Things Nobody Talks About with Food Service

Some lesser known things I’ve observed from working in food service.

I am finally free from the grips of my internship! I took some time off from writing blog posts to work on some other writing projects, and to relax after the stress that is the dietetic internship. Sabbatical over, back to work.

I have had several experiences with food service.  I got to study in a hospital kitchen, where I worked on several tasks that the employees worked on, from administration to trayline. I got to monitor the quality of sanitation, storage, and food safety in restaurants with Environment, Health and Safety, and I worked as a dishwasher in two different restaurants.  Working in a variety of fields that work with your food has given me some insight into some interesting things that I think would be beneficial to know.

The food isn’t always fresh: I feel like this point can be somewhat understandable and debatable, if you understand how food service works.  Not every place can afford to have prep-cooks working hourly on making food from scratch, or have chefs preparing dishes from scratch around the clock.  Short cuts are taken, microwave ovens are used, and food is stored hot or cold, ready to be prepared or served.  Sometimes food is par-cooked, meaning it’s partially cooked ahead of time, and finished before being served. Sometimes the foods that are ready-to-serve are the same kinds of foods you can buy in the supermarkets in a can or container (for example, soups might be factory made, thawed on site, held hot and sold). Some places, such as several fast food restaurants, might be transparent with this and have their kitchen visible where you can see the process is essentially warming or frying a pre-made food. Other places might have their kitchen less visible. The price point between the two places might not reflect how good the quality of their food is, and both places can have similar preparation methods.

Not all restaurants are as clean as you’d hope: If you’ve seen shows like Kitchen Nightmares, this might not be as shocking to you. There are several ways in which food can become contaminated, often time from the staff.  Not everyone has a good grasp on what makes a sanitary kitchen.  The EHS representative I went on a tour with said he found kitchens were there were cats around to help control pests, and that it reeked of cat urine. Other places might have servers or cooks that might not wash their hands as often as they should, or staff unknowingly coming to work with communicable diseases, such as gastroenteritis (basically the bug that goes around and makes everyone shit their guts out while puking the remainder). Another way food can become unsafe is if it’s prepared on old equipment, or if raw food comes into contact with ready to eat foods (i.e. old cutting boards can carry bacteria after being washed, or raw chicken can contaminate a salad if they are prepared on the same board).   His advice?  Eat at larger chain restaurants. These places can usually afford to maintain adequate equipment, and replace worn out stuff sooner than later, and can spend more time focusing on training and sanitation than some of the smaller mom-and-pop type restaurants. All places can have issues with things like dating food. No, their Tinder profile isn’t lacking, but their recording methods are. Sometimes people forget to put the date that something was opened or prepared on, and/or when it should be used by. Old food can contribute to foodborne illness by being exposed to airborne germs or even spoilage.

Please treat your server with respect: It’s amazing to me how much disrespect service workers receive when they do their job. Some servers might not be good at their job, which I understand from a consumer point of view. Sometimes they have a bad day, leading to them having impaired performance. Other times, the customer is an asshole. Talking with servers, some of them have shared some horror stories of rude customers making near-impossible demands, running up a large bill, then leaving a poor tip. While it is not required to leave a tip, it’s trashy as fuck to leave a small tip when the person deserves better. Not to mention, in some places depending on who the manager is, they might be getting a ton of shit from back-of-house as well. In many places, back-of-house and front-of-house are two separate worlds, and people use the kitchen area to take things out on servers, and vice-verse. So please, if you’re out to eat, and the server is doing a kick ass job, leave a good tip for them.

Some of these secrets might be more well-known to some, especially if they’ve worked in an environment like this. However, there might be some people more ignorant or not privy to these issues. Have you had any of these things happen to you? Feel free to comment them.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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