As a former waitress, I learned a few absolutely gross things about restaurants. Because of what I have seen, I do things differently to help keep my family safe while eating out. Below is what I have experienced, and the solutions I follow.
1) The table may just be wiped with just water between guests. You read that right... WATER. I worked at a restaurant that purposely used water and not any chemical cleaner to keep the topcoat on their wood tables from getting worn faster. My mind is completely boggled as to how a restaurant can get away with such an unsanitary practice. Next time you go out to eat, try not to think about the kid who just mashed his food on the bare table or about the guy who put shrimp tails down only to get "sanitized" by water. Parents be aware; the same "cleaning" solution that is used on tables is used on highchairs and booster seats as well.
Solution: Do not eat anything that falls off your plate on to the table. If a young child will be touching the table, sanitize their area. Wipe down the highchair or booster seat with an antibacterial wipe before allowing your child to sit down.
2) I hate to bust your bubble, but your lemon or lime water is not as clean as you may think. There is a communal tub of lemons sitting out all day next to the drink dispenser. Do you know how many grubby server hands dig through that tub to find the perfect lemon to drop into your water? You do not want the answer. This goes for the fruit garnish on alchoholic beverages as well. A bartender does not have time to wash his hands between refilling a customer's beer, running a credit card, and grabbing the oranges and cherries to top off your cocktail.
Solution: Skip the lemons and limes. If there is fruit on the rim of a drink, I personally would refrain from eating and avoid adding to the drink for the extra flavor.
3) An unwrapped straw in your drink is actually pretty gross. If a straw does not come to you wrapped, your server or the bartender likely grabbed that with grubby hands and plopped it in your drink. It's not like your server washes his or her hands before touching everything. That server may have just touched someone else's dirty plate or handled money before getting you your lemonade.
Solution: Sip out of glass itself instead of using the unwrapped straw dropped off by your server.
4) EVERYBODY touches your food with their bare hands. The kitchen is not full of people who wear gloves or care to take the time to use tongs to serve food all day like one would imagine. The staff have put thousands of french fries on hundreds of plates already today with their bare hands. Don't think this is limited to just the cooks. If a leaf of lettuce is falling off the side of a plate, chances are your server is going to grab it and throw it back on quick. If there are any visible imperfections in the food, it will be dealt with first by picking at it to make it look better.
Solution: Do not think about it, just enjoy the food.
5) Assume all items on the table are dirty. One naturally starts off by paging through the menu. This is an item that is touched by likely hundreds of individuals before being sanitized by staff (if ever.) I would always sanitize my hands before touching food after handled a menu. Have you ever picked up a salt shaker on the table and noticed it is incredibly greasy? Condiments and shakers do not get wiped down between guests. I personally hesitate to dispense ketchup or add salt to my food simply because I do not want to soil my hands by touching these things. Another contaminated item found on the table are the crayons for your children. Unless the crayons were delivered in sealed plastic, you may have been given recycled crayons. I do not even want to know how many kids/toddlers were chowing on food or sucking their thumb while drawing with them.
Solution: Have hand sanitizer to use after handling the menu. Keep antibacterial wipes handy to sanitize objects being touched regularly while eating.
The biggest lesson I have learned from working in a restaurant is to bring your own sanitary wipes when eating out. I always carry a small pack of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes in my purse and in my diaper bag so I am never left without a means to clean. Plus, they make for a handy tool for cleaning your hands after eating your meal. I feel my experience in the food industry has better prepared me to keep my family healthy when we are out to eat. Never would I let what I have seen during my career as a waitress deter me from enjoying a night out. (Or more realistically speaking, I should say a night off cooking and cleaning up the aftermath in the kitchen!)