The fast food universe is an interesting one. Every day, millions of customers walk into outposts of fast food chains all across the globe, place their order, and walk away with exact copies of the same dish folks are eating at (almost) every other location, all of which are assembled in the blink of an eye. But it's a lot more difficult than it looks to maintain that level of consistency across the board, and there are some tricks (and some other secrets) involved in the process that fast food restaurants would probably prefer you didn't know about.
When you place your fast food order, a whole lot of interesting things happen behind the scenes that you don't see. While you can always catch a glimpse of the fries being scooped (that's within view for a reason), everything else back there looks like a high-tech jumble, though it's actually very organized. Every component of every dish has its own place, in a specific location to make it as easy as possible to locate and use. At most fast food locations, hot items like burger patties and chicken nuggets are made in advance and kept warm in a heating tray for a set amount of time; after that they need to be thrown away (or repurposed, which we'll get to later).
In short, working at a fast food restaurant is completely different from working at any other type of restaurant. There's no garde manger to prepare the appetizers, no saucier in the back mixing up the béchamel. A fast-food restaurant functions like a well-oiled machine, with a system that's easily scalable and replicable across the board.
In order to maintain what is actually a pretty high level of quality while also keeping costs down, fast food chains need to implement some procedures that are less than savory, but recently a handful of former employees took to Reddit to give us a glimpse behind the scenes. So read on for some of their most shocking confessions, as well as a handful of other menu hacks, tips, and tricks that fast food chains would probably prefer you didn't know about. Flickr/ Young Rok Chang
Soda Machines Aren't Easy to Clean
Take a peek up into the ice dispenser before you next use a soda machine. There's a chance you might see mold up there, because they're nearly impossible to clean. iStockPhoto
McCafe Machines Aren't Easy to Clean, Either
We're not going to get into the messy details, but if you believe what people post on Reddit, those McCafe machines at McDonald's are also quite difficult to clean, so they tend not to be thoroughly sanitized very often. iStockPhoto
Don't Ask for Lemons or Limes
In any bar or restaurant, the lemons used in drinks are usually the most unsanitary food item around (and are occasionally the culprit behind a bout of food poisoning). The reason? They're usually not washed, are handled by several people, and spend a lot of time sitting around out in the open. iStockphoto/ Thinkstock
Chicken Nuggets Do a Lot of Waiting Around
At McDonald's, McNuggets sit in a warming tray all day, waiting for someone to order them. They're supposed to be thrown away after a set amount of time, but usually, according to some former employees, at least, the timer is just reset. iStockPhoto
Wendy's Chili Meat is Repurposed Burger
It would admittedly be a bit of a waste to throw out all the hamburgers that sit on the grill too long to serve to customers, so at Wendy's they're placed inside a bin in the refrigerator, then repurposed by being boiled, chopped up, and put into the chili. It may sound odd, but it's actually pretty smart. Photo Modified: Flickr/ Yoppy/ CC4.0
There's a Way to Get Two Big Macs for the Price of One
Well, almost. The McDouble is basically identical to a Big Mac, except for the fact that it's a little bit smaller, and it has mustard and ketchup instead of lettuce and Mac sauce. So order two McDoubles (which are usually just a couple bucks) with those substitutions, and you'll get two for less than the price of a Big Mac. iStockPhoto
Those Grill Marks Aren't Real
Unfortunately, most fast food chains don't have a grill with open flames, so are unable to get those signature perfect grill marks that everyone likes on all the patties and grilled chicken. They're usually added before they even get to the restaurant, and are usually just artificial coloring. Photo Modified: Flickr/ Dan McKay/ CC4.0
If You Want Something Cooked Fresh, Just Ask
You may need to wait a little bit longer for your meal, but in most cases they'll make your item fresh to order if you ask. There's a well-known McDonald's "hack" about getting fresh fries by asking for them without salt, but this actually really annoys the employees, and the fries at McDonald's are generally quite fresh anyway.
Photo Modified: Flickr/ Walter Lim/ CCBY-SA 4.0
Those Salads Aren't Exactly Healthy
Think that salad topped with cheese, Ranch dressing, and fried chicken is healthier for you than a burger? Guess again. Some fast food salads contain more than 700 calories!
Nobody Really Knows Where the "Subway Smell" Comes From
All Subways smell the same. Apparently, this is because all Subways use the same bread, but beyond that it's still a bit of a mystery. Bread is sent to all franchises frozen and the shops thaw them out before baking them behind the counter. It is hinted that the caramelization of the sugars in the bread has something to do with the distinct smell, but it's still a mystery what makes this particular bread smell so unique.
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