It takes a lot to run a restaurant and provide patrons with a fantastic dining experience, but you oftentimes won't see won't see the one who's really behind your food — the chef.
To take a peek inside the kitchen, Insider asked chefs about the under-the-radar tips and secrets they wish diners knew.
Here are the 10 things chefs wish they could tell you, but can't.
Don't shy away from the daily specials just because you think they're the result of a surplus of ingredients that are about to expire.
Restaurant "specials" often get a bad reputation, with some diners assuming that they're made from soon-expiring ingredients that the kitchen has in surplus — and that they don't really represent the chefs' finest work.
Richard Rea, executive chef of The Butcher's Daughter in New York City and Los Angeles, challenges that assumption, telling Insider that he suggests taking advantage of daily specials, especially if they feature fresh produce.
"This is a way for a chef to utilize the freshest produce of that season and to showcase their artistic talents. [Sometimes,] you will be trying a special that might make it on an upcoming menu, which means you are tasting an item that not many others have had the privilege to taste," he added.
If a restaurant has a sommelier, you should ask them for recommendations. It's perfectly fine to give them your budget, too.
Upscale eateries frequently employ certified wine experts known as sommeliers to guide guests through restaurant wine lists and to offer recommendations for the best bottle to pair with their meal.
However, some guests hesitate to use the sommelier for their wine selection because they feel overwhelmed and are worried the expert will just try to get them to spend a ton of cash.
But sommeliers are a resource, not a trap — and you can tell the sommelier the maximum you're looking to spend on wine.
"Guests often find themselves intimidated by sommeliers," Mark Twersky, executive chef of Barclay Prime in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told Insider.
He said diners are often worried they'll be sold a product that costs more than what they want to spend or will end up buying a wine they don't like. But, he said a sommelier's job is simply to help you find wine selections that you'll love.
If possible, find out when the restaurant gets its supply deliveries so you can be served the freshest foods.
Fresh ingredients are a justifiable priority for savvy restaurant-goers, and if you're determined to get the most of-the-moment produce and meats possible, it's not a bad idea to time your visit accordingly.
"So often, we are asked by guests what's fresh or what the specials are," executive chef Edwin Delgado of Kosushi in Miami, Florida, told Insider.
He said many restaurants, including his own, get multiple deliveries throughout the week and on days when foods like fresh fish are delivered, they oftentimes have special menu items.
Market days vary from restaurant to restaurant, but a bit of detective work will clue you in to the best time to get super-fresh eats at your favorite spot.
Dining really early may be considered "lame," but it can also provide you with a better experience — the same goes for dining late.
"Peak" dining hours (between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm in most major cities) are typically deemed the most desirable times to snag a dinner reservation ... but if you're willing to start your evening early or end it on the later side, you may find yourself poised for a better overall restaurant experience.
"I know it's not considered cool to be the first at the party, but when you're [at the restaurant] first, you basically get first dibs," Chef Chris Scott of the Institute of Culinary Education and "Top Chef" alum said in favor of early bird reservations.
He said arriving early means you get complete attention from your server, a meal enjoyed without noise and distraction, and a lower chance of having your order messed up because the kitchen won't be overwhelmed with tickets.
On the flip side, a later dinnertime can provide you with a more relaxing meal, as owner Tanner Agar of Rye in McKinney, Texas, told Insider.
"Basically, don't go to restaurants when everyone else is going to restaurants. [When the restaurant is] slower, they can give more attention to your food and your service. You can ask more questions, you don't feel rushed, and you will certainly feel more appreciated because the restaurant really needs covers at these times," he said.
Agar said he usually makes reservations at 9:00 p.m. because it's "late enough for the benefits" but early enough that he's not the last one in the restaurant before it closes.
Chefs really don't want you to ask for substitutions — they'd prefer if you ordered something else instead.
"I know that this is going to sound 'chef-y,' but I really think that if you dine out, it's better to not ask for substitutions. Try and have the dish as the chef intended it or don't order it at all," said Eric Silverstein, executive chef and owner of The Peached Tortilla and Bar Peached in Austin, Texas.
He said that substitutions and significant modifications can also throw off the entire rhythm of the restaurant's kitchen.
"The muscle memory that goes into making that dish is now thrown out the door. A dish is meant to be eaten how the chef envisioned it, not as how you envisioned it," he told Insider.
If something happens during your meal that negatively impacts your experience, let the server or manager know in the moment, not later in an online review.
After a disappointing meal at a restaurant, plenty of guests choose to handle the situation by going online to post a scathing review.
However, it's always better to try to address the issue while you're still in the restaurant and the staff and management have the chance to rectify your problems.
"If, for some reason, we don't meet your expectations, tell us about it in the moment. Don't wait to rant about it on social media," said Anthony Sinsay, executive chef of Outlier in Seattle, Washington. "This doesn't get you what you want, and it doesn't get us what we want — which is to make your experience special."
Sinsay said if the restaurant missed the mark, let the staff know in real-time as they often appreciate the "opportunity to make sure you leave happy."
Good chefs aren't trying to price-gouge their guests.
Dining at some restaurants can cost a pretty penny, and it's understandable when guests feel frustrated by the high costs.
"If you're passionate about what you do and proud of the food you're making, you value your customers and want to deliver them the best experience possible. That means using quality ingredients, investing in the upkeep of the restaurant, and paying great employees a livable wage," he told Insider.
And yes, all of these positive initiatives can result in (an oftentimes justifiable) higher final bill.
If you have food allergies, it may be wise to call ahead.
Because mishandled food allergies can prove harmful and even fatal, chefs absolutely want guests to clearly communicate those matters when scheduling their reservations.
"If guests with food allergies called ahead, we'd be able to accommodate them a lot better," said Carolynn Spence, executive chef of Shaker + Spear in Seattle, Washington.
She said since restaurants are built to be quick and efficient, it's not always possible to omit certain foods to order — "but if we had time to prepare, it would be a different story."
Bringing a gift for the kitchen is a kind gesture that can vault you to VIP status.
Of course, bringing a token of appreciation for the kitchen isn't a requirement of a positive dining experience.
But if you'd like to develop a reputation as a favorite guest (along with the benefits that come with that status), buying a six-pack for the cooks can definitely help your case.
"[My] number-one secret is to bring a gift for the kitchen. They work super hard under extreme pressure. The kitchen loves when you bring a gift. Alcohol is always appreciated, but [any] token of appreciation is always nice. Donuts, ice cream, your favorite tacos," Cesar Nuñez, executive chef of Longway Tavern in New Orleans, Louisiana, told Insider.
"Know your audience, but a little bit goes a long way," he added.
Put yourself in the chef's hands and let them show you what they do best.
If you're looking for a truly unique, one-of-a-kind meal, then you'll benefit from releasing control and allowing the chef to do their thing.
"To dine like a chef, put yourself in the chef's hands. A lot of times, when chefs or industry professionals go out to eat, they are burned out from their [busy] lives and don't want to think," Nicole Brisson, executive chef and partner of Locale Italian Kitchen in Las Vegas, Nevada, told Insider. And so, they let the chef choose their meal.
She said sometimes you should just give the sommelier and chef your price point and say you trust them to put together a three-course or four-course meal for you.
By doing this, Brisson said you can relax and really enjoy your dining experience — plus, you might fall in love with a new dish or drink.