Food & Drink

We asked chefs and waiters how their restaurants could one day kill you

Restaurants are the lifeblood of communities, but most patrons don’t realize how close to death (or at least, a lot of bloodshed) they come when eating in one. To perfectly season your next meal with crippling paranoia, we asked past and current restaurant employees, managers, and owners to name the most likely/plausible ways a restaurant will someday kill you, no matter whether you’re dining in one or working in it. Do your neighborly thing in the comments to warn everyone about your life-threatening restaurant experiences.

Your waiter is probably soused

If you’re one of the estimated 15 million Americans with food allergies, a loaded waiter is all it takes to put you in the ground -- and if there’s one thing that restaurant folks like more than tips, it’s substances.

“You don't realize it, but on any given night, your server is likely well on his/her way to [overserving themselves],” explains Carrie, 25, a one-time Long Island waitress. “After 8pm, it was almost impossible to walk past our kitchen without being forced to do a shot with another waiter/bartender/chef.”

Edgar, now 29, worked in an Austin pizza place with a manager who sold [somewhat illegal drugs] out the back, and Matt, 30, routinely smoked [said somewhat illegal drugs] on delivery runs for his Ann Arbor parlor. Matt's line cook regularly blew Oxycontin, so “needless to say, he was prone to erratic behavior”, which just might include accidentally using a peanut oil-tainted knife on your peanut-free meal. No bueno. Continue Reading

On the other side of the counter, waitstaff may meet their demise at the hands of unruly customers. Server/redditor joskypay was threatened at knife-point by a customer over the specifics of an all-you-can-eat deal, while a Joe’s Crab Shack employee in Gary, Indiana, was slain for her tip money just a few years ago. Joe, 26, saw a “knife-wielding dude [get] shot by the cops just outside” the cupcake shop he worked in. IS NOTHING SACRED?!

Poisonous foods

Poisonous mushrooms (a.k.a. “toadstools” or “death caps”) are probably the most widely-known deadly delicacy, but there’s also nutmeg, a mere 10mgs of which can induce the terrifying sounding “nutmeg psychosis” responsible for at least two recorded deaths.

And don’t sleep on fugu. This Japanese pufferfish is reportedly delicious as sashimi -- nice! -- but also lethal if incorrectly prepared -- significantly less nice!

Fires

Restaurant kitchens are essentially contained infernos, but as many as 5,900 US restaurants each year suffer fire damage, 9% of which erupt via your deep-fried grilled-cheese burger. Mike says that though “regulations mandate regular inspections of suppression systems”, fire departments often get lax -- especially in the case of extinguishers. If the place forgets to refill ‘em, and the marshal hasn’t been by in a while… well, “you better hope that you aren’t the unlucky [victim of that] lag time and an errant candle falling on the carpet.”

Innocuous restaurant flare-ups actually happen, by the way. In her San Francisco restaurant, Jenny, 31, recounts that “a decorative candle was placed in such a way that when this lady threw her head back laughing, her hair caught on fire.” Jenny got that blaze under control, but in the absence of a working extinguisher and quick-thinking staff, the burn wounds could’ve been fatal.

Asphyxiation!

Approximately 2,500 people will choke to death in the US this year, and you’d better believe some of those incidents happens in restaurants. By the way, if you see someone choking: the Heimlich is no longer the maneuver, according to semi-new Red Cross literature.

(And for the love of all things holy, if a server busts loose a fishbone from your trachea, leave him/her a goddamned tip.)

When not even the cooks understand your allergy

Even non-self-medicated chefs can turn your cocina into a kibash. “Everybody knows about the danger of dining with severe allergies as it pertains to your server,” muses a 33-year-old Manhattan restaurateur we’ll call Mike even though that's not his name. “But what about the guy or gal who’s actually making your food?"

“Take gluten, for instance. Some soy sauces employ natural fermentation as a means for manufacturing their product, others use chemical hydrolysis. Depending on the method, the glaze on your grilled filet of fish may or may not have lethal consequences for consumption. Does the line cook working tonight know the difference?”

Slip & fall

“Most restaurant floors are super slippery when wet, and they’re often wet,” warns Matt. If you’ve just downed your fourth Long Islarita, and they’re mopping the floors because you’re the only person left at the joint a) that’s pretty sad, man, and b) you may be headed for a life-ending gaffe.

Double-trouble if there’re stairs around: at that same cupcake/murder shop from before, Joe says that a blind swinging door “could send someone flying down a set of super-steep stairs that were always coated in discarded frosting.”

Talk about death’s sweet embrace, amirite?! (No. I am wrong. Sorry.)

Broken glass

“If a glass breaks in the ice well, you have to burn [all the cubes to avoid risking] getting any shards of glass in your drink,” says Jim, 30, from Miami. But melting & refilling all those cubes can take 20 minutes, so “if you’re working a particularly busy Saturday night and oh [crap], there goes that Ultimate Long Islarita right into the well”, the “good-enough” retrieval method may be substituted. Then, a customer’s cocktail is just a few sizable tumbler fragments away from severe esophageal and gastric bleeding.

Then again, you could also shred your own stomach lining for a fraudulent lawsuit, like this woman did at redditor fuzzy510’s place of business.

Shoddy construction & disrepair

Even the most successful restaurants don’t make a ton of money, says Mike. “Combine ever-slimming profit margins with incredibly high (often not sober) foot traffic, and you have a recipe for physical infrastructure disaster. Crashing metal light fixtures, collapsing bannisters, crumbling stairs… you get the idea.”

Dave Infante is a morbid senior writer for Thrillist who cooks most meals at home. Poorly. Follow him on Twitter at @dinfontay.