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Running a food business requires strictly following a long list of rules and regulations, especially since it involves people’s health. But sometimes, we don’t really know what’s going on behind their closed kitchen doors. And, as paying customers, we deserve to get our money’s worth by eating good and clean food.
Luckily, several people enlightened us by sharing some of the warning signs we need to watch out for in restaurants, and Bright Side compiled 20 of their best tips. We also threw in some bonus points that describe what some of the green flags are.
- I’m not a chef, but I worked a lot in the food industry. Carpet is a red flag. Yeah, it’s quieter and doesn’t get slick, but it is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. I saw one restaurant pull it up when they remodeled (and put in more carpet). Vacuuming only goes so far, and I know they never, ever shampooed it. eyebrowshampoo / Reddit
- When my boss (the owner) used to host and people would complain to her about the hour-long wait on Saturday night at 7 p.m. and then threaten to leave, she would always tell them, “If the restaurant you choose does not have a wait on a Saturday night, you may not want to eat there.” newgrl / Reddit
- If your server’s response to the question, “How is the [item]?” seems disingenuous, that’s a big red flag. We know what goes on in the kitchen, we know the complaints, and we know which items to stress over when we deliver them. Servers who pause or seem uncomfortable with that question generally means a menu full of stuff we wouldn’t eat, even as a free meal.
A GOOD sign is when servers hang out and eat at the restaurant post-shift. Generally, we are getting a discount but not free food — if we are spending our nightly tips on it, it’s worth it. kjimbro / Reddit
- The first thing they told us in culinary school when we were learning the basic rules for food safety standards was — If you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave. XxcontaminatexX / Reddit
- If employees try to use “food quality” as an excuse to dissuade you from sending something undercooked back into the kitchen, just leave. It means they have a cook who can’t take criticism, and your chances at getting a sneezer are greatly increased. A_pencil_artist / Reddit
- If it’s a small restaurant, and they have a tank that holds live seafood — but they don’t clean it — that place is definitely going to give you a brutal case of food poisoning. Unknown user / Reddit
- Ask where your oysters come from. If they don’t know, you don’t want them. This works for most seafood dishes. heroesforsale / Reddit
- I always look at how the staff interact with each other. If they all seem to enjoy being there, and they coordinate well, usually it’s because everything runs smoothly, and they have a good system — which 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. ruizpancho / Reddit
- When the menus are super dirty and never cleaned, that means everything is super dirty and never cleaned. SoMuchB*Here / Reddit
- I have a family member who’s worked in multiple different restaurants, and they always advise me to never get drinks with ice because too many places don’t keep their ice machines cleaned. It’s so often overlooked compared to other kitchen equipment. AllyMarie93 / Reddit
- I clean kitchen exhaust systems. If you walk into a restaurant and can smell grease — walk out. That means the place isn’t clean. From the exhaust system to the cooking equipment. We clean some places where grease drips off the hoods onto the cooking surfaces. Unknown user / Reddit
- Waitress here! If you see any food coming out that’s messy and there’s sauce all over the rim of the plate, it’s likely that the chefs aren’t putting much effort into their meals, and they will not be very good. All the chefs at my work find it SO important that everything is presented well, and I agree. oliviab****y / Reddit
- Check your cutlery because most of it barely gets washed. It gets rubbed with soap, sprayed with water and chucked in a dishwasher. It’s then meant to be polished with hot water when it’s brought to the table set-up, and this is where we actually check it for leftover grime. If your cutlery is gross, chances are the staff aren’t doing their job properly. Unknown user / Reddit
- I cook at a fancy, casual fine dining restaurant. If your food is out impossibly fast, that’s probably something to be concerned about. I’m talking about ordering an entrée, and it’s out within like 10 minutes. This usually means it’s already been cooked, and they just have to reheat it. CrossFox42 / Reddit
- I was a chef for 4 years. Honestly, if you’re ever curious, go hang out near the back door or the 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 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.
A messy outdoor area is a reflection of a poorly run kitchen indoors. liberty285code6 / Reddit
- If there are different cuisines on the same menu, it usually means it’s not gonna be good. I don’t trust that people can do Japanese and Italian in the same kitchen. Emmsw / Reddit
- If you frequent a buffet-style restaurant, keep an eye out for how the staff replaces NEAR EMPTY trays. Once food has been put out under heat lamps or on a steam table, it’s been exposed to a temperature range that allows for the growth of bacteria. There’s a period of time food is allowed to be in this temperature range before things get out of hand.
AND, once it’s been out and exposed, it cannot be allowed to mix with a new, freshly-made tray of food. This causes cross-contamination and that is how people get sick.
So, if you see staff bringing out new trays that COMPLETELY replace the present tray and dispose of the old ones, you’re good to go. BUT, if you see staff replacing the tray and then dumping or mixing in the contents of the previous tray, WALK AWAY. If a city health inspector witnessed this, that would be a major point deduction. 2008JeepDad / Reddit
- Reviews where the owner is arguing with the reviewer. I saw an argument on Yelp where a lady complained that her chopstick was moldy and gave them 1 star. While it was super unfair to give just a 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 clients who are spending their money with them are likely to treat their staff the same or worse. This means employees are either pissed or the turnover is high, and no one is trained well. Tickle_b****m / Reddit
BONUS: Here are some restaurant green flags to look for
- Former pizza chef here. If the kitchen has large windows you can see in, or it has open-style cooking, it usually means everyone is proud to be on display to the public and that they are not microwaving every meal. motomouth3 / Reddit
- A restaurant that discourages tipping and pays their staff a decent wage. If you want crappy service, go to a place that has 2 waiters for 20 tables and one cook. If you go to a place that’s properly staffed and pays well, you’ll have a good time. Sam_Paige25 / Reddit
- It’s a green flag if you enter and immediately smell freshly cooked food. Many restaurants don’t even give off any smell because some of the food they offer is frozen. _Lismoon_ / Reddit
- Personally, the best and most authentic restaurants tend to either be family-owned or have some personal touches that reflect the culture. Really generic-looking places aren’t usually as good. Unknown user / Reddit
What details or quirks do you look for when you try a restaurant for the first time? Do you have other red or green flags that we can add to this list?
Bright Side/Tips & tricks/People Reveal 20 Restaurant Red Flags That We Should Avoid Before It’s Too Late
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