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Professional Chefs Share Red Flags To Look For When Eating Out

Who doesn't love eating out (at restaurants)? The food is only one small part of the experience, and the atmosphere of the place often serves as a preview of how good your food will be. Is the place clean? Is the menu too big? Is there soap in the bathroom? Is the staff happy?

Yuckyporkfarts asked, Chefs, what red flags do you look for when you go out to eat?

Submissions have been edited for clarity, context, and profanity.

Soda fountain spouts should be cleaned daily... if they're gross, sashay away.

I worked as a server and occasional line cook for several years.

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.

I've always appreciated when servers recommend what they like, rather than what's the most expensive. Expensive doesn't always mean better.

If your server recommends something that isn't the highest priced thing on the menu, appetizer or entree, you should probably get it. Your best bet it's their personal preference, but they eat that food daily, as do us cooks. And if we can eat it after weeks/months of cooking/serving it, it's probably worth your time.

It's an unwritten secret that not all food is cooked fresh... but you can taste when it's not.

Food comes out cold or dry you know they kept those until someone ordered it

Restaurants should smell... ok, they shouldn't smell, but if there is a smell, it should be pleasant.

I'm sure others have said this but the general smell. Not only can smell deter me from visiting a restaurant but the restaurant I work at recently had our pipes replaced and the dining room smelled of raw sewage for about 2 weeks. We lost a lot of business because of it.

Then again, if he's eating with cameras where you want to go, you might wanna go elsewhere. Or stay for the drama. Yeah, stay for the drama.

If I see Gordon Ramsay eating with a camera crew at the same restaurant I'm in, bye my guy.

Under-cooked meat can contain salmonella and other pathogens that are really unpleasant.

Food isn't the right temp.

Massive menus are confusing and overwhelming.

Massive menus. A good restaurant, specifically finer dining, will not crutch on a large menu but will have a consistent one - maybe a page or 2. Bigger menus usually mean that some items won't get ordered as often, and will have been likely sitting, especially if they're on the menu (i.e. lower cost).

Edit: Big menus can be very appropriate in context - such as those of ethnically specific restaurants. I've been to my share of Indian, Thai, and Japanese that had extensive menus, but expertly prepared dishes. This is most feasible though because a small number of ingredients are usually used in many dishes, such as rice or chicken.

Poor service means poor management, which could very well mean yucky food.

If the servers take 10+ min to greet the table when the restaurant isn't full, it has always been a poor experience overall. It tells me nobody is managing the entire restaurant correctly. And that carries over to food.

Dirty bathrooms, or unstocked bathrooms, are a deal breaker.

Bathrooms. If dirty or missing paper. GTFO. Same with dirty menus.

Edit: For clarification purposes, a dirty restaurant does not necessarily determine the quality and taste of the food you would be eating.

All I am saying is that your food will taste fine and there's a tiny chance of you getting sick due to the cleanliness of the restaurant/cook. Point of it is that the chef still has shit bacteria on their hand when they're handling your food. In reality, you are eating their poop.

Life Pro Tip: Washing hands properly. My only note on this that you should wash your hands for 30 seconds, not 20 seconds.

Also, recently when in the bathroom at my local grocery store, no soap, no paper towels. I brought it to the attention of the store manager and called the health inspector. Not a lot of businesses realize the nastiness of their facilities.

If the parking lot is empty, there's a reason.

A big one is definitely an empty parking lot during Lunch and Dinner. If the entire town is skipping out, you should too.

It's not a special if they have it every day. Makes me question the food overall.

If the daily special consists of items found in the standard menu it's probably not fresh and they're trying to get rid of old stock.

What's the old saying? Never trust a skinny chef? Ok, it's not absolute, but if they're thin AND sad, I ain't buyin'.

The great French chef Fernand Point left us some advice: "If I go somewhere new and the chef is very thin, I know my meal will be bad. If he is both thin and sad, I leave as quickly as possible."

I rely more on the sad thing than the thin thing. If I walk into a restaurant and I can feel sadness and anger from the staff, I leave.

Days-old fish? Bye.

Fish on the Sunday brunch menu. It got there Thursday and they are trying to get rid of it before it spoils. If the dish is fish with hollandaise DO NOT EAT IT!!! The fish is more than likely bad and they are hiding the smell with the hollandaise.

TIL cracks in plates hold germs and grit. So... not looking for that.

Plates with chips (large cracks) in them is a big indicator for me. Those chips host a lot of germs and if the restaurant isn't throwing them away, then they're probably lacking in other areas of food safety. (My mom was a chef)

Unless it's a truly unique special, it's probably... not that special.

I was a line cook for four years - "special" just means what we have a surplus of or is expiring soon.

Flies mean either a) filth or b) other pests.

I'm not a chef, but my mom is. She told me ANY flies in a closed restaurant is a really bad sign. She also said that really dim lighting can be bad if you are not at a really high-end restaurant.

Having soap in the bathroom is super basic and shouldn't be neglected. Gross.

I walk out of any restaurant if the soap dispenser in the bathroom is empty.

Workplace morale is a pretty good indicator of the type of experience you will have.

The attitudes of the waiters. If my waiter is demoralized and unfocused then there is a really high chance I'm going to have a bad experience. Either because of shitty service or a bad workplace culture that affects the quality of my food as well.

If nothing in plain sight gets wiped down, imagine what happens behind the scenes.

I work in hospitality and have for over 8 years. I say if the glass on the cabinets or windows have hand marks all over it and are gross, I'll tell you now that your food will be too.

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

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All of our childhoods have ups and downs and memories that can play out like nightmares. We carry that, or it follows us and the first step in recovery is talking about it. So who feels strong enough to speak?

Redditor u/nthn_thms wanted to see who was willing to share about things they'd probably rather forget, by asking:

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Whether you're an at home parent, a college student just leaving the nest, or a Food Network junkie, there are a few basic tips that everyone should know.

Chef's gave us some of their top tips for amateurs and beginner at home cooks that will really make a difference. They are trained professionals with years of experience in the kitchen, so they definitely know what we're all missing.

If you're looking to improve some of your cooking skills and techniques, but you're still learning how to boil water correctly, this list is for you.

Redditor BigBadWolf44 wanted in on the secrets and asked:

"Chefs of Reddit, what's one rule of cooking amateurs need to know?"

Let's learn from the masters!


What a common mistake!

"A lot of the time when people add salt to a dish because they think it tastes flat, what it really needs is an acid like lemon juice or vinegar."

- Vexvertigo

"Instructions unclear I drugged my dinner party guests and now they're high on acid."

- itsyoboi_human

"Yes! Or tomatoes. They're pretty acidic too and go with so many things. Our dinners are so much better once the garden tomatoes are ripe. Or if a dish is too acidic, oil/butter or a little sugar can help add balance to it."

- darkhorse85

"Like tomato and eggs. Every Chinese mom makes those slightly differently and I haven't had a tomato egg dish I didn't like yet."

- random314

"There's a book called 'Salt Fat Acid Heat' that comes highly recommended to amateur cooks."

- Osolemia

"Reading even just the first chapter about salt made a lot of food I cooked immediately better, because I finally understood salt wasn't just that thing that sat on the dinner table that you applied after the meal was cooked."

- VaultBoy42

"Salt is important for sweets. A batch of cookies without that little hint of salt doesn't taste quite right."

- Osolemia

Unfortunately, this tip might not be accessible to everyone. Many people who contracted COVID can no longer use their sense of smell the way they used to.

"Have a friend that lost his smell from COVID, and now he only recognizes if food is salty, sweet, sour or bitter."

- AlphaLaufert99

"Just wait until he gets his sense of smell back and a ton of foods smell like ammonia or literal garbage now. Yeah, that's fun... It's been 7 months for f*cks sake just let me enjoy peanut butter again!!!!!!!!!"

- MirzaAbdullahKhan

You can't take back what you've already put in.

"You can always add, but you cannot take away."

- El_Duende666

"I find people's problems usually are they're too scared to add rather than they add too much."

- FreeReflection25

"I see you also grew up white in the mid-west."

- Snatch_Pastry

Safety first!

"Not really a cooking tip, but a law of the kitchen: A falling knife has no handle."

- wooddog

"I'm always so proud of my reflexes for not kicking in when I fumble a knife."

"If I drop anything else, my stupid hands are all over themselves trying to catch it (and often failing). But with a knife the hardwired automatic reaction is jump back immediately. Fingers out of the way, feet out of the way, everything out of the way. Good lookin out, cerebellum!"

- sonyka

"Speaking of KICKING in. On first full time cooking job I had a knife spin and fall off the counter. My (stupid) reflex was to put my foot under it like a damn hacky sack to keep it from hitting the ground. Went through the shoe, somehow between my toes, into the sole somehow without cutting me. Lessons learned: (1) let it fall; (2) never set a knife down close to the edge or with the handle sticking out; (3) hacky sack is not nearly as cool as it could be."

- AdjNounNumbers

"Similarly, NEVER put out a grease or oil fire with water. Smother with a lid or dump baking soda in there (do not use flour, as it can combust in the air making things worse)."

- Metallic_Substance

How else will you know it tastes good?

"Taste the food."

- OAKRAIDER64

"Also don't be afraid to poke and prod at it. I feel like people think the process is sacred and you can't shape/flip/feel/touch things while you cook them. The more you are hands on, the more control you have."

"No, this does not include situations where you are trying to sear something. Ever try flipping a chicken thigh early? That's how you rip a chunk out of it and leave it glued to the pan until it's burnt."

- Kryzm

Here's one just for laughs.

"When you grab a pair of tongs, click them a few times to make sure they are tongs."

- Kolshdaddy

"People really overlook this one. You've gotta tong the tongs a minimum of 3 times to make sure they tong, or else it can ruin the whole dish."

- BigTimeBobbyB

If you're looking to get into cooking or to improve you technique, pay attention to these few tips.

Salt generously, add an acid to brighten things up, and don't forget to taste your food!

If all else fails, you can always order take out.

Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.

Victoria_Borodinova/Pixaba

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