Everyone has had a bad restaurant experience. I’ve worked in more than a few in my life and dined at more. From paper in a sandwich to a cooked chicken served coated in plastic, I have seen suffered through some awful mistakes and some excusable ones. Even so I never let anything put me off eating out, not until I heard a story from a local restaurant manager.
What made me truly sick was realizing I had been a regular at the restaurant he described. Here’s his words:
“I arrived for work early to get into the swing of things and was told by the guy I was replacing that it was a special day.
Little did I know it would become the single most embarrassing and terrifying day I had spent in food services in my ten years managing.
Nothing gets you into ‘learning mode’ quite like being told that you have a state inspector coming in 15 minutes on your first day on the job.
I examined the restaurant in panic. Nothing had a hold time. Nothing. From the eggs to the frozen chicken there wasn’t a single date written on anything. I didn’t know if the food I was staring at was a minute old or a year old. And from the looks of the restaurant nobody working there knew either. While there might not have been a guy with an oozing eye working in the kitchen, we did manage to make every other mistake in the book. Cooking surfaces that looked like they had been dredged from tar pits, a floor that could feed a family of dogs in discarded food bits, prep stations and smelled so strongly that no single odor could be separated from any other. The only thing that was clean was the dish-washing station which fortunately employed a man I came to see as a shining knight, with sprayer in hand, desperately blasting back at the tide of Salmonella that had enveloped every other surface.
By the time the inspector had gotten to the freezer I knew we had already been shut down three times over. When the freezer was opened there were not one, but two boxes of raw chicken spilled from the shelves and covering the floor. I quickly tried to scoop them up before the inspector saw them. To my horror, but perhaps not my surprise, I found they were frozen to the floor. My trainer quickly interjected “Don’t worry, those have been there for months.” Sarcastically I thought “Oh good. I was afraid they had only spilled moments ago and would have to be thrown out.” Surely, next he would tell me they occasionally chiseled them out to fill orders. There were boot prints on some of them. Multiple boot prints.
The inspector, seeing that my look of preternatural horror was even larger than his own graciously gave me a week to repair the problem before he shut us down. I am sad to say I managed to clean everything up by the time he returned. Sad because a good dose of flamethrower would have probably set my mind at ease.
At least I got to fire almost the entire staff and start again.
No matter how nice they might make it look in the foyer, the true story of a restaurant’s quality is always in the back. I have seen some terrible things that have happened in the spur of the moment, the heat of the battle, and the end of a long double-shift, but I have never seen something as gratuitous as this.”
After he told me this story I stopped eating out for a solid month. (That’s a big deal for me.) Visions of cooks handling raw meat and then making a salad danced through my head in some sort of foodie-Kafka nightmare.
Have you worked in food service? Got a good horror story? Feel free to drop a comment. Then we can all squirm in our seats and make a plan to eat at home for a few day.
Rodney Staton is a professional writer and blogger. He’s never met a sushi he didn’t like, but he’s been known to turn down burgers from the local diner. Call him crazy, it’s just his way.