Imagine this: you’re cruising to your favorite fast-food spot, dreaming of a quick, tasty meal. But beware, not all that glimmers in the fast-food world is golden. Some choices might have you wishing you’d packed a lunch instead.

From gimmicky menu items to oversized portions that leave you groaning, fast-food chains have their share of pitfalls. We’ve consulted with the insiders, the very people who serve up these meals, to bring you a list of what not to order. Get ready to navigate the minefield of fast-food menus with our insider guide.

1. Gimmicky “Artisanal” Items

Source: Shutterstock/Annata78

In recent years, fast-food chains have jumped on the bandwagon of offering ‘artisanal’ or ‘hand-crafted’ items. But let’s be honest: adding a couple of extra toppings to a burger doesn’t magically transform it into gourmet cuisine. Tricia, who juggled jobs at two popular chains while attending college, gives us the lowdown.

According to her, these items are just a fancy way of dressing up the same old ingredients. Why pay more for something essentially the same as the regular menu items? If you’re looking for something genuinely different and potentially healthier, consider exploring the salad section or some of the newer, more innovative menu additions that some chains are experimenting with.

2. Super-sized Mistakes

Source: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

The value menu might seem like a wallet-friendly option, but it’s a trap for your health and satisfaction. Nicky, who spent two years behind the counter at McDonald’s, offers a reality check. The allure of getting more food for less money is strong, but it often results in a meal that leaves you feeling sluggish and regretful.

Despite the tempting price tag, no human needs that mountain of fried food. Nicky’s experience shows that smaller, regular-sized meals often provide a more enjoyable and satisfying experience without the post-meal slump. Remember, quality should always trump quantity when it comes to fast food.

3. Microwave Mac n Cheese

Source: Shutterstock/Prokopenko

Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but it’s a far cry from the homemade goodness we crave at some fast-food joints. Take Panera Bread, for example. A candid Reddit post by an employee named President Pancake lifts the lid on their mac and cheese preparation – it’s all microwaved.

This includes not just the pasta but the cheese sauce as well. So, instead of indulging in a bowl of microwaved disappointment, why not opt for something fresh? According to the same source, Panera’s real sandwiches and salads are made with fresh ingredients and offer a far more satisfying and wholesome meal.

4. Tuna Salad Timebomb

Source: Shutterstock/Alexeilogvinovich

When it comes to pre-made salads, the tuna fish option at some fast-food restaurants is a risky bet. Colleen, sharing her experience from her time at Friendly’s, reveals a disturbing practice – the tuna fish salad is prepared only once a week.

This means what you’re getting could be several days old. Freshness is key in any food, but especially in items like tuna salad, where the risk of spoilage is higher. A better option would be to choose something that is made to order, ensuring you get a meal that’s fresh and safe to eat.

5. Garnish Gaffe

Source: Shutterstock/YUG

Fast-food garnishes like parsley and lemon might look innocent enough, but their journey to your plate might be less than appetizing. Jaime, who has worked in the industry in Florida, warns against consuming these seemingly harmless additions.

In some places, uneaten garnishes are washed and reused, raising eyebrows and health concerns. Even more unsettling, Jaime reports that items like cups of coleslaw, if left untouched, might be recycled for the next customer. A safer bet? Skip the garnishes and focus on the main components of your meal.

6. Fishy Faux Pas

Source: Shutterstock/Markus Mainka

The fish sandwich, often marketed as a healthier alternative at fast-food restaurants, might be better an option than you think. Charity, who works in North Carolina, highlights the unhealthy aspects of popular fish sandwiches like McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.

Another industry insider, Michael, who has experience at both fast-food and fast-casual establishments like Panera, warns against ordering seafood items. According to him, these items are rarely fresh and often sit around for a while, diminishing quality and taste. Your best bet is to stick with popular menu items and, therefore, more likely to be fresh.

7. Fresh Fries Fiasco

Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studios

Ordering fries ‘fresh’ might sound like a great idea, but according to Stephanie, who worked at a Burger King in Ohio, it’s often a recipe for disappointment. Customers don’t realize that fries are frequently prepared in large batches, so asking for a ‘fresh’ batch doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get something different from the regular serving.

In fact, this request can lead to longer wait times, and you might still end up with the same fries that everyone else gets. Instead of insisting on fresh fries, trust the system – the turnover for fries is usually high enough to ensure you’re getting a decent batch.

8. Chicken Nuggets – Freshness First

Source: Shutterstock/Gowithstock

When it comes to chicken nuggets, freshness is key. A Reddit user, Ritch88, shares an insider tip: always ask for fresh nuggets. If you don’t, you’ll likely get nuggets sitting around, losing their crispiness and flavor.

Fast-food restaurants typically use timers to monitor the freshness of these items. Still, the reality is that the nuggets often sit past their prime, with employees resetting timers instead of cooking a fresh batch. Asking for fresh nuggets ensures you get a crispier, tastier treat.

9. Drive-through Time Management

Source: Shutterstock/Yana333

Ordering at the drive-through requires some strategic thinking, especially during peak hours. Meganoli, a former Panera worker, advises against placing large, complicated orders close to closing time. These orders can take significant time to prepare, leading to frustration for both customers and staff.

 For a smoother experience, stick to simpler orders when using the drive-through, or better yet, step inside the restaurant for more complex requests. This approach helps ensure that you get your meal in a timely manner and reduces the strain on the restaurant staff during busy periods.

10. Grilled Chicken at Burger Joints

Source: Shutterstock/Fabrikasimf

If you’re visiting a restaurant known primarily for burgers, think twice before ordering a grilled chicken sandwich. Stephanie shares her experience, noting that grilled chicken sandwiches at these establishments tend to sit around due to lower demand.

This results in a rubbery texture and a less-than-pleasant eating experience. Instead, when visiting a burger joint, you’re better off sticking to what they do best – burgers. Make sure you get a meal that’s fresh, tasty, and up to the establishment’s standards.

11. The Starbucks “Secret” Menu Myth

Source: Shutterstock/Ruangrit Junkong

The idea of a ‘secret’ Starbucks menu has intrigued many, but Amelia, a Starbucks employee in Chicago, clarifies that there is no such thing. The myth of the secret menu stems from creative concoctions made up by customers and shared online.

 If you’re craving a unique drink, the best approach is to specify the ingredients you want for your barista. This clear communication ensures you get precisely what you’re looking for without any confusion or unrealistic expectations.

12. Wendy’s Chili: A Surprising Ingredient

Source: Shutterstock/Darryl Brooks

Wendy’s chili may seem comforting hearty, but its preparation might raise some eyebrows. Reddit user Cozmo23 reveals that the chili meat comes from overcooked hamburger patties that didn’t make it into burgers.

These are then stored, boiled, chopped up, and added to the chili. While this might not be a health concern, it’s certainly a fascinating insight into how fast-food chains maximize their resources. Knowing this, you might pass on the chili in favor of other menu items.

13. Fountain Drink Folly

Source: Freepik/user24455250

Soda from the fountain might seem like the perfect complement to your fast-food meal, but it has its own issues. Many fast-food veterans point out that the soda fountain machines are not always cleaned as regularly as they should be, leading to a build-up of bacteria and mold. This not only affects the taste but can also be a health hazard.

Moreover, the mark-up on fountain drinks is astronomical, making it an expensive way to quench your thirst. Consider opting for bottled drinks or, better yet, a healthier option like water or juice.