'Yesterday's Leftovers': 10 Things Servers Would Never Order at a Restaurant

Food Servers Avoid

Cheapism / batuhan toker/alamourus/Liudmila Chernetska/istockphoto

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Food Servers Avoid
Cheapism / batuhan toker/alamourus/Liudmila Chernetska/istockphoto

Kitchen Fiends

In the bustling world of restaurant kitchens, those who serve the food often have unique insights into the dishes they wouldn't dare order themselves. These industry insiders, armed with behind-the-scenes knowledge about preparation, freshness, and handling of food items, tend to steer clear of certain dishes that might seem appealing to the average diner. 

From certain types of seafood to coffee and tap water, here are 10 items that servers and industry experts say they'd never order for themselves — and the reasons why may surprise you. 

Note: It perhaps goes without saying, but these observations are based on personal experiences and don't necessarily apply to all restaurants.

Grilling: Fish Steaks

1. Swordfish

Often cited for its potential high mercury content, swordfish also raises concerns among servers due to inconsistent freshness. Restaurants don't always sell through their stock quickly, leading to swordfish that's been frozen and thawed multiple times, which can affect its taste and texture. Plus, due to its popularity, lower-quality swordfish is sometimes served under the guise of being a premium product.

"I've cleaned tons of swordfish, literally," writes one Redditor who used to work in a restaurant. "I can tell you that swordfish is one of the only fish I would almost never order in a restaurant because of the number of tumors and parasites I've cut out over the year." Well, YUCK! 

Winter Dining Outside, Cup of Tomato Soup and Homemade Croutons

2. Soups of the Day

What sounds like a special might actually be a clever way to use up leftovers, users point out. Servers also note that these soups can sometimes sit for days and be continually "refreshed" with new ingredients. There's also the risk of cross-contamination for those with food sensitivities, as kitchens can mix multiple ingredients without strict oversight. This can trigger foodborne illness, or leave you with an upset tummy. 

"Many restaurants use a daily special as a means of selling something that's nearly past-due," writes one Redditor, adding, "Soup-of-the-day is yesterday's leftovers." 

Related: 11 Foods You Should Never Order At A Diner

Chicken Marsala

3. Chicken

This menu staple is often overcooked to ensure it meets safety standards, which can result in a dry and nasty meal. Servers also note that chicken breast is a high-volume item that might sit under heat lamps for extended periods, further drying it out. Additionally, chicken's blandness often requires heavy seasoning or sauces, which can mask the original freshness of the meat.

"Don't eat the grilled chicken," writes one former Burger King worker. "It will sit there and dry out and get disgusting. If it looks slightly gross, we still serve it. It's only until it dries out and turns brown when we have to throw it out and make a new one." 

Related: 5 Things You Should Never Order At Starbucks

Shot of coffee beans and a cup of black coffee on a wooden table

4. Coffee

The quality of java in some restaurants (and even at Starbucks!) can be questionable — particularly if the pots are not cleaned regularly — which can lead to a stale and off-putting taste. Servers also warn that coffee often sits for hours after brewing, losing its flavor and freshness. In establishments not focused on their coffee service, the beans used may not be high-grade, compromising taste and quality even further.

"Don't come in at night and order plain house coffee," writes a Starbucks barista. "There are times when the brewer sits on the burner for like 3 hours. It's not gonna make you sick or anything, but it's gonna taste like burnt garbage." 

Related: 5 Things You Should Never Order At Starbucks

Potato Wedges

5. Wedges or Large Fries

These thicker cuts of potatoes tend to sop up tons of oil, leading to a soggy or overly greasy mouthfeel (yuck). They also tend to hold onto heat longer, which can lead to them sitting out and becoming limp. Plus, because of their size, they're harder to cook through perfectly, resulting in an inconsistent texture from one fry to the next.

"The easiest solution is to either not order fries, or simply preheat your oven when you place your order so you can throw them in there for a few minutes to bring them back to life," writes one user sarcastically. Guess we'll steer clear of the fries next time. 

Early Special

6. The Daily Special (If Near Closing Time)

While specials are a way to try new dishes at a potentially lower price, ordering them near closing time can be risky. These dishes are sometimes made from ingredients that need to be used up before they spoil, which can compromise its taste and quality. Instead, considering ordering the special earlier in the day to maximize your chances of getting a fresh meal.  

"Specials of the day are usually food thats about to spoil and needs to move," writes one user. "Depending on the restaurant, it may or may not be edible." 

Pasta Salad Buffet

7. Buffet Items

Servers are typically skeptical about buffet foods due to their prolonged exposure to heat and air, which can lead to a stale and icky texture. There’s also the increased risk of contamination from multiple diners handling the same serving utensils. While buffets may offer a ton of variety, they also tend to sacrifice quality for quantity. Be sure to also check out our roundup of foods that you should ALWAYS avoid at a buffet.

"The turn off for me isn’t necessarily the unhealthy factor, but the fact that buffets are hotbeds for food-borne illnesses," writes one Redditor, adding, "not to mention how unsanitary restaurants are in the first place. I’ll eat from a gas station before a buffet."

Bowl of healthy traditional Turkish salads
batuhan toker/istockphoto

8. Dressed Salads

Pre-dressed salads are known for their lack of freshness as they tend to wilt and soak up too much dressing if not served immediately. As such, servers generally recommend ordering dressing on the side to control the amount and maintain the texture of the greens. This also helps ensure the ingredients retain their natural flavors and crispness.

"[Salads are] crazy expensive for what you end up getting and are totally unsanitary," writes a former server. "Both restaurants I worked at had no requirements for using gloves and no one washed their hands, so they just bare handed the lettuce and threw it on a plate." They add, "It was also usually old, and we were instructed to pick out the brown bits. Same goes for the toppings on it." Sheesh! Avoid at all costs. 

eggs benedict with hash browns

9. Hollandaise Sauce

This classic and beloved sauce is notorious among servers for being difficult to keep at a safe temperature without spoiling. It needs to be served fresh and kept warm, but not too hot; otherwise, it can start to separate or worse, breed bacteria. Since hollandaise is made with raw egg yolks, it presents a high risk of food poisoning if not handled correctly. Guess we'll have to hit pause on ordering Eggs Benny; bummer! 

"Real hollandaise can only be held at proper temperatures for a few hours before needing to be disposed of and made fresh again," writes one user. "It also comes down to cost as well — fake hollandaise is more cost effective in the long run."

Tasty cola with ice cubes and cherry in glass, closeup
Liudmila Chernetska/istockphoto

10. Ice

Ice machines are frequently overlooked during routine kitchen cleanings, which can lead to mold and bacteria buildup within the machine’s inner workings. Servers know that if the ice machine isn't regularly and thoroughly cleaned, the ice it produces can carry these contaminants into drinks. Furthermore, handling ice with unclean scoops or hands can also introduce impurities.

"My store NEVER cleans the ice bin," writes a barista. "I did it on my shift the other day because I thought it was personally disgusting and my fellow baristas were shocked."