Chefs From Around The World Share Their Restaurant Red Flags

Chefs From Around The World Share Their Restaurant Red Flags

You know when a restaurant isn't good. They serve you a cold entree or the staff is surly, and you're not going back to that place anytime soon. Chefs, though, they do it differently. Between their experience and excruciatingly high standards, they are really good at predicting when a dining experience is going to go bad. And they can do this within minutes of entering the lobby, sometimes even from the parking lot.

Limp parsley? An every Wednesday two-for-one? Aprons where they ought not to be? Chefs say all of these are tipoffs, at diners or at the finest establishments. These pros (along with a couple of bartenders and even a random health inspector) are sharing their insights, so read on. They're weird tips, sure, but when you can spot red flags, you can save your budget for the places most likely to make eating out a true pleasure.


76. Something Smells Off

I've heard that if you actually smell fish at a sushi restaurant, it's in your & your insides best interest to hightail it out of there.

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75. Here To Eat, Not To Read

If a restaurant has a one-page menu that's usually a pretty good sign, it means their line cooks have become specialists and can usually nail all the dishes listed.

Conversely, if a restaurant has a giant, multi-page menu that's a gigantic red flag. The longer the menu the better the odds that you're paying to eat a boiled bag frozen meal.

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74. Seems Like A Friendly Place

Cook for a small Mexican restaurant here. I always look for how the staff interact with each other. If they all seem to enjoy being there, and coordinate well, more often than not it's because everything is running smoothly and they have a good system, which usually means they know what they're doing and you can expect good food. That's how it always is for the smaller, family run restaurants I frequent anyway, which I believe always have the best food.


73. Pretty Plates

Presentation is a big thing.

Even the cheapest greasy spoon should be taking a couple seconds to make it look nice. If you see your meal and another person's mall look like utter dog crap, the kitchen crew doesn't care about the little things which means they likely don't care about the bigger things like food safety.

I'm not a chef, just someone who spent their entire childhood behind the counter and in the kitchens of my parents and a half dozen relatives.

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72. The One And Only

I work in a pizza restaurant and we have a Thai chicken pizza with peanut sauce as the base sauce. It’s our least popular pizza and the peanut sauce is almost ALWAYS expired... point being that if there is an item on the menu that has an ingredient you don’t see anywhere else on the menu, red flag. Odds are it probably doesn’t get ordered enough to keep up on inventory.

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71. It's For Your Health

Former Health Inspector here:

If there's a self serve soda machine go ahead and take a napkin around the inside of the Sprite/clear-soda-available nozzle. If your napkin comes out pink, brown, or orange SKIP THE SODA.

A Sprite nozzle should come out clear. If it's pink or orange then it's slime mold (it's actually a bacteria, but that's what we called it). If it's brown, it's likely cola. But if the cola nozzle was put on the sprite dispenser and is still brown you know the nozzles aren't being cleaned properly.

Also go ahead and look closely at the ice chute. I see green algae in those a lot.

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70. How Long's The Wait?

You might have to be a chef to recognize this, but my red flag is going into a busy restaurant and noticing none of the tables have food, or not many customer are yet eating. This usually means the kitchen is going down in flames.

One time I noticed this and could see some food slowly stacking up in the window, but no orders coming out. I mentioned it to the server and he replied, "I wouldn’t suggest ordering food." He brought our drink check and we left. He was tipped well for his honesty.


69. Time For A Change

In addition to a super large, diverse menu being a huge red flag that you're getting frozen meals run through the microwave, watch for "No Substitutions".

If the place makes it's own food, they can sub virtually anything for anything else. While they may try to play it up as "Our food is perfect and we refuse to change it on moral grounds", its almost always a sign of "This was made 2 months ago and all we do is reheat it".

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68. Don't Be Crabby

If you ever order something with crab, always ask “What kind of crab is it?” Even though it might sound like a snobby question, it will reveal whether it’s canned or not. My favorite answer when I went out one time was “What are you talking about?” Clearly indicating it was not fresh.

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67. Take A Look Around

I have worked for many restaurants and been to many others. If the place has low lightning (unless it's intentional), roughly no customer activity, floors aren't clean, place smells bad, booth seats move, drinks that taste funny (this is a sign that they don't clean their soda fountains or tea urns) and low quality customer service are all signs that you should look out for if you're going to eat. If a restaurant is poorly maintained, the food might not be of good quality either.

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66. And They Misspell Your Name

Former barista and assistant manager here:

If the restaurant has a coffee machine visible, take a look at the steamer. If it's covered in white, means they don't clean after frothing the milk.

Most likely they don't run steam after heating up the milk, meaning that there is residual milk inside the nozzle of the steamer, which gets burnt and generates bacteria. Don't order coffee in there. Also most likely the cloth used to "clean" the steamer from time to time is disgusting and used for more than just wiping the milk out of it.

A restaurant with a good philosophy about health and safety cleans the coffee machine every night.

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65. Down To Human Error

I wasn't a chef, just a humble stock boy, but I can say this; a good amount of hot food isn't truly kosher/halal, and a lot of seemingly vegan food isn't.

9 times out of 10, it's a result of ignorance; a skillet that made sausage during the breakfast shift might not have been washed before being used to blacken chicken or saute vegetables for lunch. Simple mistakes that can be attributed to human error and shift changes.

1 time out of 10, it's a result of necessity and space; two meats might share a tray due to a lack of space. This is more a result of the menu dictating the kitchen, instead of vice versa.

If you live by strict (voluntary) dietary restrictions, dine as such: kosher restaurants, halal restaurants, and vegan restaurants will always beat one restaurant with kosher/halal/vegan options.


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64. Manage This

High turnover. Usually means poor management and that means unhappy employees. Unhappy employees means that they don't give a crap about you or your food. I worked at a pizza hut and was on my 3rd manager. I worked there for a year at that point and was the longest working employee. The manager wasn't the best person but he could manage the store. We didn't like him for a number of reasons (racist, misogynist, slept with an employee while his wife worked there, etc.) But he managed the store well and the turnover wasn't that high. Well he got fired a couple months later and his assistant took over. Everyone liked her and wanted her to have the position but she sucked at management. So much that we started to not like her it was so bad. I left before it got to bad but checked in recently and they had 13 people out of 20 quit or put in for 2 or so weeks. Management plays a big part in turnover. Not totally them as a person but how they run the store. So bad management equals bad food.

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63. Stick To Those Who Know

Don’t be the first table, don’t be the last table! In fact never be the last table. We’ve all been here for hours in a hot smokey kitchen without breaks and you’d like entrees and mains 5 mins before closing? Dude your meal isn’t getting looked after it’s getting fired as quickly as possible.

If you’re interested in the special, have it Monday that’s waste that’s getting reheated skip if it’s mid-week.

If you want a burger go to a burger bar, if you want tapas go somewhere Spanish, etc etc. Don’t turn up at an Italian place and ask for french dressing.

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62. Ever The Pessimist

If you can smell the fryer from outside the building, get back in your car and drive on. If they don’t maintain the fryer oil, they dont deep clean at all.

Nifty tip. If you have to go to the bathroom soon after you eat, you have low level food poisoning. Now think of the last place you ate that didn’t happen. That’s a good restaurant.

Sadly, they are truly few a far between. That’s how Gordon Ramsey made so many episodes of kitchen nightmares.

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61. Ice Ice Baby

I suggest you get your drink without ice. I’ve worked in restaurants where they were cleaned once a year and the soda dispenser too. There are trays and things you gotta take off to clean underneath where slime will build up. Worst part is it’s usually above an ice bin. I cleaned it out every night when it was my duty and the water splashing around would free some of the nastiest gunk that would get in the ice. I always cleaned that out but not everyone is as considerate. Ice is dirty.

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60. Read The Room

Pastry chef here. As much as people say avoid specials, I can't speak for everyone but at least in desserts/breakfast pastries, if you see something new it's worth trying. Chances are it's something the chef has been working on for weeks on their own time, there's a lot of love and effort put into it.

Also, the standby if the menu is a book, it's probably not great.

The biggest thing to keep an eye on though imo is the staff. If there's ticked off people, get out as fast as you can obviously. If everyone is kinda apathetic and not talking to each other much, get out. That's also a bad environment, everyone is probably really passive aggressive, and that's going to show. If people seem genuinely good with being there even if it's busy or if there's playful ragging going on, that's where you want to be. The better the staff gets along, the better everthing in the place runs.

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59. Something's Afoot

Carpet. Yeah it's quieter and doesn't get slick, but it is one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen. I saw them pull it up when they remodeled (and put in more carpet). Vacuuming only goes so far in a restaurant and I know they never, ever shampood it.


58. Looking Good

Waitress here! If you see any food coming out that's messy and there's sauce all over the rim of the plate, etc, it's likely to mean that the chefs aren't putting much effort into their meals and they therefore will not be very good. All the chefs at my work find it SO important that everything is presented well and I agree, so if they miss something I'll check the plates and point it out which they always appreciate as it reflects well on them.


57. Serving Up Safety

I's always a good idea to check the amount of ServSafe certificates posted on their wall.

ServSafe is a national food safety training course that all managers have to take and pass to become managers. It is required in all food service establishments and for every ServSafe-certified employee, there should be a certificate visible to customers(similarly to health inspection).

So basically, the more certificates you see, the more employees that work there who truly understand food safety. It's an incredibly tough test and you have to actually understand the material in order to pass.

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56. Good Garbage

I was a chef for four years. Honestly, if you’re ever curious, go hang out near the back door/ trash cans. If it’s a good restaurant, it’ll look like a regular back door trash can area. If it’s somewhere you shouldn’t eat, it’ll look like a goddamn disaster zone.

Cooks who can’t keep up in the kitchen can’t keep up with breaking down boxes and taking out garbage, so they just throw stuff outside and deal with it later. Full sized, not-collapsed boxes, garbage bags not in the dumpsters, food waste leaking out of orifices, etc.

A messy outdoors is a reflection of a poorly run kitchen indoors.

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55. All We Ask Is Obvious Use Of Soap, Water, And A Comb

I don't care what you are wearing if I walk in and you have stained clothing, a rumpled apron, an outfit that looks like you grabbed it off the floor, crazy hair, unkempt beard, and a general lack of hygiene, I'm not eating there. I've been to three-star Michelin places that you expect perfection, and I've been to the mom and pop down the street, and in both cases, the staff looks presentable. Just be clean and presentable. If it isn't, the staff doesn't care and the management doesn't either.



54. Chef Of All Cuisines, Master Of None?

Huge menus. Very few restaurants can do many things great. And I don't want to go somewhere that does a lot of "okay" meals. Depends on the kind of restaurant of course. Just use your brain— if they sell burgers, tacos, sushi, Indian and a full eight pages more... don't expect much.


53. That Menu Item That Makes You Start Humming 'One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others'

Any place that has items that are on the menu that don't fit. The Chinese takeout place that has french fries. The American place that has tacos and spring rolls. The diner that has lamb couscous.


52. Spouts With Mildew Near The Mountain Dew

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


51. Everyone Matters

Seriously it's not just can ask basically anyone in the restaurant industry other than the Hosts and often times even them. Occasionally, especially them. The restaurant industry is EXTREMELY cross train heavy. Pretty much everyone has done something on both sides of the door if not multiple somethings. I've prepped and done dish and also hosted, bussed, barbacked, and served. If you want real answers, you're gonna have to pay attention.

Watch the bussers. See how many you can spot compared to the size of the restaurant. Anything over about 25 tables needs two bussers unless it's dead. And that's regular tables. If there are multiple banquet setups and large party sections and things of that nature, it needs to be 2 bussers regardless. Watch what tasks the bussers are completing in what order and how quick they are. Do they use tubs? Do they bus by hand? Is there a visible sink where they wash hands after bussing and before setting tables?

Watch the servers. Are they pre-bussing? Are they refilling drinks? Are they checking in with tables? Are they communicating with bussers, bartender,s hosts, anyone? Are they at the bar waiting long periods of time for peoples orders?

Look for managers. Do you see them walking around? Do you see them talking to tables? Doubly important if the place is busy.

There's so so so very much more but if you look for this basic set of things you'll be able to spot problems that tell you to go elsewhere. Cleanliness, speed, interaction, mood, consistency, etc. All of it is there if you're looking for it. You'll be a lot more informed than "OMG THE DISHWASHERS HAVE MAGNETS IN THEM" guy down below.

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50. Don't Get Sassy About Half-Full Salt Shakers

I personally always kept a very tidy restaurant and insisted my servers do the same but refilling a salt shaker in the middle of a busy shift would never be a top priority of mine. Dirty/sticky salt, pepper, or condiments that are clearly just left on the tables every day, on the other hand, would be a red flag to me.


49. Even Though They're On The Menu, Act Like They Aren't

A diner will have just about everything on its menu, including spaghetti and lobster. But the reality is you only want to order a narrow bunch of stuff at a diner— burgers, breakfasts, grilled cheese and maybe a Greek salad if it's Greek-owned.


48. Fancy Restaurant Servers Should Make The Menu Sing

Former server here, mostly at more formal restaurants. There was absolutely no excuse for not being able to describe a dish, as I was expected to take a test (at each place) where I could list every main component and pass with 90%. And again, if for some reason I was not able in that first couple weeks I would immediately explain that I hadn’t gotten to try it yet, but let me ask a friend who has and would immediately come back with an answer from the chef. I believe it should be this way. The last place I worked wasn’t so strict, and honestly, I never ate there. If you allow your servers to just make up stuff to tell people or be unable to describe a dish properly you clearly don’t care about the food you are serving, and honestly, with allergies on the rise, you are asking for a medical and legal disaster.


47. Be Willing To Wait For the Kitchen To Catch Up

If a restaurant is on a false wait, you will have a good experience. That means a host will tell you there is a 15-minute wait, but there are three or four tables open. The host or manager is helping control the flow of orders to the kitchen. A kitchen can only produce so much food. Once a guest is sat, they expect prompt service and their entree to only take 20-25 minutes once it is ordered (I’m talking American casual dining here. Think Olive Garden). I have had my hosts hold tables many times because the kitchen was running slow for various reasons.


46. The Nose Knows, Or Strongly Suspects

Former Health Inspector here: The first thing I notice is a smell. Everything has a unique odor and after doing it long enough, you can pick it out pretty quickly. Drains that aren't cleaned have a smell, standing water has a smell. Mice and rats have a smell. Cockroaches have a smell. Within five feet of the entrance, I know what kind of sanitation a restaurant has. After that, I look for "personal items". If there are personal items strewn about the bar, wait stations, pass-through window, kitchen, etc, I'll leave. Purses, drinks, and food from outside are nasty. People do some weird stuff at home. I don't want that stuff all over my restaurant. I was in three restaurants across the US every day for over three years. I've seen some stuff, but you never forget the smells.


45. Bars Where You Don't Want To Know What's On Tap

Bartender here. When I sit down at a bar I watch how the bartenders pour from their taps. If they stick the tap into the beverage while they're pouring I stick with a bottled version.
I was taught very early on not to do that and having worked at a lot of places where I've seen the smegma of built up mold, residue, dead fruit flies that come out of those things when they're cleaned, usually after many many months or years has passed in some cases...I'll always pass on tap if I see that.
I don't yell at the bartender, I don't make a scene, I just order a bottle because that isn't being handled by that establishment other than when they open it.


44. Who Wants A Server Who Can't Pronounce The Menu Any Better Than You Can?

In nicer restaurants, servers who don't know the menu. A server should be able to describe any dish on the menu (in basic terms). If they can't, there are some fundamental communication problems among the staff.


43. Visible Stress Up Front Means 10 Times More In Back

Former cook here (I can't bring myself to describe my previous job as a chef as I merely warmed up food). I always watch out for stressed-out staff. If the staff are overworked and not coping in the customer-facing side of the business, then things could very well be much worse behind the scenes. People will cut corners and will do anything to get rid of backed up meals and tickets. Cleaning and hygiene can go out the window in a stressful situation.


42. The Mark Of A Microwave In Action

If anything comes out steaming hot that shouldn't be hot. For example Jacket potato, if that comes out and it's erupting with enough steam that the glass wear gets condensation, then it's been zapped in the microwave.
Melted cheese which hasn't got brown or burn marks on it (except on a burger) it's been microwaved instead of a flame.


41. Wait, Have You Ever Even Tasted This?

If I'm at some little local place, or Pizza Express or something, I wouldn't expect the staff to know much about more than the prices, they're just there to bring things in and take them out again. But at decent restaurants, my friends or I frequently ask where the meat is sourced from, how sharp/buttery the sauce tastes, whether the sorbet would go with the wine, etc. The only time people haven't known have been if they're new and, honestly, if a non-new person didn't know I'd be a little wary of going there again unless the food was really good.


40. What A Server's Attitude Will Tell You About The Owner

Service can tell things about the restaurant. If you enter the restaurant and servers don't pay attention to you, it can mean two things. They are too busy, or they are not motivated to work. If they are too busy, it means the owner doesn't want to hire more people, which means the owner wants to save money or does not pay attention to his place. If he wants to save money by not hiring enough, he will do so in the kitchen. If they are not motivated to work, there are problems among staffs or they are not getting paid enough.


39. What You're Really Asking Is 'Would You Eat Here?'

Ask the staff what do they recommend. If either they haven't eaten anything on the menu or they don't know what to say it's a red flag. There is a reason why they don't eat the food there.


38. The Bar Won't Keep The Kitchen's Secrets

I don't have a culinary degree, but I did spend 10 years of my life in professional kitchens.

Show up early and grab a drink at the bar. If the bar smells like dirty mop water, get out. If the bartender has to ask you what goes in a certain beverage, get out. If the bartender is rude, get out. If the front of the house is bad, the back will be even worse. I consider the maitre d' as simply the guy who greets me, not necessarily how I judge front of the house.

You can only tell so much from polished silverware. That's not hard to do and almost every place stays on top of it. Doing things like making sure there isn't any dust on the bottles behind a bar, even the ones that hardly ever get used and need a ladder to reach, that takes real dedication and attention to detail.


37. When The Lime's Looking Limp

Sure signs of trouble are last night's garnish. If your lime doesn't look and feel like it was cut in the last hour, get out. Conversely, if they use the good cherries instead of the day-glo red abominations, you're probably at a place that cares about ingredients in the kitchen as well.


36. Hats And Aprons Should Stay Behind When The Chef Comes Out To Accept Compliments

The chef should never leave the kitchen in his hat or apron. It should be a reflex habit to remove and put them on at the door, along with washing hands. If they do not then I'd say they are likely to be super unclean.


35. No 'Happy Happy Birthday' Please And Thank You

If a place has a dedicated birthday song/dance they force the staff to perform— I run.


34. How To Predict Slothlike Speed From A Restaurant

Take a look at the tables that are seated. If most of them don’t have food and haven’t eaten yet, your service will most likely be slow. If the seated guests' beverages are mostly empty that’s a sign of you’ll probably have slow service.
Watch out for large parties, too. Unless a restaurant is specifically designed to handle banquets if you see a lot of parties over 15 people turn around and walk out. They can bring a kitchen line to its knees. If the place has private rooms for large parties, they usually have a special line producing food for those events.


33. When They Order In Bulk, The Specials Aren't So Special

Two-for-one Wednesday, etc. It usually means they bulk order/cook foods and freeze them to just reheat. If they can basically give you food for "free" its almost definitely not quality food.


32. The Three Servers To Avoid: Stressed, Stained Or Scratching

Stressed waiters/stressed chefs. More likely to make mistakes. If their uniform is dirty (and I don't mean a small stain. I mean a stain that is at least several hours old. Bonus point if there's more than one.)

You see waiters, or chefs scratching themselves, touching their face, any part of their body. I can guarantee you they are not suddenly rushing to the bathroom to clean their hands after every face pat.


31. Could Be That's Not Real Kobe

Culinary student here: Kobe beef anything. If you can afford it, chances are it's not the real thing.

Real Kobe beef was only very recently approved for sale outside of Japan, on an extremely limited basis. And it's several hundred dollars per pound. So if you see "Kobe Beef Sliders" for $6.99, or an 8 oz "Kobe Filet Mignon" for $80, that means whatever place you're in eating in thinks you're a dimwitted sucker. Which means they're probably inflating a lot of the other food on the menu, too.


30. Each Cuisine Has Its Own Clue

BBQ places where you can't smell wood smoke. Tex-Mex places where you don't see any old ladies making tortillas. Sushi places where you don't see anyone Asian making sushi. Indian places where none of the customers are Indian.


29. A Roach Acting Alone Is Not Necessarily A Red Flag

Mice droppings is a huge deal, but to be completely honest with you there are always roaches in every restaurant you have ever been to. Roaches appear where there is food.

Spotting one still generally means a free meal but unless you're seeing them in several places they really aren't anything to worry about.


28. You Can Only Wait So Long For The Service To Improve

Consistently poor wait staff. It is the cornerstone of your restaurant. Your front and center. I don't care how great your food is. If it is served by someone unwelcoming, no thanks.

That being said, being in the industry you understand a lot and forgive a lot. I pay attention to things like how many servers are working, how many tables they are managing, how those customers are. So I am pretty forgiving.


27. Recent Marinade Is A Must

I've been a chef and used to work as a fishmonger/meat cutter. One of the things I watch out for is any pre-marinated meats/fish. That stuff is far from fresh and is on its way out. You usually end up paying more than if you were to buy the fresh stuff and marinate it yourself at home for a few hours before you cook it.


26. If The Ice Is Already Melted You Know What You Have To Do

Cook here. If you have long enough to drink two cups of water before you see your server again (unless it's the height of rush hour and even then it's still sketchy) the restaurant is understaffed and probably cutting corners because of it. If they can't even hire servers something's probably up with the place.


25. Your Local Restaurant Is Not The Place You Want To Strike Oil

How oily does everything feel? I used to work at a family restaurant for years and I know when something is dirty just by the touch. Anything that is caked in oil or grime will have a noticeable feel to it (surface will not be smooth but feel greasy). It takes minutes to clean a table, chairs, booths, and menus. If it's busy then I can give the place a pass but if the place is rather empty and the tableware or furniture are still dirty then the people working there probably don't care about how clean anything is (mainly people will just take a dry or wet cloth and go over the table with just water and no cleaning or disinfectant materials).


24. No Oyster Should Be Opened Before Its Time

If you’re at a place that serves raw oysters and you can’t physically see them shucking them, don’t eat the oysters! I worked at a place where we had a guy come in every day from two-to-five and shuck in the back. He would open the top, and put twelve on a tray and then stack them on top of each other in the refrigerator so the bottom of one tray was touching the RAW oysters.

When we served them to people, we were told to take the older ones first and we had a bottle of salty water that we would pour over them to make them look juicier and fresher.


23. Give Them One Chance To Clean Up Their Act

If you see anything even remotely dirty, alert a server or manager, and if it isn’t handled promptly and you aren’t apologized to, GET OUT. If they don’t care about you seeing something gross then the kitchen is not clean.

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22. Look For Warm Hearts Not Hot Plates

Plates should only be warm if they're fresh out the dishwasher. If they're warm on the edges that means they've been sitting under a heat lamp, indicating the food has been ready for a while and waiting for a server to come pick it up. If the food is hot, and the plate is a normal temperature, then you're in a good, fast, efficient establishment.


21. Two-Word Wisdom: Beware Buffets

I'm very cautious about any buffet at all. Whenever I've had to replenish food out at the buffet, the customers just mess everything up with the utensils, and sometimes the utensils for dishing the food is clean, so that means they're using their own forks or spoons that they've had in their mouths.

Then you have the little kids that the parents aren't paying attention to, that are just grabbing food with their bare hands or spilling into other foods. Old people, like 80-year-olds that frequent the buffets are gross enough when they're constantly coughing and clearing their throats, and spitting while talking in the lineup. Smacking their lips, it makes me squirm. Judge me for being judgy, but I've seen it first hand at nearly every buffet I've worked, but I won't go near one that isn't manned by a cook or server at the stations.

If I see customers in sweatpants and a t-shirt at a buffet, I order from the menu.


20. Need Soap To Clean

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

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19. Busy Weekends

It’s a Friday/Saturday/Sunday night, and there are barely any guests in a restaurant. Those are the 3 busiest day of the week. Any restaurant worth its keep should be at least 50% full, if not have a waiting list on these days.

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18. Aprons

If I see anyone with an apron on and they’re heading to the bathroom, or if they take it off and set it on a table or booth, they’re probably not too conscious about cleanliness. They touch that apron a lot, and then touch your food.

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17. No Fly Zone

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.

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16. Microwaved Basics

Don't knock places with microwaves, all the stuff that goes into mics (at least at my place) is just heating up sauces (mac and cheese base, caramel etc) or warming up the rice for a minute.


15. Know The Menu

For me it would be front of the house knowing the menu. A good chef will have people taste all dishes and specials through training so they can describe it to customers. If I ask a waiter or waitress what's in something or how it tastes and they go "let me ask the kitchen", nevermind. I'm good.

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14. If The First Thing You Think Of Is The Bathrooms, This Chef Says 'Same'

Having worked in multiple restaurants, I've always said, dirty bathrooms. Not messy bathrooms that just need a good wipe down at the end of the night. But ones that smell like old water. And have caked on grime behind the door hinge where they don't want to mop. And have broken appliances and off-kilter toilet seats. You know, those bathrooms.

If they're not cleaning the bathroom, and maintaining it in some semblance of decent repair, and the bathroom is in the public space, they are most definitely not cleaning or maintaining the kitchen. I have worked in many restaurants. This rule has proven universal.


13. Bread Basket

Maybe this is just me but when I go to a restaurant the bread basket(if they serve one) is somewhat an indicator of the meal to come. What really shows me that this restaurant is doing the bare minimum is if they serve FROZEN PACKAGED TABS of BUTTER. Give me some tapenade, chili oil, hummus, whipped butter, compound butters...geez even a decent olive oil on a plate would suffice. Just no frozen packaged tabs of butter I need to warm up by keeping it between my hands for 5 mins.

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12. Sticky Situation

If your arms stick to the table...

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11. A Little Fishy

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.

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10. Advice From A Sushi Master

I am a sushi chef. Previously worked for the number one Zagat rated sushi bar in the city. (In the top 10 largest city in the USA). Walked away from the restaurant/hospitality for a few years and now work at another restaurant.

Go up and talk to the chefs even if you are not sitting at the bar. Ask what they like, what is fresh, and their recommendations. Look at the fish in the cases. Vibrant color, shiny and firm flesh, and overall an organized case. Look at the case and see if it is clean and behind the bar.

Also ask how busy they are. If they are busy they will go through a lot of fish so it will usually be fresh. And if you want the best experience, sit at the bar and try conversating with the chefs. If someone sits at “my” bar and ask questions or shows interest, I may give them samples and will put in more effort and give better cuts to “my” customers. And if you enjoy your food/experience, please show your gratitude and tip, even if it’s a couple of bucks. We do appreciate it!

So if the bar/restaurant is dirty, slow, and unorganized. Unfriendly chefs/staff. And dull color, dry or slimy, and mushy or soft flesh. Go elsewhere.

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9. Eat Your Veggies

Please be smart about ordering. If the place is grubby (such as table not cleaned) staff are just sat down in the restaurant, you hear insane shouting from the kitchen etc don’t order something crazy like the lobster.

I’ve worked in the industry for 10 years and a year ago went to Spain with my boyfriend's family. They all decided on a restaurant they wanted to go to. The restaurant was in a busy area but was quiet (red flag 1) the menus were dirty as were the cutlery already laid out on the table (red flag 2- and yeah I asked for replacement cutlery) there were more waiters than customers and most were sat down one was drinking at the bar (red flag 3) there was about 50 dishes on the menu (red flag 4) and I saw flies all over (red flag 5). I ordered a vegetarian salad because I didn’t trust meat from there at all and told my boyfriend he should do the same. He didn’t listen, nor did the rest of his family. They all decided to go for chicken or seafood. They spent the next 2 days vomiting. I enjoyed the next 2 days in the sun.

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8. This Is Terrifying

I work in a restaurant and it's disgusting, I don't even know where to begin. One time the owner picked the nub of a carrot out of the garbage and told me to use it for soup (I didn't). I watch the head chef handle raw fish, pork, chicken, shrimp, all of it, wipe his hands on his apron, and start handling knives and vegetables. One time our former head chef shoved a hotdog down his throat, shot it back up (called it "the hotdog trick"), then served it to a child. Our former sous chef used to have get busy with the dishwasher in the bathroom, not wash his hand s(the soap dispenser in the staff washroom was always empty, only the kitchen dispenser had soap), and go back to cooking customers' food. All of this and our restaurant is considered the best and "classiest" restaurant in town with a google maps rating of 4.3 stars and over 200 reviews. I don't mean to ruin anyone's experience, but sometimes there are no red flags.

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7. Brunch Woes

Businesses with a bunch of signs/specials out front. "Lunch special: 4.99$!", "free appetizer from 5-8pm weekdays!", "BOGO main course Wednesdays all day!" That kind of thing. Usually means they're going under and are trying to drum up business. Unless they're a chain.

Regular lunch/dinner restaurants that start to offer brunch. #1 brunch service is the worst, chefs hate it, and are usually disgruntled, #2 brunch is a money maker, companies charge over the top for thin pancakes and orange juice with a splash of 4$ champagne. Sudden brunch means the place is trying to make more money, charging double and using chefs that don't want to be there.

Reviews where the owner is arguing with the reviewer. I saw an argument on yelp where a lady complained her chopstick or something was moldy and gave them 1 star. While it was super unfair to give a 1 star over something they didn't do, the owner got into it with her and they started fighting on Facebook. Owners that are willing to yell at people who are spending their money are likely to treat their staff the same or worse. Meaning their employees are either pissed, or the turnover is high and no one is trained well

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6. The Secret's In The Towel

Not a chef, but worked at a KFC for a while, so here’s a KFC specific thing: There are two towel colors for cleaning use at KFC franchises, at least in American ones, no idea about others. There are yellow towels, which are intended for surfaces that cooked foods will touch, and blue towels, which are only to be used in raw chicken areas. This is to prevent cross contamination. Cooked chicken never touches raw chicken areas, and cooked and raw areas are never cleaned with the same towels.

The thing to look out for? Raw chicken areas are usually not visible from the front counter, at least in most locations I’ve seen. IF YOU SEE A BLUE TOWEL, DON’T EAT THERE.

Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule. I would recommend asking the cashier about it if you see anything suspicious. When I went to Europe, a KFC location in Amsterdam had blue towels and cleaning solution on top of all the trash cans in the lobby. They weren’t for raw chicken, they just had a different cleaning procedure there.

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5. That's A Spicy Meatball

My dad used to work in the restaurant business. We'll get back to that in a second.

One time, my wife and I went to a restaurant and had a very strange experience.

The place was highly rated, but we came in at an odd hour, so it was fairly dead. Like two other tables being served, out of thirty available. When the waiter comes to take our order, they have a list of specials longer than the regular menu.

The strangeness starts a little after that. We notice that there's, like, fifteen or twenty extra wait staff. Despite this clearly being a time of day that only needs a skeleton crew. Most of them are just, like, standing there. Not hanging out chatting, like happens at normal restaurants during a lull. Just standing there like they're expecting sometime to require their attention. But like seven people doing that, for three tables.

Somehow, despite there being thirty waiters for five people, we have terrible service. Despite seven people just watching stuff, no one checks in on us. Our food takes forever to come out. The waiters that are walking back and forth don't walk near or see us, so it takes us five minutes to flag down a manager. Some of the waiters may have had poor English as well, despite this not being an ethnic restaurant, although I may be mis-remembering that part. The managers promises to find out what's going on with our food.

The manager brings out our food. He tells us that he found it, since it was ready, but no one had brought it out. Because I guess all of the twenty waiters had more important things to do like standing around seeing if anyone needed salt or a napkin? How can I need salt if I don't have my food yet?

After some serious discussion, my wife and I conclude this must be a mafia front. All these people must be standing around appearing to be gainfully employed for money-laundering purposes. If the restaurant claims to be very busy with cash transactions during this time, the IRS will be suspect if there aren't enough payroll taxes to support waitstaff. So, they have real waitstaff. Maybe these people have extra duties on the side, not during business hours. Or something.

A few weeks later, my wife and I share with my dad our story of this ridiculous restaurant.

"First of all," we say, "the list of specials was like a mile long!"

"That sounds like it was a front," he says.

We are flummoxed. "OK but like... I mean, yes, it definitely was... but we didn't even get to the sketchy stuff!"

My dad explains: Restaurants need a supply chain. If something's on the menu, the restaurant needs a dependable source for those ingredients. They need to have it in stock, fresh, of acceptable quality, daily. Chefs spend a lot of time and effort sourcing ingredients. A good part of the Food Channel is spent in markets and whatnot.

If most of the menu is variable, then their supply chain is "my cousin has a box of fish that he says fell off the back of a truck, I guess halibut is on the menu today!" This is a reflection of their business practices in general.

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4. The Grain Of Salt

Cook for 21 years, Chef for about 10. While I am in no way a complete expert and know it all, this is my take on just a few things.

Large menu does not always mean frozen. We have a general rule of thumb where I am. If a prepped item can be used on three separate dishes, it can stay. The largest issue that can really happen here is you become a restaurant of all foods, master of none. Smaller menu is more ideal, mostly for taste quality and specialization. Sometimes you have to have big menu to compete with the guy next door.

Not doing substitutions... This can also simply be a product of the restaurant being in a area where demands that are unrealistic are common, or can drag down the speed of the kitchen. When I am in the middle of a 400 person dinner and have substitutions all willy nilly, we don't get food out on time. Kitchen is too small for the amount of food that I do.

Anthony Bourdain was a saint, and one of my favorite people ever, but his op-ed was very outdated. He even said himself (I believe) that he may have not been in correct frame of mind when writing it. I don't want to waste, food, and I will try and sell food as often as I can. What I won't (and most self respecting chefs as well) WON'T do is serve anything that can be even questionable. I refuse to get anyone sick, for selfish reasons. It would bruise my ego and also when I get fired I won't get another job.

Dirty chef coat/apron does not mean messy cook/chef, it means hard working chef. I look like a butchered a cow after a shift but I also know I'm clean enough where you could eat off my my cutting board.

Almost all restaurants are going to have bugs to a small degree, it's what they are doing about it is the issue. If the restaurant that you can actually see is dirty, that's a big problem. While I don't agree that a dirty front of house automatically means dirty back of house (usually different management heads, the Chef runs the back), it doesn't look good in terms of morale and energy and staffing. And it's just disgusting. Clean it up if you have bug issues, and do it yesterday.

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3. Follow Your Gut

Cook at a fancy casual fine dining restaurant here. If your food is out impossibly fast, it's probably something to be concerned about. I'm talking ordering an entree and it's out in like 10 minutes. This usually means it's already been cooked and they just have to reheat it. Now something like a salad, okay that shouldn't take any time at all, but you want to make sure your lettuce (or whatever green it is) is still crunchy and fresh, otherwise it's been made before and has been sitting.

Generally speaking, watch the wait staff. If the majority of them seem disgruntled or upset, things probably aren't great. This often translates to the kitchen so they probably don't care about your food if they aren't being treated fairly. Another thing to look out for is the cleanliness of the place. If the restaurant seems dirty or unmaintained, the kitchen is in similar shape most of the time. I've heard people say "never order the fish on a Monday" or "Don't get any specials because it's probably product that's about to go bad." but at my restaurant that's not the case. We get orders all throughout the week and our specials are things we are playing around with to see if it could be added to the menu. So I would say just be cautious about that sort of stuff.

Also it helps to read reviews. I like to read the one star reviews to see why it was rated that way, if a majority of the reviews are for some really stupid stuff, and all the other reviews are great, your likely going to get some great food and service. You all know the ones I'm talking about... Some Karen who left a one star review because her water ran out once during a huge crunch or something else totally ridiculous.

How does the place actually smell? Does it smell like good food? Then it likely is. Does it smell like perfume or to sterile when these is clearly food on the tables? That could be a bad sign that they are trying to hide something less than pleasent.

That's pretty much all I can think of at the moment.

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2. Waiting To Exhale

If your servers are stressed, and not smiling, eff that. I mean, even during the worst rush, a well coordinated and well compensated and well treated staff will smile and joke and not be gruff. If the servers are stressed out you can bet the kitchen staff is too; and you really don't want that. There should be an ease, a flow-- if people are rushing so fast it just seems impossible, it probably is.

I am the most clean and safety conscious cook you ever met. I know how to do it properly and I know what materials/ingredients/tools I need to do it correctly and safely and quickly.

But I am not a highly paid chef. I make minimum wage, right? So... I'm already doing the work of at least 2 people, I haven't eaten or had a smoke in hours, I'm grabbing bites off mistakes. I don't have time to adhere to everything they taught me and I don't have time to change the paper towels in the bathroom and even if I DID have the time they are OUT of paper towels in the storage room. And the manager can't find any. So. I'm wiping my hands on my apron.

Then I go back to the dishroom to wash some dishes. I have to take the cover off the electrical panel on the side of the dish machine to reset the temperature gauge becuase it keeps going down and down as it runs until the water isn't up to the proper temps. This means that perhaps several racks of plates got washed at less than perfect temps. Oh yeah, I'm standing in a quarter inch of water as I do this (the garbage disposal is jammed -- night shift always puts too much food down it and it always jams! The bastards).

Now I gotta take the garbage disposal apart, in the middle of a huge rush. I'm sticking my hands in there, yeah. Pretty much stinks to high heaven in there too.

So yeah. Look out for stressed employees. One stressed out employee is not necessarily an indicator but a few are. What I just related to you is a true story, and it's mild compared to the others I have.

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1. All You Can Eat--But Should You?

Buffets are disgusting. Don't eat at buffets. Yeah, it's cheap, and often a "good deal". That "all you can eat" thing sure sounds appealing. No matter how well managed a buffet is, it can never be sanitary. It is not reasonably possible to run a sanitary buffet business. This is true of salad bars, hot bars, desert bars, or whatever other kind of bulk food in a trough they are serving you.

You are relying on the sanitation habits of the general public. Not even underpaid employees who wear plastic gloves, had to watch a video about food safety once, and get told to wash their hands by an assistant manager every few days or so.

That oblivious eighty-year-old took a pair of tongs from the fried fish and used it to grab the piece of rotisserie chicken, green beans, three raw oysters, the pile of roast beef, and the pizza slice on his plate before putting it back in the pan where he found it, and none of the employees noticed.

Ignoring several easily visible signs that instruct customers not to reuse plates, some old lady has decided she didn't want that piece of fried fish she took and put on the plate she's reused for several trips to the food trough, and has put it back in the pan on the bar again. No employees saw this happen.

That eight to ten year old kid wiping his snot covered nose into the sleeve of his shirt? He has been coughing into his unwashed hands all day and has touched every utensil in every pan on every bar while trying to figure out what he might want before ultimately deciding on his third identical plate full of mac and cheese, spaghetti, a single chicken tender, and a half dozen chocolate chip cookies.

That six to seven year old sucking on their own fingers and picking their nose at the same time? Yeah, the little germ ninja went up to the bar by themselves avoiding the gaze of any employee and unattended by any adult, and just grabbed fistfuls of whatever is on their plate. #YOLO

"I didn't pee on my hands, so I don't need to wash them." - 60% of adult males and 95% of young boys.

You don't want to eat at a buffet. It's one of those things that seems like a good idea until you actually think about it. When you do, it just gets less and less appealing.

I have no idea how buffets are even legal in this country. Everything about them is a sanitation red flag.

Also, those lemon wedges that a lot of restaurants offer for tea and water?

Yeah, you don't want those either.

They are probably prepped by servers and not kitchen staff, are likely handled too much, are quite possibly older than they should be, and are likely not really kept at an ideal temperature.

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