Cooking a nice dinner is hard so don’t be too hard on yourself if the rice is a little gummy and the chicken is a little dry. That is, if you’re not charging people money for it, of course. If you are, they expect quality. Or at the very least, to not have food poisoning.
To find out how to spot places that can’t promise these things, a now-deleted user posted a question to Reddit, asking “Chefs, what red flags should people look out for when they go out to eat?” And they responded.
Continue scrolling and check out some of the most upvoted replies.
If a restaurant has a HUGE menu…it’s all frozen
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The first thing they told us in culinary school when you’re learning food safety is: If you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave
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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
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‘Catch of the day’ restaurants better have a lake or an ocean within a 50-mile radius. If they are advertising fresh-caught Alaskan salmon and you aren’t in Alaska, chances are that [thing] is not fresh
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Most often, lemons for water are really gross and dirty
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Stay away from buffets and salad bars. A lot of the time it is the same stuff that just gets refilled over and over. Super gross.
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No matter how well managed a buffet is, it can never be sanitary. It is not reasonably possible to run a sanitary buffet business
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Ask where your oysters come from. If they don’t know, you don’t want them. Same for most seafood.
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When the menus are super dirty and never cleaned, that means everything is super dirty and never cleaned
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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 in restaurants. Vacuuming only goes so far in a restaurant and I know they never, ever shampooed the one at my place
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Seeing fruit flies. Fruit flies are an indication of a dirty kitchen
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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
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If you order a meal that should take a long time to cook and it comes out very quickly, it’s been pre-cooked
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When there are pictures of food on the menu that clearly aren’t from the restaurant
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If the area is busy but the restaurant is empty, that’s usually a bad sign.
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In culinary school, every single chef instructor says the same thing: If it’s misspelled on the menu, that’s on purpose. It’s so they don’t have to sell you the real thing. A prime example is ‘krab cakes’
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Don’t order fish on Sundays. Most places get their fish deliveries on a Monday and on a Thursday. Fish goes off fairly quickly, and on a Sunday it’s really not great
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How does the place actually smell? Does it smell like good food? Then it likely is. But if it smells like perfume or something sterile? That could be a sign that they are trying to hide something unpleasant
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A $4 steak is not a good steak.
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This is late but I clean kitchen exhaust systems. If you walk in a restaurant and can smell grease walk out. That means the place isn’t clean. From the exhaust system to cooking equipment.
We clean some places where grease drips off the hoods onto cooking surfaces.
If employees try to argue with you about food quality in order to dissuade you from sending something under cooked back, just leave. It means they have a cook who can’t take criticism and your chances at getting a sneezer are greatly increased.
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Watch the wait staff. If the majority of them seem disgruntled or upset, things probably aren’t great. They probably don’t care about your food if they aren’t being treated fairly.
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Used to work in a fancy kitchen. Any place that is charging more than $25 for a chicken entree is a goddamn scam.
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If you are seated right away during peak hours, that is a red flag. The common folk aren’t eating there, and for a good reason
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If the bathroom is a mess, the kitchen is a mess aswell.
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Pro tip: Look up the health inspector reports for your county.
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 its 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 pissed 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 shitty 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.
We have a sushi place me where the chef gives you free samples of future dishes. This usually means they take pride in their work and want to see peoples reactions before committing it to the menu.
If your server’s response to ‘How is the [item]?’ seems disingenuous, that’s a big red flag. They know what goes on in the kitchen, they know the complaints, and they know which items to stress over when they deliver them
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I look for dust. Dust on the ceiling tiles or in the air-conditioning vents. I also have a habit of running my finger along chair frames after I sit down to check for dust.
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Easy way to tell if Mexican food will be good. If the salsa is bad, then the food is likely bad.
Mexican places that take pride in their salsa take the same pride in their food. If you get the watery, tomato sauce with chips then more than likely the food will be uninspiring.
Never order the bouillabaisse/cioppino/seafood stew if it’s being run as a special. That means the chef has a lot of old seafood to get rid of and is putting it all in a flavorful broth to hide the taste
When my boss (the owner) used to host and people would complain to her about the hour wait on Saturday night at 7pm and then threaten to leave, she would tell them, “If the restaurant you choose does not have a wait on a Saturday night, you may not want to eat there.” And then turn her biggest sh*t-eating grin on them
dirty stained carpets
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I have a family member who’s worked in multiple different restaurants, and they always advise me never to get drinks with ice because too many places don’t keep their ice machines cleaned because it’s so often overlooked compared to other kitchen equipment
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If a pitcher of water touches your glass, it has also touched everyone else’s glass. Also, if you can’t see them pour your water, there’s something wrong
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I’ve worked in restaurants for over a decade. A couple years in the kitchen and the rest as FOH.
If your server’s response to “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 equates to a menu full of stuff we wouldn’t eat even as a free shift 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.
If there is 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.
Remember the specials always look and sound great, Most likely a leftover. Trying to get rid of it. Did it myself as a chef for years.
I recently went to a new-ish barbecue place.
I knew the moment I opened the menu it was going to be awful.
The place had at least 120 things on the menu that run the gamut from burgers to Lobster Thermidor. When you see that, you know it’s going to be terrible. It means they’re trying to do everything rather than focusing on a smaller range of things and doing it very well.
As I suspected, it was terrible.
If the’res a window that goes into the kitchen and there’s a microwave in there.
If it’s an Italian place and they serve butter with their bread. Not a red flag, but really nice/authentic places serve bread with oil and vinegar.
There’s a Chinese restaurant in my town with a sign out front that says: “Clean food. And fresh.” I still can’t help but wonder why they would bring that up unprovoked.
If there are to many items on the menu. If you have 50 combo choices, man you know half that stuff is frozen, old, canned etc. Nothing is gonna be great like an In-N-Out burger. It’s all gonna be ‘meh’
It’s a good idea to avoid restaurants that sound like snapplecheese
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.
Also if you never see a cook go out to take a smoke break, they’re inside and overwhelmed.