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9 Things Restaurant Managers Won’t Tell You

It's nothing nefarious, but most restaurant managers do have a few tricks. Some industry secrets might shock you!

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Blur coffee shop or cafe restaurant Shutterstock / HAKINMHAN

No, we’re not talking about gross secrets like what happens when you send your food back (which, honestly, is nothing—the chefs won’t actually do anything to harm your food). These restaurant tell-alls involve regular restaurant operation, and you might be genuinely surprised by a couple!

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Group of friends at dinner in an elegant restaurant.Shutterstock / ESB Professional

Not All Customers Are Treated Equally

A friend of mine works at a fancy restaurant in a large city. They have a VIP list (including regulars, celebs and local chefs). If any of those names pop up on the reservation list, they’ll get the star treatment—a well-positioned table, a surprise appetizer and probably a dessert on the house.

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classic french dip au jus or beef dip with friesShutterstock / farbled

Fancy Menu Items Might Not Be Fancy

Chefs love throwing fancy words onto menu items—but that doesn’t mean that they’re made from scratch. A little known restaurant secret is that not everything is as it seems. Aioli probably means mayonnaise, Chantilly cream could be Reddi-wip and au jus is likely store-bought beef broth.

Psst! Here are 15 secrets Costco employees won’t tell you.

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Closeup of hands with coffee cups in a cafekikovic/Shutterstock

You Might Get Decaf if You Order Coffee at Night

If you’re lucky, you’ll get an Americano from the espresso machine instead, but most restaurants don’t keep full-caff coffee around late at night. If you order coffee later in the day, they’re probably not brewing a fresh pot and you’re likely getting a cup of decaf. Try ordering green tea or one of these other caffeinated beverages instead.

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Busy chefs at work in the restaurant kitchen Shutterstock / Denizo71

Specials May Not Be Special

Sometimes, specials are a way to use up a certain ingredient, but that doesn’t mean they’re always a new idea. I worked at a restaurant that ordered a lot of seasonal produce, which was only available long enough for a week’s worth of specials. The first year, I wrote every special anew each week. By year two, I started recycling a lot of old favorites!

This treat is always special in our book.

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Hands holding glasses with beer on a table.Shutterstock / Aleksandar Karanov

Happy Hour is a Marketing Strategy

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but did you know it’s actually a marketing ploy to get you to come in during slow hours? Even though the prices are reduced, restaurant managers are increasing their sales and building up consumer loyalty. And here I thought I was just getting a discount on drinks!

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Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making orderUfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

Menus are Designed to Drive Orders

Have you ever wondered why certain menu items are in a box? Or why some menus don’t have currency signs anymore? I even know a chef who purposefully uses a slightly smaller font for the price! Menus are designed to make you focus less on what you’re spending and more on drawing your attention to certain high-profit items.

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Red wine bottles stacked on wooden racksShutterstock / Christian Delbert

The Wine List is Out of Order

I’ve known more than a few beverage managers who strategically mark up the wine prices. They know that most people won’t order the least expensive bottle of wine, so they increase the price so it’s the second-least-expensive wine. It’s not any better than the cheapest wine on the list, it just appears to be so.

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Chefs passing ready food to waiter at order station in commercial kitchenShutterstock / wavebreakmedia

There’s a Reason Your Plate is So Hot (or Cold)

There’s a golden rule when it comes to food preparation—hot food, hot plate; cold food, cold plate. Most restaurants store salad plates in a refrigerator and entree plates in a warmer. It’s a little thing, but it actually does make the food taste better! One of my colleagues even used to run spoons under hot water before serving soup to make the dish taste hotter.

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Friendly waiter server laughing smiling having fun with customer patronEl Nariz/Shutterstock

It’s Okay to Send Food Back

Seriously, it’s okay. We won’t be offended, especially if the food was overcooked, is missing a crucial component or you asked for it without an allergen (and it showed up with it anyway). The worst insult to a restaurant manager (or restaurant owner) is seeing a full plate of uneaten food. Give us the opportunity to make it right instead of just leaving a bad Yelp review later.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.