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issues of restaurants reusing used food

ok so i really just want to know if this is common practice.

this past weekend i went with a large group to a italian family-styled restaurant outside new york city. we've been there a bunch before and even though the food is so so, it's always a good time at least.

anyway, we get through the meal and then they bring out two large pastries for dessert, looked basically like a large pastry dough mound with frosting on it. i didnt eat it. anyway, one of the group decides he's bored and sticks his fingers in the cake and makes 4 finger holes, one on each side of the cake. say what you will about that, but that's not the issue here.

we leave the table and go outside when my fiance realizes she left her sweater behind. i go back in to get it and i see that they have replated the cake with the fingers holes and are serving it to another table. maybe because there were four of the holes they thought that's how the cake was but GROSS who reuses food like that.

so, does this happen? do restaurants reuse the uneaten bread in bread baskets, unconsumed amuse bouches, etc and should i be concerned or is it just this one restaurant that i know i won't be returning to.

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  1. I think you need to get yourself a copy of Kitchen Confidential!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Pablo

      Yup. And as Bourdain wrote in his book, the recycled bread basket is extremely common in restaurants.

      1. re: gloriousfood

        ha, yeah i actually did read that and had forgotten that part. i guess i had never seen such a blatant reusing of food like that before, especially with finger holes!

        1. re: gloriousfood

          Think twice next time before you order that bread pudding!

        2. re: Pablo

          Reused bread? Absolutely!

          I am not totally condoning this practice but peoples eyes truley are bigger than there bellys. You wounldn't believe how much bread would be wasted if this wasn't common practice.

          Now cake with finger holes that is another story. A little grosser I think and the place clearly dosen't know what there own food is supposed to look like.


          1. re: j2brady

            It's all gross--just because the bread hasn't obviously been handled doesn't mean the previous customer didn't paw it, lick it, or sneeze all over it.

            1. re: slynnkiino

              True...but it wasn't prepared in a lab either...that is to say a totally sterile environment.


        3. When I worked in a restaurant, I was reprimanded a few times for trying to throw out bread that had been tabled.

          1. Abslutely disgusting and they should all be turned into the health department or the names of the offending restaurant listed here.

            The part of the book (KC) I quote most often is the vinegrettes at the Sunday Buffet. Never ate them before reading the book, now i chuckle to myself when I think of others eating this stuff. Ouch!!

            1. i've known of vietnamese restaurants in my area salvaging unused food from the tables...mainly bean sprouts and the other fixings for pho.
              A friend would always request that her's be steamed first...to kill off germs and ensure that her portion wouldn't be reused.

              1. Anthony Bourdain is one chef and there isn't much that is universal from restaurant to restaurant. As a former chef that has been in the business nearly twenty years I've worked at only one restaurant that recycled bread. All the others tossed and I've never seen anything else recycled to guest recycled to staff is another story. I've worked at mostly high end restaurants though.

                1. Chinese restaurants rinse and reuse old rice to make Fried Rice. It's very common so I don't order it.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: vivien

                    The best fried rice is made from previously cooked rice. However, none of the the Chinese restaurant I have worked with have ever re-used used rice from a customer table. Nor have any of the the other restaurants I have worked at ever re-used bread or any other food that had been at a customer table.

                    1. re: rcheng

                      Glad to hear it, however, I've heard first-hand accounts of workers who were ordered to rinse out used rice to be reused at Chinese restaurants.

                  2. You all will think I'm nuts but this bread thing just doesn't bother me. I know that it should and one would think that it would, but it doesn't. And yes, I eat the bread.

                    1. it has been 11 years since I worked in the rest. biz. I worked at the most upscale to the most down home places over several years. Be they chain or privately owned, I NEVER saw recycling...unless there were hungry and/or stoned waiters in the equation, then that is a whole other story!

                      1. I used to work at a very high-end restaurant and was continually shocked by the unsanitary happenings. For example, the used butter from tables was routinely collected, molded, and recut to be used again. This is not untouched bread, folks.

                        Years before, worked at a popular breakfast establishment in Northern California. Actually saw the chef once drop a sandwich on the greasy, filthy mat on the floor and without missing a beat, picked it up and put it on a plate to be served to a customer. Of course, I refused to take it out and had him remake it.

                        Like it or not, while I'm sure there are exceptions, most restaurant owners are extremely cost conscious and sometimes make questionable decisions in order to save a buck. Anthony Bourdain tells it like it is.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Suebee

                          I too worked at a prestigious place that collected butter from tables, but we used it in the back for sauteing. Grossgrossgross.

                          I was totally horrified when I first saw what they were doing and made it clear I disagreed with the practice--but given that I was only one step up from the dishpit at the time, I really didn't have any influence on the matter.

                          Sadly, I've also seen food dropped on the floor: a pre-pan steak dropped and rinsed off, baguettes dropped on the floor, but the worst was when one chef/owner was plating some rosti potatoes, dropped them on the floor, then scooped them back up onto the plate because the order was going out late... blech!

                        2. oh dont get me wrong. I was talking about recycling food, not things dropped on floor..or things that happen to items returned to kitchen for correction-there is more acting out with cooks than waiters-and relax it is not common, and less likely if you are not a jerk about it. I have seen bartenders do some really unwholesome and unseemly things to drinks of people behaving like d-bags.

                          1. Don't like recycled butter... don't order the eggs benedict w/ hollandaise sauce, or steak w/ bernaise, or the sole w/ lemon beurre blanc.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rumgum

                              Recylced butter doesn't bother me; it's cooked and taking something that's left over (not necessarily eaten from or spolied) and using it to cook something else is not so bad. It's when the chips/salsa/ketchup/bread gets taken straight off one table, mixed together, and then put on another. That's what bothers me!


                            2. sampler plates are the worst... so i never order those... think about what they are made of, bits and pieces of all their other appetizers

                              scrambled eggs are usually broken over easy or sunny side up eggs that collect in a large plastic container

                              what you don't know can't hurt you...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mabziegurl

                                In the restaurant I worked in...in the kitchen as a prep person...we did not ever recycle food...ever! It was a great place to work. Everything was made fresh daily (still is).

                                My DH and I ate breakfast one morning at a diner. We watched in horror as a woman allowed her child to put all of those plastic creamer things in her mouth and then deposit them back into the dish they were sitting in. The woman also held the little girl and "cut her nails" by biting them off and then spitting them out. We were so grossed out! I never, ever, ever use creamers or table cream any more...I always ask for a small glass of milk for my coffee...and I bring my own splenda.

                              2. Not quite a restaurant, but my DH worked in the cafe of a bookstore chain where they served lavish cheesecakes and other baked goods. (Under glass, so not pawed constantly by customers.) He was required, on pain of termination, to throw these out each day. They were really expensive and delicious, and he thought it was such a horrible waste -- forget sending it home to employees, it could have done a lot of good at a local food pantry/soup kitchen. But it was company policy. *sigh*

                                1. I'm eating at home, tonight. This is one reason why grills and diners -- where you see the food prepared -- are such a good idea.

                                  1. Yes to all, and thank god for Bourdain! I make a point of ruining foods I don't eat for the sole purpose of preventing their future use! If everyone would do the same, then there would be nothing to "recycle."


                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                      Intrested in knowing how you "ruin" food.

                                      1. re: bryan

                                        Well, for example, I'll tear up the unused bread so that it can't be re-used AS BREAD for another table. Now, it could be used as breadcrumbs, or bread pudding . . . but not if you soak it in water and ranch dressing it can't.


                                          1. re: TexasToast

                                            "soak it in water and ranch dressing it can't. "... we would have to use the left over bread for croutons. Little wet and ranchy or torn up didn't make much of a difference once they were in the oven! Now the cigarette butts...

                                            1. re: Pablo

                                              Not when I'm done with it you can't! Let's just say I know enough to be dangerous.


                                            2. re: TexasToast

                                              I was at MARKET CITY CAFFE in Brea for lunch yesterday, they served 1 & 1/2 breadsticks. 1 & 1/2!!! And it was hard...I hit the table with it and it stayed intact, not bending or breaking. I broke those breadsticks into little pieces and asked for something fresher....

                                            3. re: bryan

                                              Oh, 30+ years ago my Dad thought he saw them pouring back coffee from one of those large thermal carafes they leave on your table at a breakfast place. He poured the whole salt shaker into the leftovers of the carafe.....

                                          2. Yep, that's the spirit, OCAnn and Cathy! Just remind yourself that everything you leave intact is one more thing that could be served to you!


                                            1. This thread reminds me of a presumably computer-generated ad that appeared one time in Froogle's ad section when I was searching for Anson Mills polenta:

                                              "Buy new and used polenta on eBay!"

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Heehee! Those content-generated ads do give me a giggle now and then!