What’s REALLY in your Whopper?

By Joseph Bonfadini

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            It seems that nowadays everyone tries to be more conscious of what foods they eat. People are more curious as to what specific ingredients are being used at the restaurants they are going to, whether or not the food is locally grown, and even how the meals are prepared. This is a good thing, and it is great that people are becoming more aware of what they are putting into their bodies, but what about the hidden danger? The uncontrollable danger? The restaurant staff!  In an attempt to find out how aware people were about what was on their plates, I found out that people really need to be worried about the dangers that lurk behind the kitchen door, and especially how they treat their food handlers.

            My interviewee is currently a bartender, and has worked for many years in the restaurant business. I chose her because, in the brief interactions we did have, she mentioned that she had worked in every aspect of the restaurant business. We had originally planned on using her real name, and current place of employment, but the interview went a direction that she felt would be best to keep her anonymous, so for this interview, we will call her “Sue”.  Sue has been working in the restaurant and food industries since she was 15 (14+ years). She has been a chef, an expediter, a dishwasher, a cashier, a server, a baker and a bartender. 

 

Me: Which do you prefer: bartending, serving or cooking/baking?

 

Sue: I enjoyed my time as a baker the most. I was the first one in and the first one out.

 Me: What’s worse, serving drunk bar patrons or serving obnoxious customers sitting at a table?

 

Sue: Serving an obnoxious customer at a table is by far worse than drunken people at the bar. Drunken people can be easily kicked out. If a table is being obnoxious it is usually an indication they are fishing to get something for free. I would take 2 minutes with a drunk over 30 min of a rude table.

Me: Do people ask about what is in the dishes? Specific ingredients?

Sue: Most people tend to eat what is offered to them without a second thought. The only people who seem to ask questions are those with allergies, very sick people, or the occasional health buff. The ingredient most asked about is MSG.

Me: Do people ask if foods are locally grown? Do most people even care to know?

 

Sue: Most people don’t care. It is very rare that someone asks if the ingredients are locally grown. What people need to worry about are the secret ingredients… lol

Me: What do you mean secret?

 

Sue: Ingredients that may be added by staff.

           At this point of the interview, I think I know where this is going. We have all heard the stories about the crazy guy from the one restaurant that we never went to that put something that he wasn’t supposed to in the food he was preparing, that someone (but never us!) ate. I preferred to believe these were all far-fetched fabrications and urban myths. Prepared to be scared to eat out again, because I had to ask on.

 

Me: So what would be an example of a “secret” ingredient?

 

Sue: When I was younger and worked at Burger King for example, we had a line cook that would pick his nose and wipe it on the Whoppers.

Me: That is terrible! Even on Whopper Wednesdays???

 

Sue: Yep…. 🙂 Actually, the Whopper incident happened when a customer forgot to request no onion in the middle of a lunch rush. It happens mostly to rude people.  If you nicely request your steak be cooked a little more, chances are nothing will happen. If you belittle the server, and insult the chef’s ability to cook, you should think twice about sending it back. Especially if your server walks it back to the kitchen smiling 🙂

Why would you think someone would do that?

 

Sue: There is something wrong with people. That is the only explanation I can offer. It made him feel a little better in the moment, but I’m sure he thinks twice before eating out again.

Did this happen more at a “fast food” restaurant?

 

Sue: Most of the gross things I’ve seen happen at sit down places. I’ve witnessed many “mold scrapings”. A lot of restaurants scrape mold from bread, cakes and pies, in order to get one more day out of the product.

Does this happen often?

 

Sue: It probably happens a lot more than anyone likes to admit.

 

Are there worse things you have seen?

 

Sue: The only thing worse than the boogie that I have witnessed would be a pubic hair in a piecrust. I have seen bread pulled from garbage and reused. Butters/dressings that weren’t used on one dirty plate have been recycled onto a new plate. I’ve seen things dropped on the floor and put into a fryer to “kill the germs”. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen someone take a fry from a plated dinner and eat it. Or smear some icing off a dessert for a taste test.

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Was there a reason that someone received the “secret” ingredient? For example, were they rude? Did they send back food? Complain? Bad tip?

 

Sue: Bad tippers are usually spotted a mile away. If you tip badly at a restaurant the servers will remember you. You may not get a “treat” with your meal, but you definitely will get awful service.

 

So as a customer, it seems the way you treat your server and/or staff is the most important factor in avoiding a surprise?

 

Sue: Yep. It’s common courtesy. If the customer is nice, and they go about handling any issues properly, there is much less chance of anything being contaminated by the restaurant staff. Be polite, that’s all.

Thanks for the tips, and thanks for your time.

 

Sue: No problem.

As a person that eats out a fair amount of time, I have always been very kind and generous to the staff at restaurants, and after this interview my habits will remain intact (I never send anything back, and always seem to be extra generous when tipping). What’s interesting to me is how anyone that witnessed any of this at anytime would ever go out again. Also, it obviously happens quite a bit. According to a recent article on Yahoo.com, a McDonalds employee was fired for spitting in a customers tea [1]. In all situations discussed, the perpetrator felt the customer deserved it. But how could anyone deserve this? According to Sue, it happened when someone was rude, or out of line (by staff standards). It seems like common sense to me. Treat others how you would like to be treated, and maybe better, especially while eating out.

 

 

 

 

[1] Weir, Sarah. “McDonald’s Worker Spits in Tea: How Gross is Fast Food?.” Yahoo.com.

N.p., 19 Apr 2012. Web. 27 Mar 2013. <http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-

living/mcdonald-8217-worker-spits-tea-gross-fast-food-185600556.html>.

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