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.