20+ Secrets Fast Food Workers Won’t Tell You About Your Food

Some people may enjoy fast food, but there’s a certain mystery about how the food is prepared that is really only known to the people preparing it. What we do know is that the food is cooked in a very fast manner and then served for you to devour. What happens between the time the order is placed and put in your bag is unknown — until now.

Former fast food service workers have come forward to discuss the secrets behind making your favorite fast food, and some of these truths are a little hard to digest. Even if you have a solid stomach.

The Grill Marks Are All An Illusion

raw burger mcdonalds no grill marks
@IrishExaminer/Twitter
@IrishExaminer/Twitter

You know in those fast food commercials it shows your burger being grilled to perfection complete with grill marks? Well, as it turns out, those grill marks that you see on the burger aren’t made by the grill.

According to a former employee, those grill marks are etched on by a factory before the burgers are shipped out. That allows the employees to cook the meat on an ultra hot stove top rather than an actual grill.

Fresh Food Depends On The Timing

McDonald's crew member Samantha Medina prepares french fries
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s all about timing! It may be a shock to hear, but your fast food might not be so fresh after all. If you want the freshest food, one former fast-food worker says to come in between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

These are the busiest hours that require the most food, so naturally that the food will be freshly made. Otherwise, it’s up to chance.

The 10-Second Rule Exists In Fast Food Too

A worker of McDonald's fast food restaurant in Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt
Peter Kovalev/TASS/Getty Images
Peter Kovalev/TASS/Getty Images

Remember when you were growing up and dropped a piece of food on the floor, but that was okay, because as long as you picked it up before 10 seconds, it was still safe to eat? Well, one former employee says that this is the rule of thumb in the kitchen at some fast food chains, too.

Mistakes happen and food gets dropped, but it’s pretty shocking to hear that food doesn’t always go straight to the trash bin.

Build Your Perfect Big Mac For Cheap

A man drinks a coke and eats a Big Mac burger
Oliver Berg/Getty Images
Oliver Berg/Getty Images

Wish your burger was listed at a cheaper price? As it turns out, you can haggle the price if you’re smart. One former employee says that it’s possible to rebuild a Big Mac. Just get a $1 McDouble, without mustard, ketchup, and then add lettuce and mac sauce, and you’ve recreated your choice item for a lesser price.

For those who don’t have the time to list that, you can just ask for any burger “dressed like a Mac.” The employees will know what you mean.

Check The Soda Machines For Mold

soda machine coca cola
Alex Garcia/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Alex Garcia/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

If you’re worried about the cleanliness of your food or drink, you can always check for mold yourself. One former employee gives a tip to paranoid customers and says that they should check the drink dispenser chute by bending down and looking up.

If you see mold or anything else “growing” it means you might be in danger. That’s because it’s just one of those places that employees forget to clean on a regular basis.

Your Chicken Breast Isn’t Healthy

Chickens roost at a poultry farm
VCG/Getty Images
VCG/Getty Images

Some customers may feel proud of themselves for escaping binging out on burgers and fries by ordering the seemingly “healthier” option — chicken. As it turns out, that chicken breast you thought was healthier is actually slathered in fat butter when the grilling process is done, in order to avoid it sticking to the grill.

Not only that, but the chickens that many fast food companies use are genetically modified, and do not look like real chickens to begin with.

The Fries Have One Hidden Ingredient

French fries cook in a deep fryer
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve all (sadly) come to the point where we expect our fast food to have some strange ingredients in it. Well, your fries have one extra one that wasn’t there when it arrived at the restaurant. According to one employee, the fries have chemical residue in them because the chemicals linger on the cooking appliances after they’re sprayed down. Gross!

No matter what fast food chain you go to, odds are you love the fries. Maybe not so much anymore.

The Chili Is Just Recycled Burgers

sign for wendys in boston mass
Newscast/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Newscast/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s become surprisingly well known that the meat in the chili from Wendy’s is really just leftover beef from their patties, but people still keep ordering it. If a burger patty was left out too long to be sold, it’s set aside for the chili meat.

The employees are instructed to put all the leftover patties in a vat of water, microwave them for ten minutes, pour out the water, chop up the meat, and let it cool.

The Salads Aren’t As Healthy As You’d Think

generic shot of a mcdonalds restaurant salad
Steve Parsons/PA Images/Getty Images
Steve Parsons/PA Images/Getty Images

Think you’re avoiding using your calories by ordering a salad? You’re not. The salads are not at all healthy. That said, here’s the real surprise: it’s said that big macs are just as “healthy” as the salads because they’re relatively the same in calories.

Also, make sure to avoid salads at any pizza place. Most of their lettuce comes pre-shredded in bags and will turn brown within just a few hours of opening it.

Want Something Fresh? Just Ask

A Whopper from Burger King on wrapper
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

According to a former fast food employee, while there are peak hours for fresh food, most of the employees will cook your food fresh if you ask them nicely. It will take a few extra minutes, so it’s not the best option if you want the “fast” part of “fast food” but that’s okay.

In particular, if you want to ensure that you get your french fries fresh, one former employee says to order them without salt. Doing that forces the workers to cook a whole new batch.

Don’t Let That Sauce Slide Down

subway bag hack by turning it sideways
kansaigaidai/Imgur
kansaigaidai/Imgur

There’s nothing worse than buying a delicious sandwich from Subway then getting home to find that sauce all slid to one end when you were carrying the sub. You’d think that the sandwich chain would have switched up their bag design by now but no, they’re still torturing us.

Luckily, Subway employees know a simple hack of tying the open end and ripping a hole for “handles” on the other side. Voila! No more sauce problems.

They Give You Different Portion Size Options To Trick You

eff Baughman takes a sip of his Super Coke as he eats his Double Quarterpounder with cheese along with a Super Fry
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some restaurants will give you the option to choose between two sizes for a dish. Most people choose the smaller portion because they think the restaurant is just trying to get them to spend more money. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Restaurants offer two sizes in the hope you choose the smaller one because there is a better profit margin compared to the raw materials used to make the dish. This is one of the oldest tricks in the restaurant books. It even has a term: “bracketing.”

IHOP Only Serves ‘Real Eggs’ If You Ask

man an woman eating breakfast together at ihop
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

One longstanding rumor that actually is true is that IHOP mixes pancake batter into their omelets and scrambled eggs. The intention is to make them fluffier, but it also allows them to use less fresh eggs. If you want a normal omelet, you have to ask for it to be made with “real eggs.”

We’ll find out if this is still a problem now that IHOP fooled us all and turned into IHOB.

Skip The Soft Serve Ice Cream Products. Period.

soft serve ice cream not very clean
Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty Images
Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Getty Images

In a Reddit chain where workers were asked about foods to avoid, a repairman warned customers to avoid soft serve ice cream products from fast food chains.

“Avoid all ice cream machine products. McFlurry’s, Frosty’s, Soft Serve. Nope.” The repairman says hygiene should be your main reason for skipping the soft serve ice cream. So, if we’re keeping a tally, that means soda taps and ice cream machines are entirely unclean. There goes my summer plans.

Starbucks Is Overcharging You For Water, So Beware

starbucks cup lids can be used as coasters
@marty2019_/Twitter
@marty2019_/Twitter

There are a lot of things that Starbucks will try to overcharge you for but the biggest scam is water. Most Starbucks sells water bottles for a whopping $3 each. In reality, you can just ask for a cup of water and they’ll give it to you free of charge.

And if that water you got (or any iced drink) finds itself to be too cold and creating too much condensation, then you can use the lids of their plastic cups as coasters!

Get The Best Service From Your Car

in n out burger hollywood drive thru with car
Education Images/Citizens of the Planet/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Citizens of the Planet/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This should actually be a no-brainer, but apparently, it isn’t. If you want the fastest service, then it’s going to be in your car, at the drive-thru. Waiting on the lines inside takes forever, and people usually move a bit faster while driving in their cars.

If that’s not enough to convince you, it’s said that employees are told to prioritize people on the drive-thru line first. They get judged on the speed of the drive-thru so it makes sense.

There’s A Reason Why Your Food Never Looks Like The Commercials

So you see an ad on TV for your favorite fast food chain, and your mouth waters just looking at the appetizing food. Then you order it and you realize that it looks nothing like what you saw on TV. As it turns out, there’s a reason for that.

To recreate the food in these commercials, this food is usually “touched up” using airbrushing, fiberglass, as well as other particles. There are a ton of other industry secrets to make food look prettier than it is.

There’s A Holding Cabinet For Food

wendys french fries and chicken nuggets
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Bet you didn’t know that there’s a holding cabinet for your food. Sometimes, your fast food is cooked and then immediately put into your bag, other times…not so much. Instead, food stays in a cabinet that keeps the food warm and moist.

The cabinets have a timer that is supposed to dictate when the food gets thrown out. Unfortunately, not all employees listen to the timer and reheat the food to give it to you anyway.

That Secret Recipe Really Is A Secret

special big mac sauce on auction
AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Love that crispy fried chicken? How about that delicious burger? Want to know how the employees make specific items? Well, so do the employees! According to one former employee, all of the recipes are proprietary, so none of the workers know what ingredients are in any given item.

They just know how to arrange the ingredients, which also sounds like they’re not as fresh as you may think. You have to go straight to the top if you want to know what’s in the secret sauce.

The Managers Aren’t Daddy Warbucks

manager Rachel Lucien stands at the checkouts in the world's largest McDonald's restaurant
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Do you think the managers at your favorite fast food chain are sitting on thrones? Do you think they’re the next Daddy Warbucks? Think again! It’s said that even the managers of these fast food chains aren’t making bank.

In fact, most of them aren’t making more than minimum wage like the staff below them. It’s just another reason to be nice to the person serving you food because they don’t exactly get major benefits from it.

Employees Don’t Always Wash their Hands

employ licking taco shells was tired from taco bell
@NBCNews/Twitter
@NBCNews/Twitter

Do you know that sign that you see at fast food chains and restaurants? The one that states employees must wash their hands before returning to work? As it turns out, not all of them do.

According to one former employee, “Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should. Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it’s the law.” Glad to know that even the employees aren’t following basic sanitary rules.

Sometimes Gross Things Sneak Their Way Into Your Food

brains or kidney found in kfc chicken
@IBTimes/Twitter
@IBTimes/Twitter

In 2013, a student in Colchester, Essex made a rather horrific discovery in his KFC meal. Ibrahim Langoo,19, was shocked to find what appeared to be a fried chicken brain in the bucket.

He made the discovery after picking the chicken apart with his fingers before eating it. KFC apologized for the incident, but the company’s corporate office thinks it was actually a chicken kidney, not a brain. Whatever it was, it’s not the type of surprise you want to find during dinner.

Beware Of The .99 Cent Deal

menu with items not rounded up
George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

One of the more common psychological tricks is to price items down by one cent. Instead of seeing $10.00, reading $9.99 makes it seem like a bargain. Fast food restaurants and cheap chains will employ this same tactic for all of their items.

The same goes for any time a fast food restaurant has a .99 cent deal going on. Those “dollar drink days” from McDonald’s sound cheap but they’re still making a huge profit.

Anywhere You Go, The Fries Are Probably Tested By The Employees

servers snack on fries during breaks
Getty Images
Getty Images

In any restaurant where the cooking takes place behind the scenes, expect to be served fries that may have touched a server’s unwashed hands at any point. Most restaurant servers agree that if fries are already plated, then they are off limits. But the massive metal bowl that they toss the fries in to season them is fair game.

Servers will often snack on the fries as they work instead of taking an actual meal break.

Avoid Extra Charges By Not Asking For Extras After Paying

food from chick fil a extra sauce
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you want to avoid extra charges there’s a simple solution. Just don’t ask for anything “extra” while cashing out. It might sound sneaky, but the employees don’t actually care. If it’s something like extra cheese you’ll need to ask beforehand and inevitably pay for it.

But if you want extra sauce or drink cups, then simply ask before being handed your order. The employees will just hand it to you and won’t bother cashing you out for 25 cents.

Shell Out The Extra Few Bucks For Bottled Beer

pint of beer being poured
Jumping Rocks/UIG/Getty Images
Jumping Rocks/UIG/Getty Images

Remember how we talked about the moldy faucets on the pop machine? The same going for if you’re at a fast food restaurant that serves beer. Many restaurant workers across the board suggest choosing a bottled option instead because they rarely clean the beer taps.

If you still want to order something available on tap, consider asking when they cleaned the tap, and if the beer is brewed in small batches. The more they have to change out beer taps, the more likely they’ll get cleaned.

Avoid The Chicken Fries At Burger King If You Can

chicken fries from burger king
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The BK Boutique bring back chicken fries once a year even though people openly admit they don’t taste good. The chicken fries are rock solid with barely any chicken inside them because the standard is to double fry them.

When the fries arrive in store, they cook the entire batch for a few minutes. Then they move the chicken fries to an open bin, where they wait to be fried again once someone orders them so that BK can say they are “served fresh.” It’s no surprise that one of the BK’s most random items isn’t exactly cooked to perfection.

Watch Out, Your KFC Gravy Might Have Gross Chicken Bits In It

man measuring gravy from kfc
Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Ricardo Dearatanha/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Believe it or not, vegetarians are more likely to find a veg-friendly gravy at a cheaper fast-food restaurant than at a higher end restaurant. Cheap places will use pre-mixed sauce that only requires some cornstarch and vegetable broth to make. In higher-end restaurants, the gravy is made with pan drippings and cooked in smaller batches.

That means even the gravy from KFC is technically vegetarian since it’s made from sauce and cornstarch. The only time it isn’t is if a location chooses to add in leftover chicken grinds.

It Might Be A No-Brainer, But Don’t Anger The Employees

angry mcdonalds union member want higher pay
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sometimes we come across a story about an employee getting even with a customer by messing with their food. Well, we’re here to tell you that it’s not a hoax. According to one employee, a co-worker was so mad at a disgruntled customer that they spit in their food. Said employee was suspended for a total of three days before returning to the job.

It shouldn’t have to be a hack to tell you to be nice to the person handling your food, but we’ll repeat it louder for the people in the back.

Uneaten Leftovers Don’t Go To The Homeless

leftover food doesnt go to the homeless
Pinterest
Pinterest

Some would like to think that at the end of the day, all of that food that’s left over or thrown out is then given to the homeless. Well, as it turns out, fast food chains throw out a ton of untouched food items, and they never get donated to anyone in need.

Luckily, this is starting to change. France just passed a law requiring grocery stores to donate unsold food. Maybe laws will start applying to fast food restaurants too!

Avoid 7/11 After Midnight

avoid 7 11 food after midnight especially taquitos
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

This probably isn’t shocking news but it should most definitely serve as a warning. Don’t order grilled items from 7-Eleven after midnight, maybe even a little bit earlier if you’re not a risk taker. This also applies to other late-night convenience store chains.

One former employee explains the practices they witnessed. “I used to work at 7-11, so I’m gonna say any of the taquitos or hotdogs around midnight, up through about 4 or 5 AM. Around midnight you can be almost assured that these are now high-mileage.” It’s still a great drunk option.

The Vegan Trend May Not Be What You Think

a & W now serving vegan options
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images

A&W recently announced they are selling the “Beyond Meat” burger, a vegan option that tastes pretty darn close to the real thing. It was soon revealed that the burgers are cooked on the same grill as traditional real meat burgers.

Several fast food and restaurant workers also revealed on Quora that “contamination” happens all the time. “Veggie patties are often prepared in close proximity to other foods, meaning they can often be contaminated by meat or dairy products.”

Hollandaise Sauce Is Just A Vat Of Bacteria

hollandaise sauce poured over eggs benedict
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty Images
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty Images

We all love to order a good eggs benny at Denny’s or IHOP but Chef Anthony Bourdain once warned his readers in Kitchen Confidential that they should avoid hollandaise at all costs. It could even make you sick depending on where you order it and at what point in the day.

“It’s never made to order and sits around all day,” Bourdain writes. Even more unsettling he warns, “Bacteria love hollandaise.” The late chef says this is one of a handful of items that have probably been “festering in the walk-in” for days.

Kobe Beef At Cheesecake Factory? You’re Being Ripped Off

cheesecake factory doesnt serve real kobe beef
Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Images
Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Images

So you want to treat yourself to the best of the best? Sure that Kobe beef burger for $15 at Cheesecake Factory probably sounds great but it’s not the real thing. The company is even careful to call it “American Style Kobe Beef” a former restaurant employee explains.

Kobe beef is only the real deal when it arrives from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan where it’s certified for its unique marbling of fat and other benchmarks. Only nine restaurants currently sell real Kobe beef in the United States.

Stadium Hot Dogs Are An Even Worse Version Of Fast Food

hot dogs at sports stadiums not fresh
Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Several stadium employees posted warnings about ordering hot dogs during a baseball game and other sports stadiums and arenas. Reddit user FreakyCheeseMan explains why they won’t touch this delicious overpriced treat.

“They made it out of the package okay, and might even have been edible after we finished grilling them – and then they went into the water. We kept three pans of water at the back of the grill that held the hot dogs. Any hot dogs left at the end of the day went back into the fridge, and came out again the next day….” Ick.

The Only Fast Food Worse Than In Stadiums Is At Movie Theaters

food from movie theaters is not healthy
Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call
Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call

We don’t want to throw every movie theater into a single category but at least one former employee of the industry warns that ordering food with your movie ticket is risky.

Reddit user YouAteYourParents writes, “… Remember that sticky floor in the aisle of the theater? … Yes, that’s how you get ants… and cockroaches, and everything else. Plus it’s in the dark most of the time. It’s like a bug buffet once the lights go out and the movie starts.” A study by KLTV seems to have verified the former employees claim.

Everything All Tastes The Same For A Reason

fries, coffee, burger, and pie from mcdonalds
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you have fine-tuned tastebuds you might have realized that all the components of a typical fast food meal taste eerily similar. That’s because they’re made to all taste like “fast food.” That means your burger, fries, onion rings, and milkshake are all designed to taste equally sweet, salty, and bitter.

By calibrating the chemicals in the fast food to taste like everything all at once, it tricks our brains into not craving anything else.

They Make It So You Don’t Have To Chew Your Food

person about to take a fry and eat it
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Fast food restaurants deliberately make it so that you can consumer their food, well, fast. Most burgers, fries, and sides require little checking. The point is to make you consume the food before you start feeling full. That faster you eat, the more you have to buy to feel full.

Experts say it takes about 20 minutes for the “hey, stop, I’m full” signal to go from your stomach to the brain. Fast food joints are secretly just trying to get you to eat as much as possible before that 20 minute-mark.

Your Meat Is Being Chemically Cleaned

plate of cheeseburgers that all went through a chemical wash
Alex Edelman/Getty Images
Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Chemicals can be a good thing and a bad thing. When it’s cleaning your toilet at home, they’re great. When you’re trying to eat food, you don’t want chemicals anywhere nearby. You’d be surprised then to find that all fast food burgers go through a chemical wash that includes ammonium hydroxide.

The USDA says the practice is safe, and that it’s only to get rid of other harmful bacteria like e. coli. Still, we’d prefer less chemicals if it’s possible.

Subway Tuna Salad Is Often Expired

two women standing to order at subway restaurant
Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images

Most Subway workers will admit that overall, the restaurant does an excellent job of providing fresh ingredients and clean facilities, but the tuna doesn’t make the cut. The tuna sub is one of the fewest ordered, so the tuna is often expired before they even open the container.

To avoid getting into trouble or wasting ingredients, employees will cover the date label with a new one. One former Subway employee even referred to it as “literal poison in a container.”