We all have our favorite places to eat, drink, and spend some quality time with our family and friends. You are familiar with the place, the menu, the employees…well, everything.
But when you try a new restaurant for the first time, you’re on your own. But not quite, because we’ve got your back. To make sure you know right from the start if the place you intend on having dinner is worth your time, we’ve rounded up a list of warning signs that the eating establishment will not offer a pleasant dining experience.
The parking lot is dirty
If you pull up to a restaurant, only to get out of the car and find filled-to-the-brim dumpsters, step on cigarette butts and trash, you might want to choose a different establishment to have your lunch, suggests Ken Rice, a consultant with 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry. “If the parking lot is a little dirty, then you get in the restaurant and that’s a mirror to the parking lot, then it’s all downhill,” warns Perry Groups’ restaurant and hospitality consultant, Dennis P. Gemberling.
Another indication that the restaurant is not that much into cleaning is the dirty windows and doors. It could also be a warning sign that the inside is also unkempt and might not offer a pleasant dining experience.
The restaurant has too many “themes”
If you like Italian food, it’s normal to want to eat at an Italian restaurant. The same goes for Chinese, Mexican or other themed restaurants. The problem is when the restaurant has way too many themes, styles and designs and doesn’t seem to have a clear personality.
In addition, when the menu doesn’t specialize in anything and there’s no house specialty, that should be your cue to hit the road. That’s because it could be a sign that the food is not fresh. “For example, a restaurant will not buy fresh meat every morning if the chances of someone ordering a steak are one in fifty”, warns food and restaurant columnist Luisa Ruocco.
The staff seems disinterested
If more than five minutes have passed without anyone asking you what you would like to eat, or at least drink, it should be a red flag that you’ve come to the wrong place. A good server takes your drink orders as soon as you’ve settled in but when the front-of-house personnel seems to be disinterested or worse, bothered by your presence, “it is a sign that the management isn’t doing a good job running the restaurant,” says Michelle Stansbury, food blogger at Eat, Drink, Be SD.
If you feel unwelcomed from the very minute you set foot inside the restaurant, it’s a clear indication that the management and employees don’t value their customers so you should about-face and walk right back out the door. On the other hand, no matter how bad the service, avoid these 16 Things You Should Never Say to Customer Service.
The restaurant reviews are mainly from influencers
Online reviews can influence your decisions and make you trust local businesses more. Entrepreneurs know this and invest a great deal in this marketing tool whenever they want to make their online profiles more appealing to customers and boost sales.
Therefore, if you see a whole load of positive comments coming from all sorts of bloggers, journalists, and people who post reviews for a living, do a little more research before going for dinner at a certain restaurant. That’s because those people might have been offered free or discount meals and turned-up customer service in exchange for great reviews, but the actual dining experience might not be that great. “If you see influencers singing their praises on Instagram but find their Yelp reviews are questionable, this is a big indication of bad service,” warns Fabiana Meléndez, a publicist in Austin, Texas.
The bathroom isn’t clean
Cleanliness is next to godliness. A huge warning sign that the eatery might be a bad choice is a dirty bathroom. Nothing spells disregard and disinterest for customer comfort that a filthy, grimy and neglected bathroom. The level of cleanliness in a restaurant bathroom says a lot about the entire business, so when there’s no soap in the dispenser, no toilet paper and the floor is all wet, that’s your sign that the staff does not prioritize cleanliness.
This means other areas of the restaurant, such as the kitchen, are most likely to be just as dirty. “The restrooms serve as an immediate indication of the lack of attention to detail that can undermine food quality,” says Alan Guinn, a consultant in the restaurant industry for over 25 years.
The kitchen is a mess
Speaking of bathrooms, these are often located near the kitchens, which makes it pretty easy to discreetly check how clean it is inside and get a sneak peek at how your food is being prepared. If the kitchen is in a state of total disarray, there’s leftover food all over the place and used dishes everywhere, it might be better to head to the front door instead of your table.
No one says a restaurant kitchen should look 100 percent pristine. But if chaos rules and there’s no sign whatsoever of any organization and cleanliness, it might be an indication that the management does not put much emphasis on the health and wellbeing of their clients.
There are no other people in the restaurant
If you’re an early bird, dining in an empty or almost empty restaurant is not that unusual. After all, not everybody can wake up and have breakfast at seven in the morning. However, if it’s peak meal hour and there’s no one but you in the establishment, there’s probably a serious reason behind this lack of customers.
According to Kenny Colvin, owner of a food and drink branding, design, and consulting agency, customers, or lack thereof, is the first indication of a good or bad business. Why is there no one eating there? Is it overpriced? Does it have bad customer services or bad food? There’s gotta be a reason and it’s best that you don’t find out about it personally.
The menu is dirty
If a dirty parking lot or a building in a general state of disrepair is not enough of a red flag for you to keep on driving, let’s move on the dirty menus. Menus with food stains, breadcrumbs, torn pages, or excessively worn out, are a clear indication that they are not properly cleaned, and that the restaurant does not put much emphasis on details. Unfortunately, not being detail-oriented can speak to the whole operation, in that you might be in a restaurant where the service is not so great.
Menus should be cleaned regularly, between uses and patrons should receive freshly cleaned ones the minute they sit at the table. If employees don’t have the time to do that, then you shouldn’t waste your time eating there either. Speaking of dirty things, check out 10 Gross Things Hotels Are Still Doing to Save Cash Despite the Pandemic.
The building is in a poor state
Nice restaurants located in old but well-maintained buildings give the place a certain personality and charm. It’s like eating in a place with a story that makes the experience even more interesting. On the other hand, eating in an old and decrepit restaurant with torn wallpaper, chipped paint, or stains all over the walls and carpets is anything but charming. “Everyone might have a story about ‘a little hole in the wall’ where the food was great, that’s the exception and not the rule,” Guinn warns.
The general state of a place can speak volumes about the owners, management and employees and their waning attention to cleanliness and to maintaining a hygienic environment for their own health and that of their customers.
Poor service and disorganized plating
If your food is served with anything else on top other than what you ordered, like…let’s say a hair, a bug or a piece of plastic, you have all the right to grab your things and simply walk out the door. After all, what better warning sign that you’re in a bad restaurant than something in your food? Well, another pretty clear sign that you’re in the wrong eatery is the way the food is put on the plate, says Guinn.
A jumbled plating served with inappropriate side dishes just shows that the staff preparing and serving the food is not truly invested in their jobs. No matter how tasty the food, poor plating, and service will prevent the customer from enjoying the dining experience to the fullest. In addition, if the ordered dishes are not timed properly, or the gap between firsts and mains is too long and the servers are downright ignoring you, you’re in a restaurant you should probably never visit again.