Foods You Should Never Order At A Restaurant (And Other Secrets From Real Chefs)

Here's why the pros say to order the least appetizing item on the menu.

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You Yelped the perfect brunch spot. After sending Snaps of the meal to your nearest and dearest, you take the first bite…and it’s disappointing. You expected a fabulous meal but got mediocre instead. That’s because, according to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, brunch is when chefs use weekend leftovers to create “brunch specials” on Sunday morning. If brunch isn’t sacred, what is? Chefs share other foods you should never order at a restaurant and other insider tips for fine dining.

1. Don’t ask for well-done steak.

In addition to skipping brunch, Bourdain also advises restaurant goers to avoid ordering a steak well done. According to Bourdain’s best-selling book Kitchen Confidential, chefs save the toughest, least-appetizing cuts of steak for patrons who want their meat cooked well. While Bourdain’s insider tip for ordering steak is just as true today as it was in 1999 when Kitchen Confidential was published, he has since recanted another one of his most famous pieces of dining advice. According to him, it’s now safe to order all the fish you care to eat on Mondays.

2. Pass on the soup du jour.

Unless you’re Lloyd Christmas, you might want to pass on the soup du jour, according to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Instead, Ramsay advises diners to ask what yesterday’s soup du jour was. If it’s the same, chances are you’re eating yesterday’s soup instead of a fresh batch.

3. Eating sushi? Skip the wasabi.

Sushi chefs actually put exactly the right amount of wasabi in sushi as they prepare it. Adding extra wasabi is considered an insult to the chef, because adding too much overpowers the actual taste of sushi. What’s more, in the U.S., the wasabi that’s served on the side with sushi is actually a mixture of horseradish, spicy mustard, and green food coloring. In addition to skipping the wasabi, Chef John Um of Sushisamba Las Vegas says sushi diners should avoid rubbing their chopsticks together once you break them apart. It insults the restaurant, suggesting their chopstick quality is subpar. If you do see a splinter, just ask for another pair.

4. Stay away from the chicken.

According to real chefs, chicken is one of the most overpriced and least interesting items on menus. In addition, chefs have a hard time making chicken dishes flavorful and exciting. To make up for the bland flavor of poultry, extra seasonings and sauces are often added, which can end up making what you thought was a healthy choice into a dish that’s full of excess calories, fat, and sodium.

5. Order the least palatable item on the menu.

You might be scratching your head at this one, but Tyler Cowen, a food writer at The Atlantic, suggests ordering the least palatable-sounding item on the menu at a fancy restaurant. According to Cowen: “An item won’t be on the menu unless there is a good reason for its presence. If it sounds bad, it probably tastes especially good. Many popular-sounding items, on the other hand, can be slightly below the menu’s average quality. …And consider that a few items may be on the menu specifically because they are generally in demand, not because the chef cooks them with special brilliance.” So, skip that tried-and-true pasta dish, and go for something unusual instead. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how tasty stepping outside your comfort zone can be.

6. Chefs hate picky eaters.

“But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real; if it’s out of the can, then nothing.” –Sally Albright, When Harry Met Sally Sally Albright might be a movie character, but her penchant for complicated orders is something real chefs hate. Chefs cite kitchen efficiency as one reason they don’t allow substitutions. When a patron has a complicated order, it slows down production. For others, like Chef Jon Shook of Los Angeles eatery Animal, asking for substitutions is an insult to the chef’s talent, suggesting the chef’s pairings aren’t up to snuff. As Shook said to Today, “Would you ask Picasso to change his painting?”

7. Don’t ask the waiter’s opinion.

You might be tempted to ask the waiter for a menu recommendation when out for a fancy meal. However, you’re probably not getting an honest opinion. There are a couple of reasons why your server might be less than honest with customers. At fine dining restaurants, waiters actually don’t get to try many of the meals. At most fancy restaurants, chefs will allow all their servers to sample a taste of dishes once, but that’s it. If a server recommends a dish, chances are they don’t even remember what it tastes like but have been told to push certain menu items by the chef. In addition, since servers work for tips, they will often “recommend” the most expensive dishes last, which are the ones customers are most likely to remember. This way, servers increase their chances of a bigger tip when diners choose the more expensive dish.

8. Dine out Wednesdays and Thursdays.

According to restaurant owner Robin King, the best days to dine out are Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Typically, Mondays and Tuesdays are the slowest days of the restaurant business. These are the days that most head chefs take off, allowing kitchen managers to run the show. Your meal will most likely still be just as tasty on these days, but if you chose a restaurant specifically to try a certain chef, you’d be better off dining later in the week. King also suggests avoiding Fridays, as this is typically the day most people choose to go out. Dining out on Friday usually results in a long wait for a table, less attentive service, and a hastily prepared meal.

9. Always check the bathrooms.

Willie Degel of the show Restaurant Stakeout suggests checking the bathrooms of a restaurant prior to ordering. If the bathrooms are in top shape, then odds are the kitchen is super clean as well. Most upscale restaurants, however, are always extra clean. According to an anonymous survey by the Food Network, 85 percent of chefs gave their kitchen an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for cleanliness.

10. Keep Your Reservation.

A chef’s biggest pet peeve? Patrons who just don’t show up for a reservation. After all, you wouldn’t make plans with a friend and then fail to show up without good cause, right? The same goes for dining out. At upscale or specialty restaurants, chefs have stocked the kitchen based on the number of reservations they received. In addition, a restaurant may have turned away other diners because their reservation log was already full. When you simply don’t show up, you’re causing restaurants to lose out on major profits. Plus, it’s just common courtesy. If you’re unable to make your reservation, let the restaurant know as soon as possible, so they have an opportunity to try to fill that table.

11. Compliment the chef.

Everyone loves to receive compliments on a job well done, and a restaurant’s kitchen staff are no exception. However, unlike servers, the people who actually prepared your meal rarely receive tips for a job well done. On busy nights, a chef probably won’t have time to come out to your table so you can compliment them on your dining experience. However, you can still show your appreciation. If the restaurant doesn’t allow kitchen staff to be easily tipped after your meal, consider sending a note with a gratuity enclosed to the chef or kitchen manager for a job well done.

Katie Martin
Katie Raye Martin is a freelance writer, navy wife, new mom, and chocoholic. In addition to HealthyWay, she has contributed to NextGenMilSpouse, a blog for the millennial military spouse, and Pregnant Chicken, a pregnancy blog. Since welcoming her first son a few months ago, Katie has become a pregnancy expert and cloth diapering connoisseur. When she’s not writing (or changing diapers) Katie is training for her first half-marathon.

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