Eating Out? Here’s What You Should Know (From a Hospitality Pro)

a hospitality insider's tips for eating out

I’m pleased to welcome Jamie as the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s first guest poster!

I’ve read that people who work in trendy retail stores for too long, compulsively folding and re-folding shirts and jeans, continue to fold clothes the same way even years later. Some of them even get disconcerted or upset when spouses or children fold things “wrong” and feel compelled to refold stacks of laundry into the same neat piles they were conditioned to make for so long.

Similarly, the habits of commercial food service wear grooves into one’s brain that do not lightly fade even long after one has left the field. I can tell you almost instantly who has spent any length of time in the food world, just by watching them for a few minutes. I bite my tongue hard and often to keep from correcting or disillusioning people when it comes to food, but sometimes the Hospitality Manager in me revolts and I do it anyway.

Here are a few words of wisdom and interesting facts I picked up along way.

1.  Bring your good manners when you go out.

Self-explanatory, but sadly uncommon.

2.  Money talks.

You can fuss and complain every day about the things you don’t like whether its unhealthy menu options, dirty bathrooms or the discontinuation of your favorite flavor bagel. As long as you keep spending money there, restaurants will smile, nod and keep doing exactly the same thing all the way to the bank. If you want to get your point across, go spend your money somewhere that’s doing things right – you’ll get your point across to everyone a lot faster and probably be happier besides!

3.  Allergies are a HUGE deal.

Food allergies of all kinds are on the rise. If you have a food allergy of any kind, please tell your waiter or cashier – even if you think you’re ordering something that should inherently be free of the item you’re allergic too! Knives, counters, slicers, gloves – there are dozens of potential cross- contamination points you may never see. Similarly, when you hear that your favorite bread can’t be sliced on a given slicer or the peanut butter brownies were discontinued because they were too big an allergy risk, give the company a break. They want to sell what you want to buy, but sometimes there just isn’t any way to safely do so.

4.  The internet is your friend.

Email is the secret weapon of every consumer. In almost all companies, any emails get copied up the chain of command, garnering wider attention and creating a trail of documentation that ensures your concern will be followed up on. Phone calls are much more likely to be lost, mishandled or brushed off.

5.  Don’t buy the marketing hype.

Terms like “all natural” and “reduced fat” are unregulated terms. Other terms, like “trans-fat free”, have sneaky definitions allowing them to be pasted on products that come in under a certain percentage. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for the ingredient list or nutrition facts to find out what you’re actually eating. Also, keep in mind that the two ingredients food service companies like best are air and water – because they’re free! The festive new drink at your local café might be a frothy sensation or a brain- freezingly wonderful berry slushy, but it tends to become a bit less appetizing when you realize you’re paying a premium for a product that’s mostly air or ice…

6.  Coffee, tea and soda cost literally pennies.

Next time you spend five bucks on a soda at the movies, consider the fact that the portion of syrup used to make it cost the establishment less than a quarter. Ditto for most four-dollar coffees (unless you’re buying Fair Trade).

7.  The American food supply is not as safe as you think it is.

I confess that this particular subject is my passion, but I’ll spare you my sermons and give you the short version: America’s food supply is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The massive recalls you see in the papers are only the tip of the iceberg. Trust me – I may sound like a fanatic, but I’m a nationally certified food safety trainer. I’m not making up the stats or over-inflating the consequences. The FDA, USDA, CDC and their alphabet-soup of companion agencies cannot and are not keeping you safe! Individuals need to educate themselves and take responsibility to make good decisions for themselves and their families. (No idea where to start? Here’s my suggested reading list.)

Hopefully a few of these turn out to be things that help you. After all – the world of food revolves around the whims of consumers who know how to navigate the system!

Jamie is a former hospitality manager turned happy housewife. Passionate about food, good books and the art of homemaking, she spends her days trying to keep up with her handsome Air Force husband and one spoiled border collie.

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