Papa John's Menu Items The Staff Won't Even Eat

Papa John's pizza box closeup
Papa John's pizza box closeup - Gado/Getty Images

Everyone has their go-to fast food order -- and everyone has that one dish they refuse to touch, no matter what. When you're a fast food employee, the list of items that fall into the second category tends to be longer than most. Anyone who's worked in the industry will tell you that a combo of overexposure and the cursed knowledge of what really goes on behind the scenes has a knack for turning you off some foods, even if you work at a restaurant with a reputation as tasty as Papa John's.

The Kentucky-based pizza chain has a long and varied menu, ranging from your standard cheese and pepperoni pizzas to more unique dishes like Oreo Cookie Bites. Despite boasting the motto of "better ingredients, better pizza," some customers will argue that this isn't always the case -- and there's a long line of employees ready to back up this argument. In fact, part of the untold truth of Papa John's is that the company has been sued in the past for misleading customers with this motto, with former Pizza Hut President David Novak filing a lawsuit disputing its claims in the 1990s.

Today, Papa John's still promises a better pizza experience than that of its competitors. However, those in the know may still warn you off several dishes. It's important to remember that, like any franchised restaurant, not every Papa John's location operates by the same practices. With that in mind, these are the menu items most commonly avoided by the pizzeria's employees.

Read more: McDonald's Menu Items That Even The Staff Won't Eat

Papa Bowls

Cheesy pizza toppings in a bowl
Cheesy pizza toppings in a bowl - SylviaPellicore/Reddit

Theoretically, Papa Bowls are a smart addition to the otherwise carb-heavy, calorific Papa John's menu. Whether you like chicken, pepperoni, onions, or (shudder) anchovies, the bowls first started popping up in stores in 2021 as a way to enjoy all your favorite tasty pizza toppings in a plastic bowl sans the bread base.

Put into practice, however, these bowls rarely come out tasting or looking good. One Papa John's employee went so far as to question why the Papa Bowl is still on the menu, considering how many people complain after receiving their orders. "It's actually disgusting," they wrote on Reddit. "It comes out looking gross every single time, everyone who has one hates [it] and we sell maybe 5 a month."

Some have argued that the bowls are genuinely popular with gluten-free and diabetic customers, but the consensus is that they're simply not worth ordering, with one purported employee on the Reddit thread adding that the Papa Bowl portion specifications mean you won't end up with much food for your money.

Boneless Wings

Boneless Chicken Wings with sauce
Boneless Chicken Wings with sauce - pacollegENT/Reddit

Once upon a time, we lived in a harmonious society -- by which we mean Papa John's still had Chicken Poppers (may they rest in peace). Unfortunately, the chain decided to axe these breaded, juicy paragons of meaty goodness in 2023 and instead replace them with the far inferior Boneless Wings. It was a move that sparked controversy among diehard Papa John's customers -- and doesn't seem to have gone down too well with those behind the scenes, either.

An employee condemned the switch on Reddit, explaining that the Boneless Wings in their uncooked state have an unnatural scent that never plagued the Chicken Poppers. "The staff at my store refer to the new poppers as 'cat food' because [of] how it smells before going in the oven," they wrote.

Others corroborated this claim, adding that the texture of the meat isn't easy to work with, either. "They feel like sand when we take [them] out and gods help us the smell is not pleasurable," replied another Papa John's employee. "Idk who in corporate thinks they can get away with these crazy swaps but people are gonna notice the drop in quality." Case in point: three customers in their store allegedly complained back-to-back about the Boneless Wings on the first day they were introduced.


Pepperoncini around pizza
Pepperoncini around pizza - Wow_rainey/Reddit

One of the ways that Papa John's differentiates itself from its competitors is by slipping a garnish of pepperoncini -- a mild chili pepper also known as a Tuscan Pepper -- into your pizza box. This was inspired by the company's founder (and now-disgraced CEO) John Schnatter, who always used to put a single pepperoncino in each pizza box that came out of his father's Indiana pub.

Customers tend to love or hate these bonus peppers, with those who fall into the former category sometimes requesting extra while placing their order. Having seen how they're prepared, however, many Papa John's workers are less keen. In a Reddit thread questioning how the pepperoncini are handled behind the scenes, several alleged current and former employees revealed that the peppers are usually thrown into the box barehanded -- and the hands in question are rarely if ever, washed immediately beforehand. "Ain't nobody got time for that," remarked one user.

Another added that while they use tongs, the rest of their coworkers do not. In short, odds are your hands aren't the first to pick up that pepperoncini. Remember that the next time you reach for a spicy post-pizza snack.

Chicken Toppings

Fiery buffalo chicken Papa John's pizza
Fiery buffalo chicken Papa John's pizza - cyberchief/Reddit

There's a common trend when it comes to chicken and Papa John's. Just like the boneless wings, employees have complained about the smell that emanates from the chicken toppings used on pizzas such as the Fiery Buffalo Chicken Pizza and the BBQ Chicken Bacon Pizza. One worker put the toppings in a league of their own compared to other Papa John's chicken products, writing on Reddit: "I won't eat the chicken topping (as opposed to the wings and nuggets) either because fresh out of the bag it has a chemical odor. I'm guessing [it's] something they add to give it a 'wood smoked' flavor."

This isn't just the opinion of one employee's nose, either. Other Papa John's workers have made the same complaints, with several noting that the smell tends to linger once you remove it from the packaging. One of the most damning posts sees one Reddit user compare it to the smell of cannabis, of all things. They thought their coworker had used marijuana before their shift "and then I realized it was the chicken he was prepping," they wrote. All in all, it's surely not the most convincing argument to add chicken to your next order.


Salami on Papa John's pizza
Salami on Papa John's pizza - loqi0238/Reddit

The problem with Papa John's salami isn't its smell. It's not even the taste. Instead, workers claim that the conditions in which the salami is prepared and stored have put them off making it to their go-to pizza topping.

According to one rather frustrated employee on Reddit, there are multiple faults with how food is handled in some Papa John's kitchens. For them, the standout was the salami, which allegedly sits there for weeks (yes, they claimed weeks) before making its way onto a pizza. Another former employee shared images in a separate post showing salami -- as well as Canadian bacon -- stored past their use-by date in plastic tubs.

All of Papa John's meat is delivered pre-cooked, but even that needs to be used, eaten, or thrown away by a certain date. As another employee explained, meats typically come in extremely large quantities when ordered into a store, which explains why so much is leftover. Regardless, that shouldn't mean it ever ends up on our pizza.

Special Garlic Sauce

Open Garlic Sauce from Papa John's
Open Garlic Sauce from Papa John's - ZombieBacon247/Reddit

There are two kinds of people in this world: those with a deep, almost religious obsession with Papa John's Special Garlic Sauce and those who think it's the grossest concoction known to man. A lot of Papa John's employees side with the latter, especially in more recent times. Many claim that the recipe changed at some point between late 2023 and early 2024, giving it a saltier flavor.

Whether or not the Garlic Sauce changed, plenty of Papa John's employees give the Special Garlic Sauce a miss. This is often due to little more than overexposure -- more so than many other menu items -- with several workers growing sick of its flavor due to the fact they handled or ate it every day. "That garlic sauce is now thoroughly disgusting to me, I hate to admit," one worker wrote on Reddit. Others have a much more practical reason for going garlic-free -- the lingering smell. "Avoid getting it on anything," advised one Papa John's employee on Reddit, "because that stuff will smell forever!"

Gluten-Free Pizzas

Cheesy pizza with stuffed crust
Cheesy pizza with stuffed crust - Extension-Big-974/Reddit

Pizzerias can be hard to navigate when you can't eat gluten, which is why so many celebrated the announcement that Papa John's would add a gluten-free crust -- made of sorghum, teff, amaranth, and quinoa -- to its menu in 2017. What makes it redundant is the revelation that those with severe gluten intolerances or celiac disease still can't eat it, according to those whipping them up in the kitchen.

"Yes, they have separate screens and cutters but they use a shared oven and the proprietary flour blend they use at the store gets everywhere," said one Quora user and alleged Papa John's alumnus when advising what not to order at the restaurant. "Also, in a rush like during the dinner rush, employees will grab the wrong screen or cutter by accident. It's not deliberate but those levels of cross contamination could lead to days of pain for the wrong person."

If you're still skeptical, Papa John's itself has recommended that those with serious gluten issues not order the gluten-free pizza (which is, you know, supposed to be gluten-free). "It is possible that a pizza with Papa John's Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust is exposed to gluten during the ordinary preparation process," a spokesperson told CNBC. "Please use your best judgment in ordering a pizza with Papa John's Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust if you have a sensitivity to gluten."


Mushrooms and pineapple on pizza
Mushrooms and pineapple on pizza - sora_fighter36/Reddit

Fungi are a familiar fixture on takeout pizza, but they're not always super fresh when Papa John's sprinkles them across your pie. In fact, one employee went so far as to call the mushrooms out specifically when asked by a fellow Reddit user if there was anything they should know about the chain's pizza.

This is less a matter of ignoring the expiry date, and more to do with the state of the mushrooms when they first arrive at the restaurant. "The mushrooms we get are pretty touchy, and aren't always accurate to the expiration date," the employee explained. "Sometimes they're very clearly no longer usable, but because they're still technically okay, they get put on pizzas anyway."

While the poor quality of the mushrooms is less noticeable once they're cooked, that itself is still pretty concerning. How are you supposed to know if your mushrooms are good if they're baked into a mass of cheese and meat? Even more off-putting is the reported fact that the mushrooms also have a seriously strong odor pre-oven (as one employee put it, "It was like you'd rubbed your hands all over somebody's horrible, stinky feet") and that plenty of Papa John's restaurants are, in the words of one purported employee, said to keep using all of the mushrooms until they run out -- regardless of how squishy they are, or the use-by date. In one word: ew.


Pepperoni Papa John's pizza
Pepperoni Papa John's pizza - TheGame81677/Reddit

Pepperoni hasn't always been on the "Do Not Order" list for Papa John's employees -- but then the chain introduced Crispy Cuppy 'Roni. Launched in March 2024, these smaller, chunkier, and greasier slices of meat have made an army of enemies out of workers who have long claimed to be sick of Papa John's experimental new menu items. One employee perfectly summed up the sentiment on Reddit: "I hope the person that came up with this bangs their bare pinky toe on every [chair] leg, table leg, and corner they walk past for the rest of their life."

It turns out this hatred is based on more than just corporate resentment. Reddit's r/PapaJohns is packed with employees complaining about the overall look of the new pepperoni, which has been compared to everything from an acne crater to clickbait videos in which lotus flowers are Photoshopped onto human skin (a strangely specific but weirdly accurate comparison). The smell is also pretty horrific. One worker even claimed that the kitchen smells comparable to a high school locker room for hours on end whenever they're baked onto a pie, while another argued that they're more akin to Beggin' Strips dog treats.

Hot Lemon Pepper Wings

Lemon pepper sauce covering chicken wings
Lemon pepper sauce covering chicken wings - fullOgreendust/Reddit

You'd be forgiven for not even knowing Papa John's offers Hot Lemon Pepper Wings. The sauce was added as an option back in early 2023 and didn't exactly cause much of a stir, except with the employees who denounced its very existence and would strongly advise against giving it a try in the first place.

In the week of its launch, one Papa John's worker took to Reddit to declare that their store's entire team declared it to be "a unanimous ew." According to their review, the fault of the Hot Lemon Pepper Wings isn't the combination of lemon and pepper themselves but more the fact that the result tasted like a strange mix of spices and had a weirdly gritty texture. "I started calling it the Papa Prank Sauce because there's no way anyone seriously let that go nationwide," they wrote. "If it were actually lemon pepper; we'd love it. However, it's way too, "red tasting" to be lemon pepper, way too much red pepper and cayenne."

The sight of the sauce alone was enough to ward off some employees, with one responding to this original post by confessing, "I'm surprised [you] guys wanted to try it, we're horrified at my store. It looks like puke." Others brave enough to give it a shot also claimed it was far too acidic and vinaigrette-esque to enjoy on chicken wings.


Alfredo sauce covering pizza
Alfredo sauce covering pizza - 26Point2/Reddit

If you're tempted to swap out the regular red sauce served by the chain for a rich, creamy Alfredo, this is your sign to give it a second thought. Papa John's workers with experience prepping pizzas have described the chain's Alfredo as one of the most mishandled ingredients in the entire kitchen. As one alleged employee explained on Reddit, it typically comes into the store frozen and is sometimes heated up to thaw it out as soon as possible. Though it needs to go in a cooler if the sauce creeps above a certain temperature, this is allegedly rarely the case. "Lots of times it is placed on the make line, not under the make line in the refrigeration unit like it should be," the employee wrote.

Questionable preparation methods aren't alone in putting Papa John's employees off Alfredo. The other reason is the practical challenges faced by those trying to use it on a pizza. Unlike red sauce, Alfredo tends not to be overly cooperative with the crust. "Our Alfredo sauce doesn't soak into the dough at all so it ends up almost soupy," another employee claimed in the same thread. Combined with the sheer amount of cheese added to Papa John's standard Alfredo pizza (aptly named the "Extra Cheesy Alfredo Pizza"), you get a pie that's extremely challenging to bake and will often deliver disappointing results.

Read the original article on Mashed