Reddit user FlintTheDad asked: 'What’s an immediate red flag at a restaurant?'
When we think of the term "red flags," we're quick to think of red flags that might appear in a problematic or abusive relationship.
But red flags can appear in any place in our life, especially the workplace or places that consumers frequent, like big box stores and restaurants.
When it comes to restaurant red flags, these are important to note, as they could have a negative impact on a consumer's health.
Redditor FlintTheDad asked:
"What's an immediate red flag at a restaurant?"
"When you see the owner breaking apart frozen chicken on the curb outback."
"High humidity inside."
"Yes! The small that causes is unmistakable."
"All of the furniture and menus are weirdly sticky..."
"I know what *some* of that is. Some furniture and cleaning solutions aren't compatible. The cleaning spray reacts with the finish on the table tops, and softens, it, which makes it feel a bit sticky, and dulls it super fast... but it's the sanitizer cleaner they use for *everything*, and they don't want to have to deal with a separate cleaner for certain surfaces."
"I used to sell commercial office furniture, and we'd run into this issue sometimes. The worst was when a company asked us to source some tables they found from a local craftsman (since we were already an approved vendor in their system, they often had us buy and deliver stuff for them). Beautiful, hand-made stuff."
"So we bought them and arranged for the delivery and placement. When we got to the site and saw where they wanted them, I cringed... I knew the tables were finished in shellac, and they were having us put them in their lounge area, where I knew they often had events with drinks."
"Shellac dissolves in alcohol. Spilling a drink on it can ruin the finish. Before we left, I left a note on the tables about being careful and emailed the client some care tips. The NEXT DAY they sent us pictures of the ruined finish, asking, 'What is wrong with our tables?!'"
"A seafood restaurant should NOT smell fishy."
"And conversely, a seafood MARKET that does not smell fishy is indeed fishy."
A Specific Smell
"You know the one. floors feel a little slippery/slimy underfoot and it smells like they've been mopping the place with the same dirty mop and bucket water for weeks."
"This isn't something you're likely to see in a nice place but I've encountered it in more fast-casual dining places than I care to remember."
"THAT smell. It always reminds me of yeast rolls. I guess it's bacteria in the mop water that has been setting in that bucket for three days."
"This is a dead giveaway. If they can't keep part of the restaurant that the public DOES see clean, you can imagine how the non-public facing parts look."
"Health inspector here. The key is to look for build-up that looks like it's been there more than a day. Most places don't have bathroom attendants and it's unrealistic to expect public bathrooms to be spotless every minute of the day."
The Right Audience
"Whenever I have friends come to visit me in Osaka and they're dying to try some authentic ramen. My goto line is:"
"'Look for the most run-down looking, back ally shack you can, the more run-down looking; the better. Guaranteed It'll be the best ramen you'll ever have!'"
"And to anyone who happens to read this, no, Ichiran is NOT the best reman joint. It's nice don't get me wrong but please ask around, research ramen in the area you're visiting, I guarantee you there's SO much better out there!"
"I look for people of that ethnicity eating there. Mexican restaurant with only white people? It might be good. Mexican restaurant with Mexicans wearing high-vis shirts? S**t's going be fire. Bonus points if there’s a grocery store attached."
"The same thing goes for Asian restaurants sans the high-vis shirts."
Too Many Variables
"A huge menu."
"A huge VARIED menu."
"Places like Chinese, Mexican, and Indian restaurants generally have large menus, but most items use the same base ingredients."
"It's the places that try to incorporate lots of wildly different dishes that you want to avoid."
Unexpected Restaurant Guests
"A raccoon falling through the ceiling tiles. 1:00 AM, drunk as h**l, looking for something to eat, and I found a dive that was still open. I ordered my food, and while waiting for my order, a raccoon fell from the ceiling."
"The waitress ran to the back screaming. The cook came out armed with a cleaver and chased it into the kitchen. The look on his face was like it had happened before. Other people eating there were in shock and got up and left."
"Mystery meat: the new special. Get me the f**k out of there."
That Wait Time
"I immediately look to see if there is anyone actually eating. If there are a half dozen tables with no food on them, and people looking anxiously to the kitchen, I'm out."
Cleaning Response Time
"Multiple dirty tables that haven’t been cleared. If the restaurant isn’t crowded, staff should have time to clean them. If it is crowded, staff should be trying to turn tables over quickly."
"Dirty tables mean they are either severely understaffed or the staff just doesn’t care. Either way, you will be waiting a long time."
"Once went into a restaurant that boasted the biggest Cinnamon Rolls in the city/state... Only for there to be a pervasive smell of absolutely raw stagnate sewage throughout the dining room. Needless to say, did not return."
Construction Said It Best
"A green flag for a restaurant is when you see a lot of construction workers going there for lunch. You'll know it's cheap and good, hearty food."
"In my old city, there was this tiny little family-owned Chinese restaurant with delicious and cheap lunch specials. Every construction worker downtown sat at the counter at the front for lunch."
"Meanwhile, the waiters would be in this little back room watching TV and the chef must have been at least 70 years old. The food was genuinely so delicious and filling. Probably not good for your cholesterol but so tasty!"
"Not a red flag about the food but if a place has their music up so loud I can’t hear the person I’m with, then I won’t eat there."
"Conversely, if it's TOO quiet; as in, not only is the sound system way too low, but if the customers are also weirdly quiet (barely having conversations, just sort of sitting there) and the atmosphere seems almost stifling."
"A couple of years ago we walked into a gastropub in Scotland just like this - very low music, the room was half full (and this was at peak lunch time), and everyone who was there were just sitting, looking sullen, barely speaking, waiting for their food. Just really... odd... vibes."
"After five minutes of sitting at the bar trying to get the attention of staff (who were all standing around looking at their phones), we left and went to a definitely *not fancy* cafe down the block that was the absolutely opposite: people just seemed happy to be there, staff were attentive, and the vibe was really welcoming."
The Ultimate Red Flag
"Gordon Ramsey walking in with a camera crew."
"One of the local restaurants we like was recently closed for a bit due to filming for 'Kitchen Nightmares.'"
"My husband still likes to get their food, but I'm waiting until the episode airs!"
No restaurant is going to be perfect 100 percent of the time. They're going to have a slow night or poor response time or get some orders wrong from time to time.
But there are far more problematic behaviors and characteristics to find in a restaurant that are perfectly good reasons to never go back there again, no matter how good they may have been in the past.
Reddit user stevesmd asked: 'What’s the most disgusting thing you have seen in a restaurant?'
When we're dining out, we're generally excited, because it's meant to be a positive experience. Good food with someone we love, or as our me-time, what's not to love?
The last thing we want to think about is the possibility that something is going wrong in the kitchen, but as some Redditors have witnessed, sometimes one of the kitchens we can't eat from... is one of the professional ones.
Redditor stevesmd asked:
"What's the most disgusting thing you have seen in a restaurant?"
"Condensation above a buffet turning brown and dripping back down on the food..."
Nah, That Was Just Super Rat
"I saw a napkin run across a floor. It was really a rat that somehow had a napkin draped over it but it was surreal and super funny to watch."
"We'd joke about eating at the place that held napkin races any time no one could come up with a place to eat, and then usually someone would be like, 'Naww, let's just hit up another restaurant.'"
Something Off About Those Smoothies
"While working at a restaurant, I pulled back the slushie machine because I smelled something off coming from behind."
"The smell was black mold. I quit on the spot and reported the restaurant to the health authority."
Cleaning Up After the Baby
"A woman changing her baby's diaper on one of the tables. Before you throw hate at me, there were changing tables in both bathrooms."
Intimate Plating Habits
"As a waiter: watching the 'chef'/owner scooping spaghetti out of the steam table with bare hands and plopping it on a plate. We didn't call the resort 'S**thole' (Chateau) [name redacted] for nothing."
Build Your Own Germs
"This was one of those build-your-own frozen yogurt places with 100 different toppings."
"I watched a kid take a spoonful of cookie dough, eat it, and then put the spoon back in the container."
"The owner was snacking out of the garnish tray for the bartenders. She was just snacking on the lemon wedges and sugar sticks meant for the drinks."
"She was putting her fingers in her mouth and then diving back in for another cherry or orange wedge right there at the bar in front of me and a friend."
"I looked at her and said, 'What you're doing is f**king disgusting, those go in people's drinks, and you're putting your gross fingers in there.'"
"She scoffed and walked away. The bartender came over and thanked me for saying something and explained the staff tells her that all the time, but she doesn't listen because she's the owner."
Sharing a Cutting Board
"They were cutting raw and cooked chicken on the same cutting board at the same time. The kitchen is open and you can see what's going on from the dining area."
"Everything comes pre-packaged, and they don't have anything fresh. I haven't eaten there ever since."
A Misused Band-Aid
"Buddy ordered a burger. Took two bites then tasted something strange. It was a band-aid. A used band-aid.
"My mom and her sisters found a band-aid in a pizza once. The manager wouldn't refund them so they stood outside the door and told everyone who walked in."
"They got their refund."
A Shocking Moment
"In-N-Out in SoCal, I saw a man chow down on his double-double, then immediately throw up into his red tray. He just kind of sat there shocked, and nobody else seemed to notice but me. It was surreal honestly."
One of Super Rat's Family Members
"A rat ran out from the kitchen and jumped on a table people were eating at. They all screamed, the rat ran along the table on the booth/table trying to find a way out but essentially took the worst route possible."
"This wasn't a high-end place and none of the wait stuff seemed that bothered, they had a similar attitude to if they had brought you the wrong meal. Like apologetic, but it's not a big deal. Which gave the impression this happens all the time and it was just another day for them."
"So we stopped going there."
Questionable Feminine Hygiene
"I used to work at an Italian restaurant where there was a used tampon sitting around in the back of the kitchen. Of course, no one wanted to touch it so it sat there for the entire time I worked there. They never cleaned the back of the kitchen."
Nothing Wrong with Dogs, But...
"I guess Starbucks counts as a restaurant, so a couple of Christmases ago, I stopped in for some coffee after getting a couple of gifts."
"I immediately saw multiple baristas petting a dog I assumed to be their manager's, but they went back to handling the food and drink without washing their hands, so I walked back out."
"One of the creepier pandemic/lockdown stories I've heard involved a prosperous neighborhood in suburban Maryland."
"A guy who bought the house of a friend had lived there. He'd been just down the road from a strip mall with quite a few casual but upscale restaurants and bars."
"During the time, these places were shut down or limited to carryout, and the amount of trash put out dropped hugely. The guy's neighborhood was then overrun with rats looking for food."
"He couldn't even let his smallish dog hang out in the yard anymore. That was partly why he moved."
An Unhinged First Date
"In a very posh restaurant, a man in his early 60s with a smart suit was on what looked like a first date. They chatted happily and ordered wine and steak."
"But when the meal was served, he cut his steak while chatting, looked into her eyes, and dipped his steak into her red wine up to his knuckles, opened his mouth wide, and threw it in."
"Then he picked up a chip and repeatedly dunked that in her drink while she looked on, shocked."
"Then he wiped his fingers on his tie and drank his drink. She looked visibly shocked."
"Then she went to the toilet and snuck out the back and away into the night. He got a call and spoke loudly to, I assume, a friend about how a steak meal guarantees a booty call, so it's on tonight."
"I ate slowly, waiting to watch him realize she had left. One hour later, he got madder and madder, screaming into the phone at her number, calling her horrid things... That lass had a very lucky escape."
It's easy to see why these were the most disgusting things that some people had witnessed, and it's even worse to think about all of the stories there are in the world that were not included on this Reddit thread...
Professional Chefs Share Red Flags To Look For When Eating Out[rebelmouse-image 18359015 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359016 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359017 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359019 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18350672 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359020 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359021 is_animated_gif=
Food isn't the right temp.
Massive menus are confusing and overwhelming.[rebelmouse-image 18359022 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359023 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359024 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359025 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359026 is_animated_gif=
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'.[rebelmouse-image 18359027 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359028 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359029 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359030 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359032 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18359033 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18345715 is_animated_gif=
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.[rebelmouse-image 18350680 is_animated_gif=
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.