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Beneath Food: Five Tips for More Sanitary Restaurant Dining

I have worked many jobs in the foodservice industry, so I know how important it is to have a sanitary dining experience.

Beware of what you can't see.

Beware of what you can't see.

Be Aware

When going out to eat, it's supposed to be carefree, never stressful. Come on; you have a person going to get you your drinks and extra napkins and bring you the food that someone else (not you) prepared for you. If it's going to be stressful and time-consuming, you could easily fix dinner for your family and serve it up in front of the TV before your favorite movie comes on.

A lot of us go out to eat because it is easier than cooking at home. You don't have to wash dishes afterward; what can beat that? I know that you are wondering, "Well, what's the problem?" The problem is do you really know who is back there preparing your food, drinks, and dessert? Do you know who is back there washing the dishes from which you are eating out on?

I have worked at McDonald's as a front-line cashier and a drive-thru cashier. I have been a buffet hostess, and I've been a buffet server. I have been a room service server and a room service cashier. I have also worked as a snack bar cook and a snack bar server/cashier. I know the food service industry inside and out. I know things that an owner or manager would never even think about. The people that are in charge of preparing your food and serving it to you in a timely fashion on a clean plate are in fact paid at the lowest level of the pay grade. McDonald's is still starting their employees out with minimum wage.

The largest food chain in the world somehow still can only afford to pay its employees minimum wage. So what I want you to do is think about is the amount of money that you are making right now for the job that you were hired to do. Now think about making minimum wage for doing that same job. Would you honestly give the same quality of service for minimum wage pay?

The largest food chain in the world somehow still can only afford to pay its employees minimum wage.

The largest food chain in the world somehow still can only afford to pay its employees minimum wage.

What goes on in the back of the house of a restaurant?

What goes on in the back of the house of a restaurant?

What's Really Going on in the Back of the House

When you go out to eat, the first people that you see are typically the host/hostess and the server. But in reality, the most important people are in the back of the house. The ones who prepare your food and the ones who clean the dishes that your food is served on. Not taking anything from the server or the host/hostess, but they really only have a job to do because of the people at the back of the house.

If there was no chef, then the server could only serve you drinks, sugar packets, and napkins. But then again, how are you supposed to get your drinks without a dishwasher there to clean your cups? So, therefore, all have to work as one to provide you with the service that you're paying for.

But all are not created equal in the business of food service. The dishwasher, to me, is one of the most important people in this whole lineup. But in the restaurant, the dishwasher is lowest on the totem pole as far as pay and status within the food industry. Why are they the most important, you may ask? Because the dishwasher literally touches every utensil, plate, pot, pan, bowl, and storage container.

Everything you can think of that a kitchen would need in order to cook and serve your food has to be washed by the dishwasher. If he doesn't perform his job right, Guess what? You have yesterday's dinner left on your plate. You have the lady's lipstick from last night on the rim of your glass. You have someone else's saliva on your fork. You get my drift. Dishwashers are just as important as everybody else, if not more, and should be compensated for the work that they do.

Because dishwashers don't make the pay that they should make, you will have yesterday's food left on your plate as well as the lady's lipstick from last night left on the rim of your glass simply because the dishwasher is only going to do the amount of work that he's getting paid for. The dishwasher does have a dishwasher machine, but the dishwasher that most restaurants use is not really cleaning things that well, especially in a busy restaurant like, say, a buffet. Buffets are notoriously known for having nasty dishes. I'm sorry if you didn't know that, but the dishes are really nasty and really disgusting.

Because of the massive amounts of people coming through the doors, it's kind of hard to keep up with so many dishes, and the dishwasher is not washing them by hand. So they have these huge dishwasher machines that they load up all the plates, cups, forks and everything in, and they typically clean about three wracks of dishes at a time, but they don't always come out as clean as you may hope.

Lots of times, when a dishwasher loads the dishwasher machine and the dishes come out the other side, they typically grab them all, stack them up and put them in a rack for them to be placed back on the buffet bar. They're not inspecting each plate to make sure that all of the food has come off. It doesn't work like that. The place is too busy for all of that. So you have to do your part to ensure that your plates, cups, and utensils are clean to your satisfaction.

Working as a server in a buffet, there were times when I had to search a full rack of glasses in order to find a clean glass for my customers. Sometimes having to physically clean them myself. In a super busy restaurant, this can be time-consuming so most of the servers wouldn't even bother going this extra step.

Do not do this.

Do not do this.

Helpful Tips for Eating Out

  1. Upon placing your order, ask the waitress to bring cups of hot water for each person at the table. These cups of hot water will be used to dip your fork, knives and spoons in for you to sanitize them.
  2. Instead of asking for glasses of drinks, have the server put your drinks in carryout cups. That way, you won't have to worry about food and lipstick being left on the glasses by the person who drank from them earlier.
  3. Did you know that the beautiful garnish of lemon on the side of your water or iced tea glass can be extremely harmful to your health? That little slice of lemon can actually kill you because it contains a host of bacteria on that one little wedge. If you are a person who likes to squeeze your lemon and drop it in your glass of water or tea, you have to stop it and stop it now. Here's a way that you can continue to enjoy that citrus garnish instead of just squeezing it and dropping it into your glass. Just order a separate cup of piping hot water and drop the lemon wedge inside of the hot water killing the bacteria, then squeeze away.
  4. Do you really know how many people have sat at that table that you're about to sit down at that restaurant? How many people have placed their dirty hands and arms on that table? How many people have actually had a cold or any kind of virus and have wiped their noses and placed their hands on that very same table?

    Well, I have a child, and my child tends to put his mouth on any and everything. While sitting at tables at restaurants, he wants to put his mouth on the table. Who knows why? He just does it. So to keep your child and others who you're dining with safe from all germs and bacteria, get your waitress to bring you a towel or simply use a diaper wipe and a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer and wipe the table down concentrating on the areas that you are likely to touch. It doesn't hurt to wipe the condiment bottles as well.
  5. There are some things that you can control, and there are some things you can't when dining out. You can't necessarily control the plates that the chef uses in the back to place your food upon, but what you can do is request your food to be placed in a to-go container if you really want to be safe. Somebody may look at that as being anal and wonder why you are even eating out in the first place if you're going to go through such extremes. What I would say to them is, "You can take your bacteria any way you want them. That's your choice."

Some of My Restaurant Horror Stories

I worked at this snack bar inside a casino. Well, the casino set on barges on the river. The whole kitchen area was infested with big huge water bugs. They were as long as the palm of my hand. Well, one night, a co-worker was setting up a tray for a dine-in customer. As soon as she set the lady's plate of food on the tray, a giant water bug came from underneath the counter to claim the food too. That lady and my co-worker both ran away screaming. The lady demanded her money back and said she will never eat there again. I don't blame her.

Here's another story. I have many, but I will keep this short.

All of the cooks in the snack bar were required to wear gloves. Well, this particular cook wore his gloves, and he would not change them to prevent cross-contamination. He would go from cutting up raw chicken breast to slicing fresh tomatoes for the hamburgers. He would eat his food with those gloves on, and if an order came in, he would go straight to fixing the customer's food. Just nasty for no reason.

© 2016 tarkishat