Photo by Louis Hansel/Unsplash

What's the sign of a great restaurant? Well, the most likely to know are the professionals. Reddit user ballinlikemyname wanted to know how the rest of us home cooks should select our next dinner date location.

ballinlikemyname asked:

"Chefs, what do you look for when you select a restaurant to dine at?

Not only did people share their red flags, but also how they know a restaurant is going to be good.

Here's some helpful hints from professional chefs and food industry workers to help you pick your next meal.

Go to places you could never recreate the menu.

"My dad was a professional chef his entire life. As a kid if we went out to eat, he would never want to go somewhere he could do himself. IE steakhouses, pub food, seafood, etc."

"He would want to go somewhere that would be difficult for him to cook authentically, so we frequented a lot of ethnic restaurants."

"This also was vice-versa. He cooked me Thai food once or twice at home but didn't like doing it because he knew he'd never be able to accurately recreate it like a Thai restaurant."

- patlaska

"This is why Olive Garden is such a sh!tty casual restaurant. I'm no chef but I can make pasta better than they make there for next to free with my eyes closed."

"My mac N Cheese also blows the pants off of any I've ever had ever."

"My favorite go-to place is this local Irish breakfast place. I don't have time or energy to make fresh hollandaise sauce, poached eggs, or corn beef hash at 8am."

- KnightDuty

Cleanliness was a reoccurring theme in the answers to this question.

Never thought to look there.

"Number 1 red flag is the spouts on the soda fountain. Those things are one of the easiest things to clean in the entire place, so if they're mildewy that kills my interest in eating there. I'm fine with a bit of mess elsewhere, especially in a high volume place since it will get messy over the course of the day. But those spouts take multiple days of no washing to get to a point where they are noticeably disgusting."

- wejivedc

"As a former chef, cleanliness and appearance of staff. If any one thing visible to the public that would be easy to clean is dirty, chances are the kitchen is dirty. The appearance of the dishes and utensils as well. There is a specific way that the dishes should look and even smell if they have been cleaned properly. When the machine is not being run correctly, the dishes will have a specific stale water smell to them and there will be a coating on them. The more basic and streamlined the menu, the more likely your food will be fresh due to frequent replenishment. Washrooms are an indiction of cleanliness as well."

- wastingtimenoreason

This was surprising.

"When I was food service manager at a large company I asked the health inspector where she ate. She said fast food because their cleanliness rules were more stringent than regular restaurants."

- beadsis

"A mom and pop restaurant? Yeah, held to no standards but whatever they choose to set. A multinational fast food chain? You can bet corporate has a book of health rules that each store has to follow."

"But here's the thing, coming from an insider in the fast food business: health inspectors, private health auditors, corporate giving the public the appearance that everything is being cleaned - it's all a sham. I'm a cook and I've been told to cook up rotting meat before. Our line cooler was broken so the manager told us to put everything on ice, which isn't going to keep a pan full of chopped steak cold. Our line freezer also breaks down a lot so sometimes we serve thawing frozen-to-fried product to all our customers as well. Dishes don't get sanitized properly."

"Dumb teenagers don't change their gloves after hand placing raw chicken on the grill. Raw meat gets panic thawed in hot water. Everything is held to lesser standards until it's announced that the health auditor is making the rounds. At my previous job, a manager dropped food on the floor and still served it because she was afraid of the customer getting mad for having to wait for a new one."

- redgroupclan

This chef has a check list.

"Clean. Bathrooms should look & smell clean. Run my fingers under the edge of the table/bar, no gum and no grit. Clean glasses and cutlery (amazing how many places don't do this... Here's looking at you place I went to in Manhattan where the server licked his fingers and tried to rub/scrape dried orange pulp off the lip of my glass and then give it back to me). And if the entrance is dirty then everything is dirty."

"Menu that I feel is manageable at a good quality for the type of restaurant."

"Social media - a few places have ended up on my eat it list because of their instagrams and such. Hell yes I'll check out your cafe if you post pictures of drool worthy croissants. Showing off your meat locker is a good way to make me interested in what I might dismiss as a run-of-the-mill steakhouse."

"Reasonably busy - everywhere has off days/nights, but if a place is never busy there's probably a reason and that reason is likely that it's not a great restaurant."

"Industry friend recommendations. Reputation goes a long way - someone I trust says it's good? I'll check it out."


Keep it simple.

"A restaurant that does just a few things well. I don't need a place that serves burgers AND eggs Benedict AND seafood AND pasta AND meatloaf, etc."

"The problem is there probably isn't enough turnover to get all that stuff out in a timely manner, so some ingredient might be past it."

"I am particularly picky about seafood. The odds that those fried clams are fresh in a diner, for example? Not great. They've either been sitting there for a while or are frozen."

- lastcallface

Avoid the mayo based salads.

"I was a chef. I've since moved on from the industry, but I'll eat anywhere. Clean or dirty, busy or slow, working in the kitchen took a lot of those judgements out of my head. It might be great, it might be terrible, but you never know unless you try. Some of the best food I've ever had has come from places you'd least expect."

"So I'd pick whatever is close and I haven't tried yet."

"Oh, and avoid mayo based salads. They have low turnover. That applies to everywhere no matter how fancy."

- marmadick

The menu can tell you a lot about the quality of the food.

"A menu thats max 2 sides - places with long book like menus are guaranteed to be using frozen/microwave stuff."

- g0ldensunfl0wer

"Unless those are 25 combinations made with 5 different meats and 5 different sauces (typical of some Asian restaurants)."

- RNBQ4103

Sometimes a line is a good sign.

"I think the answer is pretty well known: open so late it's early, full of other chefs because that's the place they've always congregated."

- scolfin

Check with the server.

"If you ask the server what they recommend, and they're hesitant, you may as well just get up and leave."

"They know what's fresh/good and not. They know if nothing is."

- nessie7

Big takeaways include short menus, long lines, try something new, keep it simple, but above all else: make sure the place is clean.

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