13 Foods Servers Avoid Eating at Their Own Restaurants

source: Pexels

I don’t often go to restaurants, but when I do, it’s a real treat. My husband and I cherish these moments—away from the kitchen chores, no dishes to wash afterward, just us and a nice meal. Sometimes, we visit our friend Tom’s restaurant downtown. He doesn’t work the floor anymore, having moved up the ladder, but he used to serve, and we love catching up over some of his recommended dishes.

During one of our visits, amidst laughter and stories about the restaurant’s latest shenanigans, Tom shared a fascinating tidbit that piqued my curiosity. He confided that there are certain things that servers, including himself back in the day, wouldn’t eat at their own restaurant. Surprising, right? What could be the reasons behind this peculiar selective menu? What don’t they eat, and more intriguingly, why?

source: Pexels

1. The Daily Specials (Sometimes)

You might think the daily special is made from the freshest ingredients of the day, but sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Servers know that occasionally, specials are designed to use up ingredients that are nearing the end of their shelf life. I learned this the hard way after praising a fish special that was a tad too… ‘special’.

2. Clam Chowder on a Monday

This one comes from a hilarious incident a server friend shared. She never orders clam chowder if she’s dining on a Monday at any restaurant. The reason? It’s often left over from the weekend. This little inside joke among the staff always gets a laugh when she dines out with friends on a Monday and pointedly skips the soup.

source: Pexels

3. The Complicated Custom Orders

Servers, especially those who’ve had their time in the kitchen, tend to avoid dishes that require extensive customization. Not only do they know it burdens the kitchen, but they also know the more a dish is altered from its original recipe, the more can go wrong. This wisdom came from a night I watched a server send back his own order twice because it wasn’t what he’d envisioned.

4. End-of-Day Pastries

Tom once admitted he avoids ordering pastries or bread at the end of the day. Why? They’re usually not as fresh as those served at the beginning of the day. The difference between morning-baked and all-day-sitting-on-the-counter is something every server learns to recognize.

5. Well-Done Steaks

Any server who values the art of a good steak knows that ordering it well-done is almost culinary blasphemy. Overcooking can sap all the juiciness and flavor from the meat. I remember a colleague who would cringe every time a customer ordered a steak well-done, knowing what was to come.

source: Pexels

6. Free Bar Snacks

This might hurt a bit for the lovers of freebies, but those communal bar snacks? Many servers avoid them. They’ve seen too many hands—clean and not so clean—dive into those bowls.

7. Buffet Items During Slow Times

A buffet might look inviting, but servers often pass on this option during slow periods. The longer food sits out, the more it loses its appeal and quality. A friend once shared a vivid description of “tired” salad that had been out too long, and I’ve never looked at a buffet the same way since.

8. Sushi on Sundays and Mondays

Servers in sushi restaurants avoid ordering sushi early in the week. Since many fish markets are closed on Sundays, Monday’s sushi might not be the freshest. Tom always advised us to go for sushi on a Wednesday or Thursday for peak freshness.

source: Pexels

9. The House Wine

When a server opts to drink something other than the house wine, there’s a reason. It’s often the cheapest option available and not necessarily the best representation of good wine. Learning this made our wine choices a bit more discerning.

10. Anything Marked as “Sizzling”

“Sizzling” dishes are spectacular to see but can be a signal that the quality of the ingredients needs a dramatic presentation to be boosted. I laughed when a server friend confessed she never orders them because it feels like a trick to distract from mediocre cooking.

11. Chicken Wings During a Big Game

The rush of a big game day means kitchens are slammed, and dishes like chicken wings are often pre-cooked and reheated as needed. Efficiency trumps quality, and the servers know it better than anyone.

12. Fried Seafood at a Non-Seafood Restaurant

A piece of advice I got from a server was to never order fried seafood from a place that isn’t a seafood specialist. The odds of it being frozen and then deep-fried are high, compromising taste and texture.

source: Pexels

13. The Overly Garnished Cocktails

Finally, those beautifully garnished cocktails might look Instagram-worthy, but they can often mean the drink itself is underwhelming. Servers stick to the classics, knowing that simplicity often equates to quality in the drink world.

Here are some more:

Lemon Slices in Drinks

A surprising no-go for many servers is adding lemon slices to their drinks. It’s not about the flavor—lemon can be a refreshing touch—but rather the hygiene aspect. Lemons are often cut on busy counters, handled with less-than-sterile gloves, and sometimes even sliced ahead of time, collecting dust and germs. I once saw a bartender slice lemons with the same knife he used for other bar duties without washing it in between. Since then, I’ve always asked for my drinks without the citrus garnish.

Mashed Potatoes

You might think mashed potatoes are a safe bet—creamy, comforting, and generally beloved. However, servers often steer clear of this side dish, especially late in the day. The reason? These potatoes can be made in large batches and might sit warming for hours, losing their texture and flavor. A server friend once whispered to me that what starts as fluffy perfection at lunch might turn into a gummy paste by dinner.

source: Pexels

The Bread Basket

Ah, the bread basket—often the first thing to greet you at a table. While it seems harmless, servers are wary of these, especially if they aren’t served warm. Bread is often recycled if it looks untouched, moving from table to table until it finds a taker. Learning this, I started noticing whether the bread felt room temperature or oven-fresh, and let’s just say, it’s made all the difference in how I approach this free starter.

source: Pexels

Knowing these little secrets has not only made dining out more of an adventure but also a more informed experience. Next time you’re out, maybe ask your server what they recommend—and, perhaps more tellingly, what they don’t.