Nov. 15, 2012 -- intro: Have you ever gone out to dinner and wondered how long that bread basket has been on the table or why your waiter has been MIA? A former waitress spills the beans about some restaurants' dirty little secrets, and a few might surprise you.
Debra Ginsberg was a waitress for 20 years before compiling her cringe-worthy restaurant serving experiences into a memoir called "Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress." From the grimiest diners to an exclusive five-star dining club, Ginsberg has worked at them all and said she has seen several horrors in the kitchen, from food picked up off the floor to waiters canoodling during their shifts.
Ginsberg shared 10 of the shocking (and in some cases, gross) restaurant secrets she witnessed over the years.
quicklist: title: Consider avoiding the bread basket. text: "I think it's an almost universally acknowledged fact of restaurant dining that bread and butter tends to circulate, shall we say, from table to table," Ginsberg said. "If it doesn't get eaten, it goes back the kitchen and then it comes back out again, and it goes to another table."
quicklist: title: If your waiter disappears for a while, he may not be handling another customer, but another employee. text: Ginsberg said romance in the kitchen is a common occurrence. "I have walked in on trysts happening in various pantries and walk-ins in various kitchens. And this happens on food, it happens near food, it happens around food."
quicklist: title: Do restaurant employees really wash their hands? text: Ever wonder if the wait staff and cooks really abide by those "must wash hands" signs? According to Ginsberg, not necessarily.
"It's a sad fact," she said. "I think it happens fairly often that cooks, or other people work with food, go directly from the bathroom back to the kitchen without washing their hands."
quicklist: title: Order your martini, sans olives. text: Ginsberg said you may want to think twice before eating the olives out of your martini.
"The garnish is nasty," she said. "They are often dusty and so old. Just don't eat it. Especially not the bar garnishes that everyone's been coughing on and sticking their hands in."
quicklist: title: Don't order your steak well done. text: If you happen to like your red meat well done, some experts say don't expect to get the best cuts. Chefs often save the less desirable pieces of meat for diners who want all the red cooked out.
quicklist: title: Pass on the seafood pasta dish. text: If a pasta special includes fish, Ginsberg said it might be best to order something else.
"In my experience, fresh seafood pasta is kind of an oxymoron," she said. "This fresh fish pasta is usually fish that's been around a while and then gets stuffed into ravioli."
quicklist: title: Don't anger the chef text: No kitchen likes to have food sent back but when a customer insists, it often puts the server in a difficult spot with the chef. And an angry chef is never a good thing.
"I never worked with a chef who didn't first give an argument about how the customer was completely wrong and the dish was right," Ginsberg said. "If he's having a bad night and you've annoyed him, you're going to be waiting for that dish."
quicklist: title: Perhaps skip the after-dinner coffee. text: Thinking about ordering coffee at the end of your late dinner? We hope you don't mind what you get, Ginsberg said.
"The thing about coffee is that, it might be decaf, but it might not be decaf," she said. "You know, if you really can't have caffeine, just don't get coffee."
quicklist: title: If you want to take your leftovers to go, ask your server to bring you a box and pack it up yourself. text: "Some of the worse things I've seen are leftovers that have fallen onto the floor mat in the kitchen, and then the bus boy's kind of scooping those leftovers into the to-go container," she said.
quicklist: title: Avoid going out for Mother's Day or Valentine's Day text: Ginsberg said holidays like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day are widely referred to as "amateur night" by those in the restaurant industry because of the large numbers of people who come out to eat. She said don't expect to get the most outstanding service on any of these nights as the wait staff is typically stretched to the limit.
So what is the best time to go out to eat?
"The best time to go to a restaurant, for the best experience and the freshest food and the most interesting menus is midweek, because that's when they think the serious diners are going out," Ginsberg said.