Checking Out the Kashrus of a Restaurant

Question: Often I want to eat in a catering hall or restaurant and would like your opinion as to whether the kashrus is of a high enough standard for me. Can you give me a list of questions to ask that would help you to determine whether I should eat there?


Choosing a restaurant or hall is not so simple, particularly in Eretz Yisroel
since terumos, maasros, orlah and shemittoh are added issues.

Halochoh allows a person to rely on any other observant adult Jew with regard
to kashrus. Today, however, doing so is complicated by various standards in the
food industry regarding what is reliably kosher. You cannot necessarily believe
a Jew who says a certain item is kosher, since-as he may readily tell you-he is
merely a link in a chain of people supervising the item. A simple investigation
may reveal that some of the supervisors in the production chain are using methods
or ingredients that you consider unreliable.

In theory, most matters of kashrus are black and white. Either it is kosher or
it is not. Only on a few issues is there a real halachic distinction between kosher
and mehadrin, where it is praiseworthy to refrain from eating the former.
Nevertheless, the terminology has become more and more widespread in kashrus today.
This has more to do with different opinions as to what is kosher than with stringencies.

Thus, although one cannot say that certain commercial kitchens with a weak
hechsher are not kosher, it is becoming more and more common to consider
it necessary to upgrade one’s standards to the mehadrin level in order
to be confident that one is not eating treif food. Thus, many people view mehadrin
as kosher and regular "kosher" as possibly treif.

Obviously, it is not the word mehadrin that makes a restaurant kosher
or not; the determination rests on the substantive issues and not on the signed
piece of paper hanging on the wall. Therefore, your request for a list of questions
to ask is truly an appropriate way to help decide whether or not an unknown eating
establishment is reliable.

Here is a partial list of questions that will help us determine whether a certain
place is appropriate for you or not.

  1. What kind of hechsher does the establishment have?
  2. Is the kashrus certificate prominently displayed?
  3. Is the certificate still valid or has it expired?
  4. Are the owners or manager shomrei mitzvos? Shabbos? Kashrus?
  5. Is the eatery open on Shabbos?
  6. Does it serve just milchig? Just fleishig? Both? (If both, a new list of
    questions are relevant.)
  7. If you stop in, is the mashgiach available? Do the owners know
    when the mashgiach is expected to be in? Do they know of a time when
    he usually does not come in?
  8. What are the mashgiach’s hours? Is there a mashgiach there
    whenever the establishment is open? What percentage of the time is he there?
  9. Does the mashgiach have the keys to the restaurant? Who else has
    the keys?
  10. What standards does the mashgiach say the restaurant is supposed
    to have? How does he ensure that only the products allowed enter the premises?
    Does he do all the ordering? Is he always there when shipments come in? For
    example, if fruits and vegetables come in, is it possible for them to be used
    before the mashgiach approves them?
  11. How long has the mashgiach been working there? Does he do anything
    in the kitchen besides observing? A mashgiach who has been in one place
    for too long can be a sign of trouble.
  12. Try to get an idea of the relationship between the mashgiach and
    the manager. Do they work very well together? Does the mashgiach take
    orders from the manager to dice vegetables, load the freezer or the like?
  13. Do you get the impression that the mashgiach is sharp of mind?
    The opposite?
  14. Will the mashgiach or manager give you a tour of the kitchen, refrigerators,
    freezers and the stock rooms? A proud mashgiach is generally happy
    to show a customer around the kitchen when things are not hectic. Look around
    the stock room and freezers for things that may not match the reported level
    of kashrus and ask about them.
  15. Who separates terumos and maasros? Who takes off challoh?
    Who checks the eggs and rice? Who sifts flour?
  16. Does the restaurant serve liver? (If so, other questions will follow.)
  17. Who tovels the keilim? If the kelei seudah are
    not immersed in a mikve find out why not. The answer given is usually indicative
    of the mashgiach’s level of knowledge and care.
  18. What is your overall impression of the yiras shomayim of the
    mashgiach? Does the mashgiach eat the restaurant food? Does
    the mashgiach find his job taxing or easy?
  19. Who cooks the food? Any gentiles? How is bishul nochri avoided?
    Is wine served? If so, who opens the bottles and serves the wine?
  20. What was the most recent error the mashgiach caught? What was the
    most severe oversight he found?
  21. Which hechsherim are permitted?
  22. Do the workers bring their own food in? Does the kitchen cook food with
    a different kashrus standard for the workers who are gentile or not observant?
  23. Who pays the mashgiach’s salary? Is he working for the restaurant owners
    or is he employed and paid by the kashrus agency?

Try to get the mashgiach’s cell phone number. If you can get the answers
to most of these questions and report back to me, I will have more tools with which
to make a decision for you. Try to get the phone numbers of the restaurant and
mashgiach so that they can be contacted for follow-up questions.

Researching the kashrus of a restaurant or catering hall is not an easy job.
A proud mashgiach or confident owner will make things easy for you. A suspicious,
difficult mashgiach is a red light and cause for concern.

An observant, responsible, G–d-fearing owner/manager is likely to be the most
important factor. I would be more comfortable eating in a restaurant with no
where I have confidence in the manager than in an eatery with the
best hechsher that is run by non-observant personnel.

It is also important that you let me know why you wish to eat at a certain place.

  1. Is your office planning a luncheon there? Are you going to meet a client?
  2. Would you like your husband to take you out to dinner?
  3. Are you traveling and have no other option for a proper meal?
  4. Do you want to celebrate your anniversary and surprise your wife?
  5. Has a relative booked an event there and you don’t want to jeopardize family
  6. Is it a convenient daily lunch eatery?

Since many places can be considered to have reached the minimum kashrus requirements,
it is sometimes possible to be flexible depending on the individual’s needs and
general level of observance. People grow at different paces and come from different
backgrounds. Eating in a certain restaurant may therefore be a step up for one person
and a step down for another. Extenuating circumstances may also be the deciding
factor as to whether or not it is appropriate to eat in a certain place.

Consequently, when you ask such a question, I recommend that you provide as much
information as possible regarding the standards in the kitchen and your personal
circumstances, and also try to ask a rav who knows you personally.

BookID: 2 Chapter: 2

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