Who doesn’t remember the scene in Bridesmaids when the women got sick after eating at a Brazilian restaurant? Enthusiasm drove into the parking lot with them, but perhaps it was there where they should’ve taken a hint.
Every time you dine out, you have a small expectation for a decent meal that won’t cause you any harm. But the reality is that sometimes it’s necessary to skip over certain establishments for the sake of your own health. Nitpicking can be your friend and savior, and people who work in food service know exactly what that means.
Reddit’s forums are ripe with chefs and servers who’ve shared what red flags they watch out for when eating out. Since they work behind the scenes, they have an idea of what really goes on. Be on the lookout for these alerts:
Empty Parking Lots and Seating Areas
In this case, it means emptiness during peak eating times. When other restaurants are bustling during lunch or dinner service, something’s not quite right if the spot is open for business but no one is stopping in.
How sanitary is the bathroom? Are soap, toilet paper, and paper towels in there? It’s worth paying a visit to find out because bad hygiene in the restroom is a pretty good indicator of what’s going on in the kitchen. Ew!
There are exceptions to this one, but in general, a restaurant with a menu that reads like movie credits probably doesn’t have it all the way together. A mishmash of different types of cuisines or unrelated items could indicate the chef doesn’t know how to specialize.
Icky Soda Fountains
A funky, mildewy smell or slime oozing from the spout should be clues that no one is cleaning the machine properly.
If it’s in the air, coming from your table, or rising out of a damp menu, a bad smell should be enough to make you walk out immediately.
Piping Hot Plate
We’re here for the food being hot, but if the plate itself is, it could mean that it’s been sitting out under a heat lamp for too long and the food is dried out or someone’s sloppy seconds.
If your server has to check with the back about the menu items, they probably don’t know how it tastes or what’s in it. How can they tell you?
A “Today’s Special”
Listen up for waitstaff pushing a “special” that’s not on the menu. Chefs will tell you that this usually means you’ll be served reheated leftovers that are possibly days old. You want to be especially careful of that on a Sunday.
Cranky, Distracted, or Sad Staff
Hey, everyone has an off day, but when the staff seems depressed, argumentative, or out of it, you probably want to eat elsewhere. Who wants to eat food that’s been shouted over?
Rather than sit through terrible service and a bad meal, save yourself a headache by heeding these warning signs. If you wind up with dry, cold, or nasty food, send it back, ask for a refund, and jet out of there!
Have you ever done an about-face out of a restaurant? What was the reason? What red flags do you look for besides the obvious like dirty silverware?