If you don't know the ins and outs of food service, it can be difficult to identify huge problems before they become huge problems in your tummy.
The smallest, most innocuous things--or even things that may seem like they're too good to be true--can really take a toll on your wallet, your stomach, your health, or any number of things later. Diner, beware!
Here were some of those answers.
I Don't Wanna Know What A Sneezer Even IsGiphy
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.
A Pleasant Surprise
I remember my trip to Malacca, Malaysia. We walked up to a stall where an elderly lady was squatting down just in front of the sidewalk with a plastic basin and washing the dishes in it. Stray cats were coming in from the alley and licking at dishes.
My first question was "is this a restaurant?" Upon closer inspection: yes, it is.
My second question was "who on earth would eat here???" Then our guide brought us inside. Looks like: we are.
Food was amazing and delicious and despite fearing the worst, nobody got sick.
Morale Is Important
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 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 sh*tty 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 everything in the place runs.
Can Carpet Just Die
Not a chef but worked in food a lot.
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 shampooed it.
More Concise, Please
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.
The first thing they told us in culinary school when you're learning the basic rules for food safety standards is if you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave.
All From Waitstaff
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.
This Is Why Presentation Counts For 25% On Chopped
Waitress here! if you see any food coming out that's messy and theres 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.
Yikes On Capitalism
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.
The Final ListGiphy
I've done bartending/waitressing for a few years, here's my list:
- First of all, ignore the bathrooms/kitchen thing, the people in charge of the kitchen generally aren't in charge of the bathrooms, and it's normally the servers job, if the restaurant area is busy we're gonna skip that when we can, but we'll probably give it a quick tidy if we use the toilets.
- Most places opt for paper menus, because they can just be chucked away afterwards, it's cleaner this way, however if the table is sticky (and the restaurant area is quiet) then there's probably a few other sticky areas.
- Check your cutlery, most cutlery 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 area, this is where we actually check it for leftover grime. If your cutlery is gross, chances are your wait staff aren't doing their job properly.
- Don't order fish on Sunday's, 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.
- If your server has long hair and it's not tied up check for hair in your food, kitchens tend to have really strict rules on their staff and you rarely see them with hair down and makeup on, if there's a hair in your food it's probably from your waitress.
- If your (hot) food is out quickly your chef was probably a microwave
- If your server visibly has a cold and is still working, don't eat there, they're either not paying their staff enough to have days off or they're forcing staff to work in conditions where they shouldn't be handling food, the kitchen staff probably get the same treatment and probably have the same illness
A Greasy Good Time
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.
It's Like A Red Flag Parade
Please god be clever 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 sh*t like lobster.
I've worked in the industry for 10 years and a year ago went to Spain with my boyfriends 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) the 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.
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'
A National StandardGiphy
One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet: 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.
Check your dishes, cups, cutlery.
Mood of staff.
If it has an open kitchen it's probably half decent.
Cleanliness of place, clutter, etc.
If your plate is hot it doesn't mean your food was microwaved. Every restaurant I've worked in has kept their plates in a warming drawer or oven to keep them hot.
Keeping Yourself Safe
Not a chef but from personal experience: if its a small chinese restaurant and they have a tank holding live seafood -- BUT THEY DONT CLEAN IT -- that place is definitely going to give you a brutal case of food poisoning.
If you insist upon eating at such a place I suggest you tip heavily (if ordering to-go) or heavily flattering the waitstaff and/or asking about what's fresh (if dining in).
We are told that, if you're not confident, you should just "fake it til you make it."
This is great--in theory. In practice, sometimes "faking it" can have extremely real and terrible consequences, which these people found out the hardest of hard ways.