‘Dirty secrets’ of chain restaurants revealed by online community

Over the weekend a thread started on Reddit, a user generated online news community, asked former restaurant employees about “dirty secrets of chain restaurants.” The viral post received over 8,000 comments in less than 24 hours. The thread includes stories exposing fast food’s funny business from alleged past employees. Of course there is no way to confirm any of it, so either read them as entertainment or precaution (grab a drink, it’s long).

Buffalo Wild Wings

Don’t drop the chicken.

I worked at Buffalo Wild Wings as a cook for about 3 years while in college. They were seriously good about everyone having their specific cleaning duties at the end of a shift, but that didn’t fix some of the other issues.

Everything but produce (lettuce, onion, tomato, celery) is frozen. Chicken, burgers, wings, appetizers, mac and cheese, and so on. I like to cook so this was especially demoralizing for me as the most creative thing I could do is make a wrap or grill a burger. Ugh

If a chicken breast or burger was dropped on the floor or on the top of the trash can on the way to the bun/boat it was probably washed off and put back on the grill for a few seconds before being served. This was especially true during a big rush.

If a chicken breast didn’t get put on the grill and was already late, it would probably be nuked in the microwave before being butterflied and put on the grill for grill marks. – vroomery


To time travel, just change the date.

I work at coldstone and we are terrible about everything. I assume it is just my location and because I have an awful manager though. If our cakes expire, my manager makes us change the dates so we don’t have to throw them out. I always wear gloves and am good with food but my manager and some employees never wear gloves and touch cakes/mix ins with their bare hands. My manager has some dumb girlfriend who comes in and decorates cakes and she always leaves her hair down and never wears gloves. She’ll set candy and mix ins on the bare counter which who knows how long it’s been since it was wiped off last. It’s gross. Don’t go to coldstone. – holly117


It’s a game.

Previous Denny’s / Current Italian restaurant cook. Whenever something is dropped on the floor, we just put it in the fryer / boiler for a few seconds and serve it. The ‘Waiting’ ball game was played regularly. – muddymoose

Dunkin’ Donuts

Droppin’ donuts.

Dunkin Donuts, my manager wouldn’t let us throw out expired or spoiled food. Our sandwich station accidentally got unplugged one night during the summer when it was in the 100s and the AC broke. It had eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, and a few other things in it. It was off from approximately 9pm to 6am. He refused to let us throw out any of the food and made us serve it. I found out by eating something and getting food poisoning then being told by another lady that I worked with.

More than once I found cleaning packets that contain bleach and ammonia sitting in the coffee pots we had been using all day. The manager would keep a spoon in his pocket all day and continuously eat out of the vanilla ice cream. After he left we would scrape a few inches off to try and clean it. No hand washing, ever. He made us serve donuts that had been dropped on the floor, reuse cups, and allowed one of his night employees to drink in the store every night. – crashlovex3

Five Guys

A strange metal partition.

I used to work at a five guys.

on the toppings table (where the burgers sit till they get the meat) you will notice there are strange metal partitions that block your view at certain points on the toppings table. I was told that whenever we could, we should have the waiting-to-be-finished burgers behind that partition so customers couldn’t see any flies or anything land on it. I thought this was ridiculous not only because we didn’t even have a serious fly problem (I think I saw about 10 fruit flies in the 4 months that I worked there) but because I was told earlier that the table is visible like that so customers can be sure there food is made correctly. It seemed pretty dishonest and I never really followed the rule. – High_Commander


Abercrombie & Fitch of fast food?

I worked at In-N-Out for a few months. Seriously, the burgers are good so don’t worry about those. But there are some dirty secrets.

Race seemed to play a huge part in hiring. In a mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and Mexican neighborhood, our restaurants both seemed to have mostly white staffs. At the one I worked at, we only had ONE non-white employee. Not only was race a big role in hiring, Asian customers were constantly ridiculed by other employees inside. If you ordered food with an accent, chances are you would be made fun of by the cooks in the back. It was really disgusting.

Also disgusting, the fries! Every morning at opening time, the whole place would smell like rotten potatoes. See, we would soak the peeled potatoes (most of which were green and black and not very good to begin with) in a sink. That sink was rarely cleaned properly. Potato bits would go in the drain and start to rot. It would stink. The store just covered the drain, filled it with water, and soak the days potatoes in that same stinky sink. They also mark their fries up dramatically.

If In-N-Out seems a little cultish, it really is. Employees were rewarded with things like trips to the headquarters and In-N-Out swag. One employee was offered a tour of headquarters and came back talking about it as though they saw Dear Leader’s Palace. Other employees had all sorts of questions about the place. They really do seem to want employees that worship the company.

Also, the secret sauce is just Thousand Island dressing with extra ketchup. – ihatephilosophy

Jimmy John’s

Bugged lettuce.

I worked at the regional sandwich shop chain Jimmy John’s for four years during high school. Although there weren’t any secrets, per se, plenty of disturbing things happened that made me question ever eating there again.

I grab a head of lettuce to start slicing it. I’m not sure why, but some instinct told me break it in half just to make sure the inside was okay. So I cut the head in half, and to my horror, see a swarming mass of hundreds of tiny black bugs eating/living on the inside of the lettuce head. Turns out the entire shipment of lettuce is like this. We had been serving it to people for days.

Another lettuce story. A woman orders a sandwich then sits down to eat. Normal enough. After a few minutes, she comes back to the register, a look of horror on her face. She turns to the customer who I’m currently taking an order from and says to him, “you should step away, you may not want to see this…”. With the other customer gone, the woman opens her hand and in her palm are small shards of glass. They were in her sandwich. We examine the lettuce, and sure enough it is riddled with glass. Luckily it was a relatively new batch so we had only been serving it for a few hours… As for how it got in there, we had no idea. Our best guess is someone from the previous shift had broken a light-bulb or something over the food and had failed to tell anyone.

My first manager loved to throw up knives and catch them in crazy ways. So one day he comes in right after we had sharpened the bread knives (and anyone who has worked at Jimmy John’s knows that the knives are sharp as hell already). So he decides to do this overly ambitious trick where throws two knives, spinning end over end, behind his back and catches them with the opposite hands. Well, the knives went into the air just fine, but on the way down ended up deeply gashing both his exposed wrists and nearly cutting off his thumb, which luckily hung on by a thread. Literally. There was a lot of blood that day.

I had a manager with a terrible whooping cough; you know the kind of cough that just sounds wet, disgusting, full of phlegm. Any way, he would hack right into his hands, then proceed to handle the food. He didn’t work there very long.

Those are just off the top of my head, I’m sure there’s more but I’m drawing a blank right now. – PeachesTheApache


Still waiting for the video.

At KFC the gravy is basically the a bunch of chicken waste left in the bottom of the cookers and it has a scary resemblance to actual diarrhea. The cooking process is fairly simple: after a whole day of cooking chicken in the fryers we collect all of the waste from the bottom of the fryers, refrigerate the stuff and then in the morning when it solidifies we just add some water, heat up the concoction and serve it. I just can’t conjure up the words to describe how nasty the gravy actually is. I’ll try to upload a video of the cooking process if I can find my old cell phone. – Sohail360


The munchies.

I quit working at McDonald’s last August. The managers and employees would all smoke marijuana in the break room, over food in the kitchen while making it, and in the lobby when we were drive thru only. Also you are supposed to sanitize yours hands each time after touching raw meat, however it was hardly ever done. People would go between touching raw meat and your finished food constantly. – CaptainHindsight93

Overstayed your welcome.

Former McDonald’s worker here. I’m not sure if this is a worldwide policy, but our store had a system with the chicken products, that after 20 minutes, they had to be thrown away. This is 100% not the case. When new food is placed into the food holding area, a timer is then pressed that will beep like crazy after 20 minutes, instead of then throwing the food away, the timer is reset. This will happen over and over again.

Record for how long I’ve heard of an item been kept in the area and served to a customer? A veggie patty, 4 hours. – Obi-Trees-Kenobi


Worked at McDonald’s for nearly two years, consistently throughout the holding times for food were ignored. (For example, the holding time for beef patties is 15 minutes, and most of the time we’d serve patties well over an hour old. Same for lettuce, cheese, etc.) Coffee is frequently served hours past its expiry. Next to no one wore gloves and no form of hairnet was worn. Half the time, the freezer door would be left open, so frozen products would thaw and be refrozen repeatedly. People would go 8 hour shifts without washing their hands. (I personally washed my hands every 5-10 minutes; not for the customer’s sake, but because I was disgusted by the lack of general cleanliness.) Oh, and centipedes. Centipedes everywhere. – Calethal

Panera Bread

It’s frozen.

Worked at Panera for four years. All soups came in frozen and we just heated them up in plastic bags, this goes for the mac and cheese as well and many of the pastries, cookies, etc.

Our bakers only put things in the oven, the dough was mixed else where and shipped to the store.

Homestyle lemonade? Tap water and mix. Fresh Squeezed OJ? Poured from a carton to a cup. Iced Green Tea? Tap water and mix.

People had a misconception that Panera was healthy fast food, quite the opposite, calorie counts are online.

Lastly, not a dirty secret but something positive, any leftover bread and pastries were donated at the end of the night to local food banks, soup kitchens or churches. – Wolleyball

Pizza Hut

It’s in the sauce.

I worked at Pizza Hut for around 8 months. I guess the biggest secret we had was how unbelievably disgusting our restaurant’s kitchen was. Our dishwasher was supposed to run between 150-180 degrees but it was consistently around 90-100 degrees.

Our pizza sauce is a red sauce concentrate, we empty into 5 gallons buckets and pour city tap water into it until it’s the right consistency and then (without gloves) mix it with a whisk and it’s inevitable that your hands get into the sauce and most people didn’t wash their hands.

Everything was so disgusting there, I’ll never eat there again. – Stokenstein


Cutting corners.

This will get buried, but maybe some will read it. I worked at a Quizno’s right when they started doing the $5 large sub deal, which was meant to compete with Subway. Right when we lowered the prices, we got instructions from corporate to start using less meat on the sandwiches. A large used to have 6 ounces of meat; after the promotion started we were supposed to put 5 ounces of meat on the larges. Not really a huge scandal, but I thought it was a pretty cheap way to cut corners and mislead people. – TuckerTheCat


Lovely batch of mold.

Former Sub cough Way employee here. We have this set up under our ovens to let the bread rise, caller a proofer/poofer. This circulates warm moist air around the bread for it to rise. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t get cleaned regularly. I’ve worked at two separate Subways (Ohio and Florida) and neither of them cared enough to clean it. So picture this: warm moist air creates this lovely batch of algae and mold in the bottom of the proofer. The happy little mold spores now circulate onto the delicious bread.


Now in regard to health concerns, the cooking of the bread probably kills the mold. Probably. When I asked my manager (at both locations) about the health concerns of mold/algae, I was given a similar response along the lines of “Don’t worry about it, Don’t talk about it, I’m sure it’s fine” – luckybrian777

Tuna salad.

will never eat at a Subway again after working there: 1. they don’t wash the tomatoes. they go right from that crate they come in from Mexico, with all the dirt all over them, into the slicer. 2. then they use that slicer to slice your deli meat without cleaning it first. 3. the “tuna salad” is 1 bag tuna to 3 bags mayonnaise. no joke. 4. the olives and jalapeno peppers come in little bags that you have to slice open and drain, and they taught us to hang the bag over the dish-washing sink while they drain. that means that while we wash the dishes using industrial strength sterilizer, your peppers and olives are getting splashed with it. – blueanimal

Can’t get enough? See the entire thread on Reddit.


  1. these are not exactly earth shattering, as horror stories about chain restaurant conduct arent new but its good to realize and remember these things before you make your decision on settling on where to eat. 
     I know that independent/mom and pops are probably (or can be) just as guilty as chains but on the whole people are more likely to be apathetic towards things like this because they feel like  just a cog in a huge fast food machine.
    I had friends who worked fast food who couldnt care less about maintaining the utmost cleanliness or friendliness because their managers didnt care so much. But when they moved to privately owned institutions they felt more respect and pride for what they did because the owners cared and made them feel like valued members of staff.  

  2. I know people who went to culinary school and when they graduated would NEVER eat at a chain place again…ever. lol

  3. working at the five guys i do, customers can see everything… everything… i don’t believe this thread is credible. If any of what this person has said was true, i would have quit.

  4. Being a manager at Panera I can say that the comment about soups and mac is true, but the bakers don’t just “put things in the oven.” Bagels and pastries must be shaped first and are then proofed to rise, and that’s just a small part of the process. A lot of hard work goes into a Panera bake.

  5. Believe it or not chain restaurants and fast food generally have an overall better reputation for health issues than independent restaurants. They have standardized corporate policies that are created and tested by specialized experts. The problem comes in the local implementation of those regulations. Bad management, bad employees, and lack of education bring the average down, but well run franchises are usually very good. Now independent restaurants have some of the worst offenders you can imagine, but also have some of the cleanest kitchens you will ever see on the opposite end of the spectrum. Generally full service restaurants with actual trained chefs and staff will be well run, unless the owner or manager that controls budgets for cleaning supplies and labor is not on board. I think if full time staff in restaurants were paid better salaries, there would be a huge increase in cleanliness and the general level of service. Most people don’t realize how little restaurant staff (except servers) are paid. I think you generally get what you pay for, although some of the more expensive restaurants can be the worst offenders.

  6. I don’t understand why people do not make comments about dirty tables, chairs, booths, floors and bathrooms. Believe me, dirty tables chairs, booths, floors and bathrooms are huge health hazards too.

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