Chefs and waiters reveal the biggest frauds in restaurants

Getty / Jack F

The restaurant business is not easy. Rents are high, COVID has turned the restaurant world upside down, and customers can be… er, defiant. Caveats aside, there are additional charges and questionable practices, and even if your goal is to help cover costs, it’s illuminating to know them as a consumer.

In a Reddit thread, chefs, waiters, baristas, bakers and bartenders shared their personal experiences with some shady practices in the restaurant world. You might consider some of them simply the cost of doing business in a tough setting, but whether they’re “necessary evils” or outright robberies, it’s a fun segment of culinary confessions. We’ve taken the 15 brightest answers to the question, “Chefs of Reddit, what are the biggest robberies your restaurants sell?”

And remember, if this list bothers you, you can always make your favorite restaurant recipe in the comfort of your own home.

1. The ALDI bait and switch

“My husband used to work at a gastropub in an affluent area. Roasted Camembert was literally ALDI’s Camembert for £1 each, then roasted and sold for £15 to share. Everyone was convinced it was really elegant continental fine cheese [baked in] a special Camembert oven.”

2. Franzia’s Bait and Exchange

“We buy small bottles of wine for $7 and sell them for $37. [house wine] is Franzia box wine.”

3. The Sushi Game

“I worked on a Japanese [restaurant] for a while and we had this thing called the Volcano roll. It cost $7.25. A California roll costs $3.75. The Volcano roll was a Cali roll cut into a triangle shape and topped with spicy mayonnaise that was heated with about $0.10 worth of fish, literally just a few pieces.”

Related—Why you should never leave a copy of the customer receipt at a restaurant

4. Bowl crimes

“Our soup cup is the same size as our bowl, but the bowl costs 30% more.”

5. Freezing crimes

“So many places claim homemade pies, freshly baked cookies… No. Frozen, frozen, frozen, thawed and then baked. So they try to charge $7 a slice.”

6. Soft drink price increases

“As a longtime restaurant employee, I can promise you that the biggest steal is the sodas and iced tea. $3 or more, depending on location, for something that costs pennies.”

7. Steak charges

“I work at a steakhouse and I would say all steaks. We buy our 6 ounce sirloins for $5 a cut and sell them for $35.”

8. Grilled Cheese Surcharges

“Grilled cheese sandwiches. For the price of one of ours, you could probably make a whole bag of bread at home and get the exact same thing.”

9. Fried pickle charges

“I worked in a restaurant for a while. No one should order fried pickles. The biggest robbery ever, the cost is less than $0.30 per order and the price increase pushes orders of 30 fries to more than $5 to $6.”

10. Salad bar crimes

“Soups and salads. Pennies per dollar for the cost of food. There’s a reason the all-you-can-eat buffets have entire sections devoted to them. They help offset the lower profit made on other menu items.” Counterpoint: Restaurant salads can be delicious! Here’s one of the main reasons.

Related—The 10 Most Hilarious Restaurant Twitter Accounts

11. Sauce crimes

“Pretty much any restaurant that charges for sauces (like ranch, sriracha mayonnaise, etc). Some may be making certain sauces, but everywhere I’ve worked, the extent of making sauces is something you can teach anyone (parts equals of x pre-made sauce and pre-made sauce.) But still, I can’t afford $0.50 for 2 oz (maximum, probably 1 oz normally) of store-bought ranch.”

12. Soy milk crimes

“We charge 85 cents for soy milk, even if the drink only has 1 ounce of soy…”

13. Supermarket exchanges

“I worked at a fancy country club (starter fee $25,000, then $7,000/year in the ’90s). A slice of ‘homemade’ cheesecake was $7 each on the menu. One of the sous chefs stopped by. at the Giant Food store every day on the way to work to buy a whole cheesecake for about $5.”

14. Supermarket exchanges II

“Our bakery’s cinnamon rolls, cookies and ice cream are made in store, but the brownies and flavored breads are box mixes from Walmart. The white, wheat and sourdough bread comes in small frozen bricks.”

15. Theft of house wine

“We have a super expensive fancy steakhouse and the waitress confessed to us that the ‘house wine’ was just Carlo Rossi.”

But don’t forget…

Phew – and that was just the top 15. To offer some balance to the situation, two commentators mentioned the fact that high costs often have to do with keeping a business afloat:

1. “Expensive city here. The biggest theft customers have to pay for is the exorbitant rent that restaurant owners owe their landlords. Restaurants typically have less than a 6% profit margin.”

2. “Literally nothing. Everything takes work and resources to make. Yes, some things have a higher profit margin, but others have a lower margin. The only thing I could consider a “rip-off” would be beer and wine . We just buy and score 300%. Otherwise nothing is a steal.”

And there it is. Appointments will happen, not-so-homemade desserts will be served, and house wines can come from a box. Maybe next time ask where that homemade pie is from or ask about the house wine… but still support the local restaurants! They need your love and business more than ever.

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