Knowing what goes on behind the scenes is a sure-fire way to ruin one's appetite.
When it comes to knowing what to order at a restaurant, it makes sense to ask the experts -- the chefs and servers who spend their professional lives in those settings. They know how food is handled and prepared, and what's actually going on behind the scenes, so it's not surprising that they have pretty strong opinions on what not to order. You'll want to keep this advice in mind next time you're sitting down with a menu.
1. Chicken:This is a common no-no across various forums that I read. Reasons range from boring ("It's probably just on the menu as a crowd-pleaser for unadventurous eaters") and overpriced, to concerns about how it was raised ("The amount of chemicals in chicken just personally scares me. If the menu doesn't list the provenance of a chicken, don't order it unless you want a plate full of hormones and antibiotics") and safety (often undercooked because "either the kitchen was slammed or the cook was being lazy").A better alternative to chicken is quail or guinea hen, which are less common and generally raised in less industrialized conditions.
Unless it's a restaurant that specializes in top-quality fresh seafood, you can't be guaranteed a good product. Anthony Bourdain famously once said that he'll never order fish on a Monday, since New York fish markets aren't open on Saturdays, which means that, in a best-case scenario, the fish was caught on Thursday. If you live far from the ocean, you could be dealing with this problem on a regular basis.
Another issue is sourcing, as seafood is notoriously mislabeled. Ocean conservation group Oceana says that up to 44 percent of seafood is labeled incorrectly, which means you're not getting what you think, and you could be supporting illegal fishing of at-risk species.
3. Beer on tap:
I've heard this before from acquaintances, that the tap lines are rarely cleaned in restaurants. One server is quoted in Food & Wine: "No one cleans the fountain, and it usually has mildew festering in it." Getting bottled beer is a safer bet.
4. Soup of the day:
Soup is either yesterday's leftovers or an afterthought designed to be a cheap lunch item. From Food and Wine:
"I learned how to make soups in culinary school, and you can tell the difference between a crappy, hastily-thrown-together soup, and one that is mindful. The former is what I realized I was getting most of the time, because a lot of normal restaurants just see it as a side dish or a cheap lunch item."
5. Anything that isn't the restaurant's specialty:
Unless you have no other dietary options, it's generally wise to stick with ordering what the restaurant is good at making.
"If it's a burger joint, I'll probably order a burger, not a chicken wrap. Don't send the kitchen into a frenzy because they can't remember how to prepare your food."
6. Special of the day:
It's usually made with the oldest ingredients that need to be used up the fastest. (Although, from TreeHugger's anti-food-waste standpoint, that sounds like a noble and worthwhile accomplishment!)
7. Anything you can make easily at home:
Eating out should be a chance to enjoy dishes you wouldn't normally prepare, or that are prepared using premium ingredients you wouldn't get, i.e. a pasta dish should be made from fresh house-made pasta because you can boil the dried stuff anytime.
8. House wine:
The consensus seems to be that it's a rip-off. "If you order the house wine, you're drinking the cheapest goon the bar manager thinks he can get away with." Another F&W source: “We buy tiny wine bottles for $7 and sell for $37. The house wine [here] is Franzia box wine.”
9. Desserts, unless it's made in house:
I read several accounts of sheet cakes being picked up at Walmart or Giant Food, then drizzled with raspberry and chocolate sauces to look fancy.