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Do ticked-off waiters get even by spitting on your food? What does it really take to get your kid in private school? From hairdressers to security guards, insiders tell us some of their . . . : Tricks of the Trade

April 11, 1993|These stories were written by Times staff writers Paul Dean, Bettijane Levine, Michael Quintanilla and Pamela Warrick, and free-lance writer Bill Higgins

T he transactions of daily life can be tough even when you know the score. But everyone's had the sneaking suspicion that, somewhere along the way, things are not what they seem: the club bouncer who lets everyone in but you, the bartender who says it's a gin and tonic, but you taste very little gin.

Times staff writers conducted an informal survey of people who make their living serving others. While most say their colleagues are on the straight and narrow, they still see enough to dish some dirty little secrets.

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What's your worst fear about dining out?

Cleanliness, right? You're worried that the food or the kitchen or the chef and servers may not be as immaculate as you--and the Board of Health--would like.

Do you also worry that if you're not charming enough, the person who serves you may do something unspeakably nasty to your food--something even Howard Stern would hesitate to verbalize?

Relax. An informal canvass of local waiters and waitresses reveals that they would rather be sauteed in sizzling oil than commit an indiscretion with a patron's food.

"Oh, sure, I've seen the occasional cockroach and heard terrible tales of what happens to food in other restaurants," says a graduate student who has waited tables for the last three years. "But I've seen nothing bad anywhere I've worked; I would have reported the person immediately. And I'd quit the job if appropriate action wasn't taken."

Margo, who's worked in what she calls "casual dining places" in Los Angeles since her high school graduation 10 years ago, says she's heard all the nasty restaurant rumors too.

"But the worst I've personally seen is when a server eats some food from the plate before bringing it out to the customer.

"Once or twice I've worked in places where, if a chicken finger or a burger dropped on the floor, they'd pick it up, throw it in the fire for a few seconds, and put it back on the customer's plate.

"And yeah, it's true that if a customer is especially obnoxious and the server is very immature, you may occasionally get a case where something nasty happens--like spitting on the food." But that doesn't happen often, she says, because restaurant workers, by and large, take a great deal of pride in their jobs and don't vent their frustrations on the food.

"The most gross thing I see, and it's pretty frequent, is that the girls use the restroom and do not wash their hands." (Margo says dishonesty and tampering are more often directed at management than at the customer: "One scam in busy places is to pocket the cash from the table and claim the customer ducked out without paying.")

Marco, 36, a waiter in a Beverly Hills eatery for the last five years, says: "When food goes back to the kitchen from the table, it gets immediately thrown away--even if it's untouched by the person who ordered it and even if someone else is waiting for that exact same thing. We would never stoop so low as to serve food twice--not even carrot sticks or bread and butter.

"Let's face it, we charge $10 for an individual pizza, which costs us about 40 cents to make. So there's no need to scrimp and save and do dishonest things if the customer sends it back. We just throw it away."

Adam Rock, environmental health services manager with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, says that although many consumers may fear their food is mishandled, his department gets relatively few complaints on that score. "The most complaints we get are about unsanitary conditions, cockroach or rodent sightings, dirty rags used to wipe the counters and poorly maintained restrooms," he says.

Marco believes diners "should stop worrying so much and start behaving better to their servers and chefs.

"What really bugs us," he explains, "is people who claim to be allergic and really aren't. We recently had a client who said that from her appetizer to her pasta to her entire meal, she must have no dairy products. . . . It drove the chef mad--but he prepared what she wanted in a very special way. After all that, I ask what she wants for dessert and she says tiramisu (lady fingers). I say, 'You can't eat that. It's totally dairy products.' She looks at me and says, 'That's all right; I'm going to splurge.' "

Marco, only half-laughing, says both he and the chef "wanted to kill her. But even in a case like that, we would not consider doing it through the food."

In the Mix: Good Stuff, Cheap Stuff, No Stuff

Skoal! Salud! And don't take your eyes off the bartender.

Especially if you're swigging mixed drinks, such as Scotch and soda.

One of the best ways for pub owners to cut costs, says our bar-tending informer, is to top mix the drinks: "First put the soda in the glass; then, pour a less-than-usual amount of whiskey on top. Serve the drink without a mixing stick."

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