Restaurant Food Isn’t Inherently Bad
Not all restaurants serve heartburn and acidity for lunch.
After poring into the “homemade food is healthy” myth in this article, it occurred to me that there’s a misunderstanding with the opposite as well. That “all restaurant food is inherently bad”.
Like I stated in that previous article, there’s this huge misunderstanding that all restaurant food is unhealthy, and that one must categorically keep away from all outside food if one intends to stay fit and vibrant for life. Regardless of how impractical that suggestion sounds, and how unsustainable such an undertaking would be in the long run, it makes no sense to paint all restaurant food as unhealthy and all home food as healthy. It isn’t all black and white, and there exists various shades in between. We can walk the middle ground, neither leaning too much to the left, nor to the right.
So it behoves me to write an article that speaks about just the topic.
Many of you might have come across a ton of restaurants in your life.
There’s the health food restaurants, the unhealthy junk food joints, and the ones in the middle that serve a bit of both. Most of us strictly adhere to our own standards for the kind of places we’d like to dine in, and are usually turned off when we find ourselves in a place not of our liking. This usually happens when we’re amongst a group of people, be it friends, colleagues, or even a bunch of travellers on holiday, and have minimal voting rights over where to dine at.
There’s very few people on the planet who’ll happily walk into any place you take them to, sit down and dine like it’s their favourite food in the world. Most of us are set in our ways, and are rigid (or even stubborn) with our food habits. We’d rather skip a meal than eat something we’re not accustomed to, no matter how healthy or unhealthy it is. To cater to this vast, expansive, growing set of well travelled diners, restaurants have had to diversify and greatly alter their offerings over the years, discarding their old menu cards in the dumpster and getting back to the drawing board all over again.
Gone are the days when servers would act finicky and laugh in your face if you requested a special preparation or listed out your allergies. Nowadays, restaurant managers proactively ask you about your food allergies or preferences before you can even start listing them out.
They ensure to inform the customer right at the outset whether they can accommodate such requests or not, thereby greatly avoiding arguments, misunderstandings, or disappointments on either side. They’re cognizant of the fact that their customer base is no longer homogenous, and that the world is a constantly changing place, with people of all ages coming from diverse backgrounds with distinct tastes and vastly different culinary expectations.
Suffice it to say that hotel and restaurant managers have a lot to juggle on their hands today, and managing all these responsibilities with minimal slip-ups is no easy task. Standards have vastly improved over the years. The industry has had a lot of time to create SOP’s, weed out the bad cakes, and refine their processes to become as quick and efficient as possible. It was always about “survival of the fittest”, even before the pandemic.
With the advent of review websites and delivery apps, customers have a lot more say in the way restaurants operate, and can make or break their reputation quite literally overnight.
Things have changed significantly over the past couple of years, and with all these welcome changes that have transpired during this time, customers too should be ready to let go of all the old myths surrounding restaurants, that were once dinner time gossip.
So without any further ado, let’s get into it.
- Restaurant food is unhealthy and unhygienic.
- You can’t eat out too often without falling sick.
- You should stay away from restaurant food when you’re sick.
- Some restaurants serve unhygienic and unhealthy food.
- Some restaurants follow unsafe cooking practices.
- Some restaurants cut corners with hygiene and cleanliness, and don’t adhere to safety regulations.
It isn’t a black and white world when it comes to restaurants, and just because there are a few bad apples out there, we should be careful not to dismiss the entire orchard.
Refraining from dining at restaurants when you’re sick won’t make a sliver of a difference if you’re cooking the very same unhealthy stuff at home. What would make the difference, however, is the quality of ingredients, the kind of utensils, the health level of your dishes, the cleanliness of your kitchen, how you store your produce, and how serious you take personal hygiene.
Things that have far-reaching consequences, like food poisoning or acidity, can usually be prevented by following small healthy habits that will go a long way in making your restaurant or home kitchen one of the safest places to dine at. Once hygiene and cleanliness protocols have been established, nothing much can come in the way of serving clean, hygienic, healthy, and quality food to your customers or guests at home.
But first, let’s look at the scenarios where restaurant food can be unsafe and unhealthy.
Restaurant food is inherently bad when:
- The restaurant uses substandard or even reject produce to prepare their food.
- They do not follow safe storage or safe food handling practices, where food or equipment is kept out in the open, easily accessible to pests and rodents.
- They don’t clean their kitchen premises or equipment often. The entire ceiling’s black from chimney smoke, and there’s food waste littered all over the place. Rats and cockroaches call the place home when it closes for the night.
- They use inferior quality oil, salt, or other adulterated condiments in the preparation of their food, and might even re-use the same oil to make multiple dishes.
- They don’t have designated utensils for each class of dish, and there is always contamination from other foods going on. Not only that, but they also use the same utensils for different procedures, which are deemed safe to use again with barely a rinse or two.
- Their chefs and cooks do not follow personal hygiene. They don’t wear chef hats or aprons while cooking. They don’t wash their hands very often, and they don’t……ummm should I even elaborate further and make you gag? You get the gist.
- There’s no CCTV cameras in the kitchen or back alley areas where management can keep a close watch on staff and their activities.
- They undercook or overcook food to beat Turn Around Times and keep up with continuous orders, thereby endangering the health of their customers.
- They serve customers the previous day’s food, or food that was cooked earlier in the morning by just heating it up and throwing in some extra seasoning.
In a nutshell, they cut corners. This could mean anything from choosing lower quality ingredients, following unsafe cooking practices, bribing health department inspectors to obtain a health certificate, using expired ingredients, and using artificial methods to prolong the shelf life of produce nearing their expiry date. And basically, an infinite number of permutations and combinations of all the above, plus much more.
So, would it be terrible to eat from restaurants that indulge in such abhorrent practices frequently? You bet your bottom dollar it would. You wouldn’t want your loved ones, or your relatives, within breathing distance of such places.
It would be foolish to dine from such restaurants even once, forget going back again. But are there safe, hygienic, and healthy restaurants out there that serve quality food to people without compromising on health, taste, and hygiene, without burning a hole in their pockets? Absolutely!
This is where restaurant food is not bad:
- When it is a health food restaurant. When they list out the allergens of each food item on the menu and whether the dish can be cooked leaving out certain ingredients.
- When they serve primarily vegetarian, organic, or plant-based meals.
- Their chef or manager asks you about your preferences beforehand.
- The food is prepared with minimum oil, and contains the right amount of salt and seasoning. The food is light and nutritious, making you feel full and satisfied, instead of heavy and bloated.
- They serve only whole foods, that is, no processed ingredients. No refined wheat flour. No refined sugar. No processed sauces. Nothing with a shelf-life, basically, with everything made in-house.
- They purchase only the best quality produce from the market. Or, they directly source their ingredients from farmers.
- They do not cut corners with health and safety. They adhere to the stringent health and safety regulations set by the municipality. All produce is tightly sealed and kept locked away from pests and rodents. The kitchens are scrubbed clean every other day, and a safety audit is conducted every month.
- They serve slow-cooked food where most of the taste comes from the primary ingredient in the dish, as opposed to fast food where flavour is mainly derived from external sources like spices, seasoning, and condiments.
Whether it’s your neighbourhood salad joint, or a burger place down the road, it’s always up to you to do your own due diligence with the kind of restaurant you’re comfortable to dine at. I’ve been going to the falafel joint near my house for ages and nothing's ever happened to me. I’ve seen how their chefs handle their food, and they have an open kitchen policy on site. Not only that, but I even know the owner personally now.
When it comes to restaurants, it’s not just about health and safety but also about trust and forming that long term relationship with the place, where the staff or management knows you personally, and you can confidently dine there with a blindfold to your eyes. When that personal connection is made, owners and managers are much more inclined to stick to their ideals and not cut corners as they now have a personal connection with their regular patrons.
It isn’t about rules and regulations all the time. Sometimes, it’s just about simple human connection.