


Someone Is Sick

In a recent study by The Food Chain Workers Alliance, 53 percent of food chain workers reported going to work when sick. “A lot of poor, transient people work in restaurants,” says Peter Francis, co-author of industry exposé “How to Burn Down the House, in Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney. ““They’re not giving up the $100 they’d make in a shift because they’re sick.”

So, chances are, someone is sick that has either prepared your food, served your food or cleared your food.  


Making a Reservation Is No Guarantee of a Decent Table

We know airlines do it, but did you know that restaurants also overbook?

The reason for this is that like flighty airline passengers, people change their minds or are delayed in getting to their restaurant reservation.

The alternative is a half-full restaurant on a Friday night, and that’s just depressing for a business. According to John Fischer, associate professor of table service at the Culinary Institute of America: “On any given night, restaurants calculate their average no-show percentage and overbook the restaurant by that much, hoping it will even out. But for the more popular spots, the scale ends up tipping toward a case of overbooking.”


Bacteria in the Kitchen Is the Least Of Your Worries

When Good Morning America sent a team of scientists to test table items of 12 restaurants the results were well…. gross. It turns out that the menu’s tested carried an average count of 185,000 bacteria. The study revealed that none of the commonly touched items like salt and pepper shakers, sauces and menus were wiped down regularly.

To avoid infecting yourself with the previous guests’ leftovers, be sure to wash your hands when you’re done ordering!


Best to Order a Bottle or Can

Beer taps and soda machines are a mission to clean properly, so this task is often overlooked, and bacteria runs rampant inside the pipes and fittings. To avoid encountering these unknown assailants, rather order beer and cooldrinks in bottles or cans.

Since we are talking about drinks, don’t forget to check out this article How Coca-Cola Became the KING of Soft Drinks about the best soft drink. 


Never Order These Items at a Restaurant

Fish markets aren’t often open on the weekends, so the Monday fish special might be the wrong kind of fishy. Check when the fish was sourced before you place your order for fish on a Monday.

Well done steak is well done for a reason. If you order your meat well done, you’re asking the chef to dust off some crusty cut from the back of the fridge and slap it on the grill until its grey. Not only do most chefs hate cooking meat past medium rare, but they also don’t need to select a good cut if they’re going to burn it to beyond recognition.

Insider.com advises against mussels, truffle oil and the burgers with all the fancy toppings… because what are they hiding in that burger? And Aluxers, for the love of not wanting to contract e-coli, we implore you to skip the bar snacks!


What is the dirtiest secret you can share about a restaurant experience?