Once you take that first bite and the timer starts, the challenge has begun and you now must abide by the restaurant’s established “house rules” while finishing the entire meal. If you have any questions about the rules, you need to address them before you start eating because “I didn’t know” will not be an acceptable excuse if you break the rules and get disqualified. You cannot just start over. As an eater, there are few things more depressing than when a restaurant owner declares you a failure when you thought you had won, and you were not aware of the reason that you were disqualified. In the end, that is your fault because you did not clarify the rule beforehand. If you have never attempted a food challenge before, or have only attempted a few, there are questions you should clear up that you most likely have not even thought of yet. Some restaurants are strict about their rules and some are very lenient, but you should prepare yourself so that you are ready for any situation. Here is a solid list of questions to clarify so you don’t have to learn the answers the hard way:

When does the official challenge time begin? – There are basically four different possible scenarios for when the official challenge timer or clock begins. Most restaurants begin the timer as soon as you take your first bite. Whether you let the challenge cool down for 5 minutes or 15 minutes, that is up to you and is acceptable. Once you take your first bite though, the clock begins. Some restaurants begin the clock as soon as you touch, separate, or cut into the food. If this is the rule, then you need to wait a while before touching the food. Let the exterior cool for a while, and then just let the inside cool while you are eating the cooled down exterior. Then there are some restaurants that set a specific maximum time limit that your food is allowed to cool before time begins. You may be allowed 5 minutes or 10 minutes. If this is the rule, you need to separate the food to let it cool off as much as possible before that time runs out and the official challenge time begins. If you cannot even separate the food during that period, you will just have to adjust accordingly. The fourth possibility that may occur is that a few restaurants begin the clock as soon as the challenge meal touches the table. This really sucks if you like taking pictures and stuff before beginning, especially if you are filming yourself. If the cafe or restaurant has this rule, try to negotiate a few minutes so that you can take pictures and other miscellaneous things before beginning. More often than not, you will get those few extra minutes. Most restaurants just start the time as soon as you take a bite, but there are definitely other options. Ask what the rule is when you order so that you are not surprised when time starts as soon as it hits the table. Learn the rule and adjust accordingly.

Can you cut or separate your food before beginning? – This is mentioned in the question above, but is really its own separate question, and it especially applies when you are trying to break a very low time record. Find out whether you can divide, separate, and/or cut up your challenge before the official time starts. If you are allowed to separate your 6 patty burger beforehand, for example, you may choose to do that so that you don’t have to waste time separating everything once the time starts. Can you cut your steak up beforehand? 98% of the time you cannot, but you may want to cut up a few pieces if you can so that you don’t spend a whole bunch of time cutting the steak while the clock is running, since you need to be eating and not just cutting. This rule really depends on the restaurant and the only way to learn the answer is to ask the question. Some places will let you separate your food to let it cool and others will not. Find out the rules beforehand and adjust accordingly.

Does the food have to be in your mouth OR swallowed when time expires? – If you are doing a speed challenge with a short time limit, attempting to break a time record, or attempting a large challenge that may take you the entire time limit to complete, make sure to ask this question before you begin. You need to know whether your time ends when you open your empty mouth or when the last bit of food is placed in your mouth, waiting to be swallowed. Not knowing this rule can definitely cost you your challenge victory by just a few seconds, and you don’t want that. This rule varies based on the restaurant, so you definitely should not make any assumptions.

What can you do during the challenge? Can you get up and walk around? – Almost all food challenge rules will not allow you to “throw up” or go to the bathroom during your challenge, but are there any other things you can and cannot do? Are you able to go outside to get some fresh air or smoke a cigarette? Are there any restrictions on whether you can stand or kneel? You will not encounter this rule very often during quantity challenges, but there are some restaurants that require you to stay seated the entire time, and you are not allowed to even stand and stretch. Ask this question beforehand so that you know what you can and cannot do. If you stand up to stretch and are then told you must sit right back down, that might throw off your rhythm and cause you to not finish the challenge in time. While that would be unfortunate, the situation is very preventable by asking this question beforehand. Please note that most spicy challenges require that you do sit the entire time period.

Are there any rules regarding beverages? – This type of rule is also very rare, but you may encounter it at some point. There are some restaurants that limit you to drinking only 1 cup of liquid during the entire food challenge. There are also restaurants that limit you to only being allowed to drink water during the challenge. If the challenge you are attempting has a rule limiting your use of extra beverages, you will need to prepare for that accordingly. While asking this question, also check to see whether soft drinks are included with the challenge or not. Are there free refills? If drinks are not included, you may choose to only drink water, simply to avoid the extra expense. That is up to you, but be sure to ask this question early so you don’t encounter any surprises.

If it is a spicy challenge, are you allowed to drink anything or use extra sauces? – This is pretty straightforward, but definitely a question that you need to know the answer to before beginning. You are not allowed to drink anything or use any “help” (fatty sauces) during most spicy challenges, but you are allowed to drink liquid every now and then, depending on the restaurant and size of the challenge. Some spicy challenge rules allow you to drink liquids, but there are particular restrictions just like in the paragraph above. You may only be allowed to drink one glass of water, or you may be able to drink anything that is not a dairy product, since the chemical used in spicy challenges is fat-soluble. You may encounter a challenge where you cannot drink anything, but you can dip the items in a fatty dressing or top it with sour cream. You may want to call and ask this question before even getting to the restaurant, because then you can plan accordingly and bring whatever liquid or sauce that you need just to make sure that it is available. True chili-heads will call you a cheater if you use “help” during a spicy challenge, but you are not cheating if the “house rules” allow you to, so take advantage of the opportunity.

If it is a spicy challenge, is there an “afterburn” period? – An “afterburn” period is the amount of time you must wait after finishing a spicy challenge before you are allowed to take a drink and begin recovering from the intense heat. Most “afterburn” periods are five or six minutes long, and you will be disqualified if you take a drink during that period. Ask this question  beforehand because you will have to mentally prepare yourself for it if there is one included with the challenge. “Afterburn” periods are typically associated with spicy challenges that award better prizes, but really it just depends on the restaurant hosting the particular spicy challenge.

Does the challenge involve a “waiting period” after finishing? – This question refers to both quantity and spicy food challenges. Are you required to “keep the food down” for a certain amount of time directly after finishing the challenge? Some restaurants have a five minute “waiting period” in which you must remain seated so that they can monitor you and make sure that you don’t “throw up” or have a “reversal of fortune” directly after swallowing the last bite. I have even encountered “waiting periods” up to fifteen minutes, which was very inconvenient, but rules are rules. If there is one included, you must do everything possible to make sure that you don’t “reverse” before that time period is up. Hopefully this rule never has to matter to you, but you should definitely ask the question beforehand anyway just so that you don’t need to worry about asking it later.

Who is in charge of keeping track of the official time? – It is definitely recommended that you keep track of your own time with your own stopwatch, but most restaurants keep track of the official time too. Some restaurants are more relaxed than others, and there may be points where nobody from the staff is even watching you. If the official time is important for your challenge, you need to ask which person is in charge of keeping track of the official time. If that particular person is not there with only a few minutes remaining, you can then start asking other servers to find that person so that he or she can stop the clock when you are done. The restaurant’s time is usually the one that counts, so you need to do what you can to make sure that it is as accurate as possible, especially if the restaurant does not use a digital timer or stopwatch. If they use a “wind-up” kitchen timer, be sure to keep your own digital time to make sure everything is accurate. Their clock won’t be 100% accurate down to the second, and it may be a minute longer or a minute shorter. You don’t want to get stuck losing with one bite left at 44 minutes when the inaccurate timer goes off for the 45 minute challenge. If you timed it yourself, you can argue for that extra minute. Ask who is in charge before you start and let the staff know this isn’t your first “rodeo.” They will more than likely be proactive and make sure that you are well taken care of.

Are you allowed to dunk your food in liquid? – The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no” and there really is no gray area. If you are attempting a challenge that involves a very thick bun, crust, or any other type of bread, and you plan on dunking it in a liquid to help soften it up so that you can consume it faster, you need to clarify this question before beginning. If you plan on dunking and you know you are allowed to, you may want to order a special drink just so that you can dunk your food in it. You may even want to bring your own “dunking cup” to the restaurant if you know you will be using it. Ask the question beforehand so that nobody is surprised when you actually do it. If you don’t know there is a “no dunking clause” in the rules, and you begin dunking your food, a strict owner may disqualify you and that is your own fault. If you were planning on dunking but then find out you can’t, you are now able to adjust your strategy and plan accordingly to get the big challenge victory.

You will not encounter any of the above ten questions during most of your eating challenges, but knowing the answers to those questions before beginning a challenge where the particular situations may arise could end up being the difference between winning and losing a big challenge. Ask beforehand and you will be a winner!!

Thanks for reading questions to clarify before you begin eating and using FoodChallenges.com!!

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