- Something that isn’t the restaurant’s specialty
- Raw food
- Fried foods
- Food with heavy cream sauce
- Chicken (sometimes)
- Food you could easily make at home
Eating at a restaurant can be an incredibly fun experience. Whether it’s for a special occasion every once in a while or something you enjoy doing on a regular basis, there is usually something on the menu for everyone. Because of marketing techniques and little-known industry secrets, sometimes being a customer at a restaurant and choosing what to eat can feel like blindly taking a shot in the dark. Can you really trust that what you order will meet your expectations? And if they were in your shoes at the same restaurant, what would a culinary expert order or avoid?
To better understand how chefs ensure they receive a meal they really appreciate when dining out at a restaurant, we consulted a few industry pros to get their take on which menu items they’d dodge. Here are some things that chefs say they would never order while eating out at a restaurant.
Something that isn’t the restaurant’s specialty
According to Jacoby Ponder, an Atlanta-based chef and former finalist on the Food Network’s Chopped, if you’re going to go to a restaurant that’s known for something in particular—like a steakhouse or seafood restaurant—you’ll usually want to stick to ordering something in accordance with what the establishment claims to be their specialty.
“I wouldn’t order something like a burger at a seafood restaurant,” Ponder tells Eat This, Not That! “This could be a problem for many reasons. For example, there are more than likely only one or two fryers in the back, which means everything is likely to be fried in the same oil. I would much rather stick to the main attraction rather than deviate.”
Unless you’re going to a highly-rated sushi bar or another restaurant that is known for it’s raw food, Ponder recommends avoiding the raw choices.
“I would never order raw or undercooked food at a restaurant that was not known to have a raw bar of some sort,” he explains. “If you do choose to proceed, please do so with caution—because many establishments will promote any style of service to get your business. I would much prefer a restaurant that is known for their raw food or raw bar.”
For most people, there isn’t often much room left for dessert after a delicious meal out on the town. But if you do happen to have some room left in your stomach, Ponder’s recommendation is to skip the dessert menu and instead head to a place that specializes in the dessert you’re craving.
“I usually wouldn’t order dessert from most restaurants,” says Ponder. “I’d much rather leave and go to a bakery or ice cream parlor for a unique type of dessert rather than eat one that would be on the menu all season long.”
According to Raymond Neil, professional chef and expert consultant for TD Kitchen, avoiding most fried food at a restaurant can help you stay on track with some of your health goals.
“First on my list of things to steer clear from is anything that is fried,” says Neil. “Fried foods like french fries, chicken, fish, or onion rings are generally unhealthier than other food options and higher in calories. They can also be greasy and heavy, leaving you feeling sluggish after your meal.”
Food with heavy cream sauce
Another order that Neil would recommend staying away from at restaurants whenever you can is anything based in a cream or white sauce, such as an Alfredo pasta, chowders, or cheese-based soups.
“I avoid ordering anything that is smothered in cheese or heavy cream sauces because these dishes are usually very high in calories and fat,” Neil advises.
This one is a little complicated because it really depends on how much you trust the restaurant you visit—but it may be a good idea to skip over the chicken dishes.
“Chicken is delicious, nutritious, and a healthy protein source. But it is very easy to overcook or undercook,” Neil claims. “When it is undercooked, it is easier for people to become sick.”
If you don’t want to run that risk of ending up with a sub-par or even potentially dangerous order of chicken, you can try opting for a vegetable-based dish or an alternative protein instead.
Food you could easily make at home
Though a totally subjective suggestion, some chefs believe that if you’re going to spend money on something at a restaurant, you may want to make sure it’s special enough that it can’t easily be replicated at home.
“Finally, I never order anything that I can make at home,” says Neil. “I want to go out to eat to enjoy something special that I can’t get at home, and if I can make it myself, it’s not worth spending the money on in my eyes.”
Whether their reasoning to reject certain meal is based on the food’s nutritional content or they question the common practices used in a given restaurant kitchen, the reasons why chefs avoid certain dishes may run the gamut. May their wisdom help guide you to better choices for yourself.