Written by Michelle Crouch
We asked two dozen servers to reveal what goes on behind the kitchen doors.
1.What You’re Really Swallowing
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.
2.What You Don’t Want to Know
We put sugar in our kids’ meals so kids will like them more. Seriously. We even put extra sugar in the dough for the kids’ pizzas.
—Waitress at a well-known pizza chain
3.What We Lie About
If you’re a vegetarian and you ask if we use vegetable stock, I’m going to say yes, even if we don’t. You’ll never know the difference.
4.What You Don’t Want to Know
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
5.What You Don’t Want to Know
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
6.What You Don’t Want to Know
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.”
—Waitress at a well-known pizza chain
7.What You Don’t Want to Know
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.”
8.What You’re Really Swallowing
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.
9.What You’re Really Swallowing
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.
—Former waiter Jake Blanton, who spent ten years in restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, and California
10.What Drives Us Crazy
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.
—Christopher Fehlinger, maître d’ at a popular New York City restaurant
11.What We Want You to Know
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.
12.What We Want You to Know
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.
13.What We Want You to Know
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.
14.What We Want You to Know
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
15.How to Be a Good Customer
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.
16.How to Be a Good Customer
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.
17.How to Be a Good Customer
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
18.What You Need to Know About Tipping
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.
19.What You Need to Know About Tipping
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
20.What Else We’d Like You to Know
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.