Signs you're eating pre-made food at a restaurant

You probably assume your favorite sit-down restaurant is serving you fresh food — it's not a fast food place, after all. Sadly, that's not always the case. Even at fine dining restaurants, serving pre-made food is a commonality most patrons are not aware of. So unless you absolutely love reheated leftovers, here are some clues to help you figure out when the food you're eating has been pre-made.

Your order is up in a snap

The biggest indicator that you're dining at a restaurant serving pre-made food is how quickly your order arrives at the table. A freshly prepared meal that's made-to-order takes time. What doesn't take much time is reheating pre-made food, like is often done at fast-food restaurants. If you're at a non fast-food restaurant and the food comes out lickety-split like drive-thru service, that's a telltale sign that the restaurant is serving pre-made food. After all, it should take a lot longer to make a fresh burrito or risotto than it does to assemble a fast food burger. 

The menu offers an extensive list of options

One look at a menu offering items a mile long may send your brain into a tizzy trying to figure out how the chef does it. Well, here's a little secret — he doesn't. An extensive menu means the chef has to have all those ingredients on hand, which make it difficult to guarantee freshness along with timeliness. To solve this problem, chefs often use pre-made food. That can range from already packaged products to preparing the meals in advance.

You're at a popular chain restaurant

Often enough, the establishment you're dining at is the first indicator that you're meal is pre-made. Chain restaurants are consistent in their meals for a reason, they're pre-made.

If you've ever wondered why, say, your Alfredo dish at Olive Garden looks and tastes the same no matter what Olive Garden you're at, it's because there's probably not a chef in the back painstakingly preparing each dish. Chain restaurants usually have a rigorous process of food preparation that happens before it even reaches the restaurant. The food is mass produced, frozen, and then heated and assembled according to strict guidelines. So yes, your Alfredo will be the same every single time you order it, and so will most of your other meals at chain restaurants. For them, consistency is key.

The texture of your meal isn't normal

Say you're at a restaurant and you order a steak cooked rare. You wait in anticipation, salivating over the thought of slicing into a juicy, pink steak. Your order arrives and it looks just like you imagined it would, except for the taste. You've had a rare steak before, but this tastes more like rubber than meat. That's because your steak hit the microwave before your plate.

Anyone who has prepared a home cooked meal can tell the difference between something prepared fresh, and something that's been nuked to death in the microwave. When you order food at a restaurant and the textures are a bit off, you know in an instant that your meal wasn't fresh. How much time it spent reheating in the microwave on the other hand, is a question you can ask your server.

All seafood on the menu is fried

A menu containing nothing but fried seafood? Now I smell something fishy. Restaurants that only offer seafood in fried form is a clear indicator that the restaurant doesn't serve fresh fish. Breading and frying seafood is an easy way for cooks to mask the fact that the fish was previously frozen. It's possible that they didn't even bread the fish themselves. Food distributors offer a variety of pre-made fried fish, so all the restaurant has to do is heat and serve. Next time you order up a plate of fried Baja fish tacos or fish and chips, don't be surprised if your fish was reheated in a deep fryer.

Substitutions can't be made

Leaving cheese or bacon off a burger shouldn't be a problem. But how about ditching the mushrooms in your veggie lasagna? Or the chicken in your minestrone soup? If your servers says they can't make a substitution, it's probably because that dish has already been made. Think about when you make these meals at home. You don't make single portions, and neither do the restaurants. Making certain menu items fresh from scratch would take a great deal of time, not to mention slow down service. So if you notice that certain menu items can't be substituted, odds are they're prepared it in advance, and reheated when you order.

Your food tastes like freezer burn

Anyone who has prepared a frozen dinner can easily attest to the flavors of freezer burn — they can also detect it when a restaurant serves it. Freezer burn changes the composition of your food, resulting in off flavors, textures, and colors. This is especially noticeable when eating meat. Before you even have a chance to bite into the steak your waiter just placed in front of you, check to see if there are some grayish spots. If so, that's freezer burn.

The server can't tell you where the meat is from

Speaking of commercial food distributors, if your server can't tell you precisely where your meat was sourced from, that's probably because it came from food distributor. It might have even arrived pre-made — especially if it's something like a burger, meatloaf or meatballs that takes extra prep work.