Let’s just say you may never order the house wine again.
Credit: Getty / JackF

The restaurant business is not an easy one. Rents are high, COVID has turned the world of dining out upside down, and patrons can be … er, challenging. Caveats aside, upcharges and questionable practices exist, and even if their purpose is to help cover costs, it's enlightening to know about them as a consumer.

In a Reddit thread, chefs, servers, baristas, bakers, and bartenders shared their personal experiences with some shady practices in the restaurant world. You could consider some of them to simply be the cost of doing business in a tough landscape, but whether they're "necessary evils" or straight-up rip-offs, it's an entertaining thread of culinary confessions. We grabbed the 15 most scintillating answers to the question, "Chefs of Reddit, what are the biggest rip-offs that your restaurants sell?"

And remember, if this list bums you out, you can always make your favorite restaurant recipe in the comfort of your own home.

1. The ALDI bait and switch

"My husband used to work in a gastropub in a well-to-do area. The baked Camembert was literally the Camembert from ALDI for £1 each, then baked and sold for £15 to share. Everyone was convinced it was some really posh continental fine cheese [baked in] a special Camembert oven."

2. The Franzia bait and switch

"We buy tiny wine bottles for $7 and sell for $37. The [house wine] is Franzia box wine."

3. The sushi con game

"I worked at a Japanese [restaurant] for a while and we had this thing called a Volcano roll. It cost $7.25. A California roll cost $3.75. The Volcano roll was a Cali roll cut into the shape of a triangle and topped with spicy mayo that has been heated up with about $.10 worth of fish, literally just a few bits."

4. Bowl crimes

"Our cup of soup is the same size as our bowl but the bowl costs 30 percent more."

5. Freezer crimes

"So many places claim house-made pies, fresh-baked cookies ... Nope. Frozen, frozen, frozen, thawed, then baked. Then they try to charge 7 bucks a slice."

6. Soda price hikes

"As a long-time restaurant employee, I can promise you the biggest rip-off is the sodas and iced tea. $3 or more, depending on location, for something that costs them pennies."

7. Steak upcharges

"I work at a steakhouse, and I'd say all the steaks. We buy our 6-ounce sirloins for $5 a cut and sell them for $35."

8. Grilled cheese upcharges

"Grilled cheese sandwiches. For the price of one of ours you could probably make a whole bread bag's worth at home and get exactly the same thing."

9. Fried pickle upcharges

"Worked at a diner for a while. No one should ever order fried pickles. Biggest rip-off ever, cost is less than $0.30 per order and the price hike brings orders of 30 pickle chips to over $5 to $6."

10. Salad bar crimes

"Soups and salads. Pennies on the dollar for food cost. There's a reason all-you-can-eat buffets feature entire sections devoted to them. They help offset the lesser profit made off of other menu items." Counterpoint: Restaurant salads can be delicious! Here's a major reason why.

11. Sauce crimes

"Pretty much any restaurant that charges you for sauces (such as ranch, sriracha mayo, etc). Some may be making certain sauces but everywhere I've worked, the extent of making sauces is something you could teach anyone (equal parts of x premade sauce and y premade sauce). But still, I can't stand to pay $.50 for 2 oz (at most, probably 1 oz typically) of store-bought ranch."

12. Soy milk crimes

 "We charge 85 cents for soymilk even if the drink only has 1 ounce of soy in it …"

13. Supermarket swaps

"I worked in a fancy country club ($25K initiation fee, then $7K/year in the '90s). A slice of 'homemade' cheesecake was $7 each on the menu. One of the sous chefs stopped by the Giant Food grocery store every day on the way to work to pick up a whole cheesecake for about $5."

14. Supermarket swaps II

"Our bakery's cinnamon rolls, cookies, and ice cream are made in store, but the brownies and flavored breads are box mixes from Walmart. The white, wheat, and sourdough bread comes in little frozen loaf-bricks."

15. House wine rip-off

"We have a local super expensive fancy steakhouse, and the waitress confessed to us that their 'house wine' was just Carlo Rossi."

But don't forget...

Phew–and that was just the top 15. To offer a bit of balance to the situation, two commenters touched on the fact that high costs often have to do with keeping a business afloat:

1. "Expensive city here. The biggest rip-off that customers have to pay for is the exorbitant rent restaurateurs owe to their landlords. Restaurants typically make less than 6% profit margin."

2. "Literally nothing. Everything takes labor and uses resources to make. Yes, some things have a larger profit margin, but others have a lesser margin. The only thing I could consider a "rip-off" would be beer and wine. We just buy those and mark it up 300%. Otherwise, nothing is a rip-off."

And there you have it. Mark-ups will happen, not-so-homemade desserts will be served, and house wines may come from a box. Maybe next time ask where that homemade pie is really from or inquire about the house wine… but still support your local restaurants! They need your love and business more than ever.