Restaurant Workers Share Shady Cost-Cutting Methods From Their Work

Cook checking tickets at a restaurant
Unsplash | Daniel Bradley

We all know that, behind the scenes, your average restaurant can be a pretty chaotic place. But so long as the food is hot and tasty and doesn't smell weird, we as consumers are usually able to look past anything that happens in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, some of the stuff that happens out of sight can affect what winds up on your plate, if the answers on this Quora post about shady cost-saving tactics is any indication.

I didn't know where that one was going.

Fish and chips in a styrofoam container
Unsplash | Meelan Bawjee

"It was back in the 1970's. I was a young cook in a restaurant in LaCrosse Wisconsin. Most restaurants would run a Friday night all-you-can-eat special which was always fried fish, usually beer battered, cole slaw and fries. Yep, YOU KNOW WHERE THIS IS GOING.. An extra dishwasher was scheduled that night to search the returning plates for untouched fish and fries. These would be refried and served again. The owner's explanation was that the refrying killed all 'GERMS.' Needless to say, I rapidly found another job before someone got sick and the kitchen was blamed."

-Mark Ratte

Mmm, frankenpizza.

Person taking slice of pizza from a box
Unsplash | The Nix Company

"There's a weird thing they do at certain restaurants where you can order pizza by the slice. When someone orders a whole pizza, they’ll take an older pizza (with some slices sold from it) that's getting close to its hold time, fill the missing slices in from the new pizza, and serve the Frankenstein pizza to the customer. Then they have a bunch of brand new slices to sell instead of having to throw out the expired slices."

-Topher Ritchie

Remind me to never go to Sonic.

A hot dog on a plate
Unsplash | Jessica Loaiza

"In my teen years I worked at a Sonic Drive In. When it got slow, the manager would make us carhops dig through the trash (no gloves) and pull out unused ketchup, mustard, etc packets and put them back in the bin on the shelf. I did that once and then quit and never went back! My cousin worked at the same Sonic and she said they used to make her wipe the green slime off of the hot dog wieners and then throw them on the grill. Barf!!"

-Erica Lyn

If they're willing to drink it...

'Beer' sign on a roof
Unsplash | Jon Tyson

"The shadiest thing I’ve seen is the bartenders taking left over customers drinks off tables and mistakes and pouring them all into a pitcher all day long then serving a dollar drink in a paper cup they called 'all nations' to the drunks that hung around behind the bar like alley cats."

-David Ratchford

It's the worst one yet.

A rotisserie chicken
Unsplash | Claudio Schwarz

"Many years ago I tended bar for a guy that was the ultimate of cheap. He would go to restaurants and pick up the raw chicken they were throwing away, take it in the bar’s kitchen and bleach it in strong Clorox solution until it was Snow White, cover it in really hot sauce, salt it like crazy and cook it up for h’orderves. Everyone ate it. I don’t know how many people got sick from it but they kept coming back for more."

-Kay Allen

This seems disturbingly common.

A pile of dirty dishes
Unsplash | Brooke Lark

"Back in the late 70’s I had a close friend who worked at a swanky restaurant in Calabasas, CA. One of the jobs she had was to remove the unused “garnish” from plates returning to the kitchen, to be used on new plates going out to customers. I was incredulous and had to see for myself, so I stopped by one night. Sure enough, she was the first person in 'scrape' (kitchen slang for the area where used plates were brought to be scraped of major food debris before loading into the dishwasher), and would take parsley off and put it in a pile to the side, then scrape off the little pile of peas and carrots into a bin. Eventually, someone would come by and grab the parsley, peas & carrots, and take them to where new dishes were being assembled and the garnish would be used again. Gross!!! Who know what happens to that food while it’s out there, or how many times it was re-used? Now, when I eat at a restaurant that has garnish on the plate, I carefully shove it to the side so it won’t touch the rest of my food."

-Brian Wood

Nothing like paying a premium for a tiny serving of 'organic' food.

A colorful salad
Unsplash | Nadine Primeau

"Besides watering down booze or lying about premium labels, I think the worst atrocity is claiming local,organic, farm to table yada yada & getting all your products off a Syso truck."

-William Segerstrom

That's how they keep costs so low.

A bottle of beer with no label
Unsplash | Story Ninety-Four

"I was in the Army, Military Police, and, of course, every Camp had a few bars, which were set up for servicemen. When I was at Camp Long, there was one such club which I frequented. The beer and wine they served there was absolutely awful. After a few weeks, I learned one of the reasons it was so awful.Since I treated the ladies there with basic human dignity, (which was rare, in these types of bars), they let me play at being a DJ, some nights. The DJ booth was behind the bar, and folks wanting a particular song played would send me a bottle of beer, with a note. For a young Army private, it was a cheap way to get drunk.So, where does the shady cost savings enter the picture?I wasn't exactly observant, back then, but eventually I noticed there were usually a few open beer bottles, behind the bar. This finally sunk in, stirring my curiosity, so I kept one eye out. One of the ladies had just cleared a table, and one of the beer bottles was not empty. She poured the remains into one of the bottles behind the bar, capped it with a manual capping thingy, and put it in the cooler, to sell to someone else."

-Sean Brewer

Imagine doing this in front of customers.

Tortilla chips on a plate with dip
Unsplash | Spencer Davis

"I went with friends to a local chain Mexican restaurant in Northern Virginia for dessert.As it was close to closing time the staff were cleaning up for the night. They were emptying the bowls of tortillas and the salsa from the tables back in the packets/jars. My friends questioned the staff about the hygiene and the manager denied they were doing anything wrong. Needless to say we left and my friends have never been back."

-Mark Gerrard

Hot? Yes. Fresh? No.

Bags of popcorn
Unsplash | Corina Rainer

"Way back in the late '70s my high school girlfriend worked at a movie theater in Studio City, CA. Each night at closing they would bag any leftover popcorn and put the hot dogs back into the fridge. The next day they would dump the popcorn back into the ‘Fresh Hot Popcorn!' machine and put the hot dogs back into that greasy display case.The hot dog thing was gross enough, but recycling a few cents worth of popcorn is definitely the chintziest thing I’ve seen."

-Joe Meadows

Waste not, want not.

Pot of soup on a stove
Unsplash | Gaelle Marcel

"I worked in a handful of restaurants in my teens and twenties, and they’ve all done some stuff you wouldn’t want to hear about as a patron, but one place really takes the cake. It was a “fine dining” spot in Niagara Falls, Canada.We once served either lobster or crab for dinner service, I can’t remember which. When we brought the dirty dishes back to the kitchen, the chef had us save the shells to make stock for soup the next day. Shells that had been on everyone’s plates - in their mouths. Eugh.At the time I was young and was disgusted, but assumed this was some sort of common practice within restaurants. I now realize the chef was just cheap. Oh and morally repugnant.Thinking back on it grosses me out entirely."

-Emily Phillips

That's Belarussian coffee for ya.

A paper coffee cup on a table
Unsplash | Kelly Sikkema

"For me, it’s some of the more rural areas of Belarus. I kid you not, in most street vendor places if you order a cup of coffee you get charged for the cup, the stir stick, the sugar (rather you asked for it or not) and the coffee. It’s quite comical really. The wife gets mad at me when I mess with the sellers and say, no I don’t need the cup thanks. The confused look on their face is priceless. Several times, to the missus embarrassment, I have actually had the waitress/waiter remove the charge for the sugar. The majority of the restaurants cut their napkins in half. The food is relatively cheap (at least for me, not as much for the locals) but the portions are small. I usually order two on some of the dishes I know won’t fill me up. I love Belarus, but man are some of the restaurants skimpy."

-Michael Shanahan

I guess they're cheaper than dishwashers.

A doberman
Unsplash | Jorge Rosales

"When I was in high school I worked as a “busboy” in a high end restaurant. If people knew what went on in the kitchen they would have been appalled. All I can say is I’m glad the place is long gone.When diners came in, we were to take rolls from a large bin and place them in a toaster then deliver them to the table. That’s all well and good. But if any rolls came back uneaten, they were to go back in the bin. Yup. Gross, shady cost-saving tactic for you.But, the owners also had two BIG dobermans they kept in the kitchen. If we brought back any plates that had meat or bones, we were to give them to the dogs. How would you like knowing that where your food was being prepared, two dogs were running around, slobering over someone’s leftovers?"

-MK Stein

Go to this guy's restaurant, not the other ones.

A plate of artisan pizza
Unsplash | Ivan Torres

"My family and I have owned a local Italian restaurant for 30 years. I’ve had employees from most of the restaurants in town over the years and I try every new restaurant. Common shady things I’ve heard/seen are using pork instead of veal at other local restaurants (when veal is on the menu as $1 more than chicken something is wrong as it’s 6x more expensive), pouring house wine as premium wine, refilling premium liquor with well (I don't have a bar/liquor, just beer and wine), the same cheaper beer on tap for multiple selections, using off brand coca-cola products as the real stuff on coke machines (you have to buy a special adapter), using cheese with modified food starch (potato) for pizza/dinners (all the pizza chains use this), using expired products, using butter blend or margarine instead of real butter which is 3x more expensive…"

-Alfonso Charles

That bread thing is not cool.

A loaf of bread
Unsplash | Charles Chen

"Watered down liquor.

Bread or food that appeared to be salvaged from another diner or diners who didn’t eat it or touch it.

I never worked in a restaurant or bar but these were observations of things someone told me sometime or that I might have read even that rather freaked me out. Not the end of the world but not appetizing.

Good time enders."

-Barbara Young Capalbo

Well, I'm officially grossed out.

Cook checking tickets at a restaurant
Unsplash | Daniel Bradley

"One of the biggest shadiest thing is washing meats that doesn’t smell good at all with vinegar and lemon juice and cooking it like nothing happened. A lot of them use expired pasta or canned products and the worse of them are the ones that use the food that the health department says is bad and hazardous. They even take it out of thrash and still use it. If we only knew what happens in the back of the house."


I think he's talking about A&W.

Various plastic straws
Unsplash | FLY:D

"When I was in high school in the early 70’s, I worked as a car hop at a famous root beer brand franchise in Sikeston, Mo., which served its root beer and other drinks in heavy frosted mugs. The owner was astoundingly cheap, as was his son, who was a partner in the business.When the mugs came back in, they were cleaned in a 3-bay sink by 1. Pouring out the drink and ice remnants in the first sink and upending the mug, twisting it over a bristled scrubber that was suctioned-cupped to the sink bottom. Then 2. doused in the next sink compartment, that had detergent mixed in, then 3. Doused in the next compartment, which was a rinse sink. Then placed in a rack to dry and get re-frosted. Per mug: about 3–4 seconds total.That was fine, efficient and I’m sure sanitary. What wasn’t was that this owner made us dunk the returned plastic straws in the detergent and rinse and re-use them. This place is no longer in business and hasn’t been for many years. I haven’t lived in Missouri since 1972 but from what I understand, the owner and his wife eventually passed away and the word was that the son and his wife took a Class A motorhome out on a test drive and never came back. I don’t know if that rumor is true, so Jerry, my apologies if it isn’t…"

-Mike Yeley

It actually worked out for them.

A plate of fried chicken
Unsplash | Nizar Zulmi

"I didn’t work here, but this one is too good not to be mentioned. Recently, a Southern restaurant in my city got in some trouble after it was leaked that the $12 fried chicken that they were serving was actually just brought in from the local Popeye’s up the street. When confronted about it, the owner gave zero f***s, nor apologies, and compared it to restaurants using pre-made mixes or desserts. Ironically, the publicity (and audacity) of this actually ended up being a boon for their business. They are still serving Popeye’s chicken, now with a wait."

-Alicante Boucher

Are you really getting the good stuff?

Bottles of liquor behind a bar
Unsplash | Carlos Irineu da Costa

"There seems to be particular liquors that somewhat emulate the taste of more expensive brands that some places refill bottles with. Sauza Silver is pretty similar to Patron, Cutty Sark is pretty similar to Jameson, and over rocks it’s pretty hard to tell the difference. At least not so much that someone would start an argument with a server as it’s also kind of impossible to prove.Of course there’s a lot of this at restaurants as well especially with intentionally mislabeled fish. Also, anyone selling Kobi beef anything or Truffle anything is likely to have zero percent of those actual ingredients unless it’s served as the whole ingredient and you pay a truly significant price."

-Mike Stok

Well, that didn't work out.

A plate of sushi
Unsplash | Anthony Espinosa

"A local popular chinese restaurant advertise all you can eat sushi. People start with plates of food, eat 1/4–1/2 and then when the bill arrives they find out the restaurant is charging them for the uneaten food in an effort to minimize waste. So they quickly see their patronage decline to the point they changed the way the all-you-can-eat sushi was being given. A waiter would be assigned to a group of tables and you had to order what food you wanted, and they would get it for you, no more serve-yourself. Again, people would order food, not like it, and then waste it. So they’d get pissed-off again for being charged for the wasted food. And so their patronage dropped yet again. Finally, they stopped offering all-you-can-eat and went back to a traditional restaurant type of service, and stopped trying to charge customers for wasting food."

-Giulio Moro