Covering Shrimp in Formaldehyde and Other Cost-Saving Restaurant Moves

Illustration for article titled Covering Shrimp in Formaldehyde and Other Cost-Saving Restaurant Moves

Hey, you know that stuff they used to temporarily keep grandpa from decaying? Yeah, turns out restaurants use a diluted version of it to keep shrimp clean. It's just one of many cost-saving moves restaurants use to cut corners. Here are some more.


Technically, the formaldehyde solution used to clean mass-produced shrimp is called formalin. The whole thing is FDA-approved, by the way. The point of this is not to shout "ARGY BLARGH TOXIC SHRIMP ARGY BLARGHY BLARGH" like some idiot going on about Subway's yoga mat bread or something, but to point out that restaurants use all sorts of bizarre brain hacks and clever/occasionally weird cost-shaving techniques to save as much money as possible. The Guardian has compiled a list, actually. Here are some highlights:

  • Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden and (formerly) Red Lobster, apparently instructs their restaurants not to salt their pasta when cooking it, in order to make their pots last longer.
  • Products get renamed from something accurate but unappealing-sounding ("Patagonian Toothfish") to a complete nonsense name that sounds better ("Chilean Sea Bass"). Apparently only two restaurants in the US serve actual Kobe Beef, too, despite hundreds of places claiming to do so.*
  • Menu repositioning. Apparently, customers are far more likely to buy items located in the middle of a menu page, so restaurants will deliberately place the products with the best cost-value margins there.
  • Alcohol gets a crazy mark-up, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever ordered a drink in a restaurant. One restaurant was found to sell a bottle of wine that should've cost $2.50 at $15 a pop.
  • Deliberately adding more head to every beer served — turns out people who think this is happening aren't just paranoid. Making sure there's a full inch of head compared to half an inch can mean up to 20 beers saved per keg.
  • Gradually decreasing portions by shrinking plate sizes from 12 inches to 11 inches or thinning the burgers by an ounce and shrinking the buns so customers won't notice.

I've witnessed a lot of these firsthand; "Chilean Sea Bass" was an incredibly popular dish when I worked at McCormick and Schmick's, and I doubt anyone would've bought the special if it had been "Toothfish." In the same vein, any restaurant worker who tells you they haven't seen alcohol marked up to ludicrous degrees is lying through their teeth.

* This part confuses me. How do they get away with this? Do they have a guy named Kobe poke their beef with a stick during the packing process? Does Kobe Bryant have an ownership stake?

Image via Ramona Heim/Shutterstock.



Would you eat Pantagonian Toothfish?