20 Chefs List Out Restaurant Red Flags

Published 2 years ago

A restaurant visit should be a satisfying experience for many reasons. The food needs to be on point. The ambience pleasant. The waitstaff polite. Those are just the basics but not every place delivers on those factors.

However, picking out a good restaurant can be made easier and you can increase your chances of success by checking out the following list of tips revealed by restaurant chefs on what red flags to look out for so you can eventually pick a winner amidst the myriad of choices available in terms of your dining experience.

More info: Reddit

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Image source: KiLLaLP, Lisa Cyr

Not a chef but grew up in the restaurant business, bad fish smell or the overabundance of garlic smell. To try to cover up smells restaurants will burn garlic and it’s a tell tail sign.


Image source: fitzaritz, Christine McIntosh

Fish on the sunday brunch menu. It got there thursday and they are trying to get rid of it before it spoils. If the dish is fish with hollandaise DO NOT EAT IT!!! The fish is more than likely bad and they are hiding the smell with the hollandaise


Image source: anon, Matthew Evans

I will never forget what the health inspector teaching my food safety class told me.

If they don’t sell popcorn and it smells like they just made some, tap out.

That’s roach spray.


Image source: menehune_808, NajlaCam

If your arms stick to the table…


Image source: Timpano_Dropstheilr

A big one is definitely an empty parking lot during Lunch and Dinner. If the entire town is skipping out, you should too.


Image source: kerkula, Milo Bauman

A health inspector told me he never eats in 24hr restaurants. He said there’s never time to break down the equipment and properly clean it.


Image source: mostlyamess, stu_spivack

My friend was a chef and he told me, unless they’re Greek, if you can hear the chefs yelling in the kitchen, get out. If they’re fighting they’re messing up the food.

I never thought to ask him about the Greek exception .


Image source: ZiggoCiP, Erik Mclean

Massive menus. A good restaurant, specifically finer dining, will not crutch on a large menu, but will have a consistent one – maybe a page or 2. Bigger menus usually mean that some items won’t get ordered as often, and will have been likely sitting, especially if they’re on the menu (i.e. lower cost).

Edit: Big menus can be very appropriate in context – such as those of ethnically specific restaurants. I’ve been to my share of Indian, Thai, and Japanese that had extensive menus, but expertly prepared dishes. This is mostly feasible though because a small number of ingredients are usually used in many dishes, such as rice or chicken.


Image source: anon, Louis Hansel

I was a line cook for four years “special” just means that we have a surplus of or is expiring soon.


Image source: zaax_of_juice, Laust Ladefoged

If I see Gordon Ramsay eating with a camera crew at the same restaurant I’m in, bye my guy.


Image source: The_tiny_verse, Pylyp Sukhenko

The great French chef Fernand Point left us some advice: “If I go somewhere new and the chef is very thin, I know my meal will be bad. If he is both thin and sad, I leave as quickly as possible.”

I rely more on the sad thing than the thin thing. If I walk into a restaurant and I can feel sadness and anger from the staff- I leave.


Image source: J_Ripper, Erik Mclean

Line cook chiming in here:

1) Don’t knock places with microwaves, all the stuff that goes into mics (at least at my place) is just heating up sauces (mac and cheese base, caramel etc) or warming up the rice for a minute.

2) Definetly look at the employees, you’ll be able to tell if the food is gonna good or not, solely based on body language.

3) Dont get things that are out of place, example: don’t get the fish and chips at a sports bar (in the states/canada atleast)


This isn’t always the case, but I do extra research before eating in a restaurant that proudly exclaims:

> Family run

I think the term is a double edged sword. Too often this means stale menus, decades old decor and standards that have laxed over time. Occasional infighting between the staff and power struggles.

Not always the case, of course. Japanese restaurants that are family owned for generations tend to be great, 50/50 with Indian, but with Italian restaurants… More of a mixed bag.

Image source: RaspberrySchnitzel


Image source: JonaJonaL, Adrien Olichon

If a place is understaffed.
If the place has more than 30 seats and just one person working the floor and one in the kitchen (or worse, one doing both jobs), then I’m usually out.


Image source: earthDF, Mike Mozart

I worked as a server and occasional line cook for several years.

Number 1 red flag is the spouts on the soda fountain. Those things are one of the easiest things to clean in the entire place, so if they’re mildewy that kills my interest in eating there. Im fine with a bit of mess elsewhere, especially in a high volume place since it will get messy over the course of the day. But those spouts take multiple days of no washing to get to a point where they are noticably disgusting.


1. If you can see whether they get ice with a scoop that goes back into its own container or with the glass.
2. By the condition of their garnishes.
Get out if they’re dried up, smells off, or plain looks gross.
3. What are they cleaning your tables with? Smell disinfectant? Is there a bucket?
Rags brown and greasy?
If the latter, never go back.

Worked in restaurants, dad owned restaurants and is a chef. These are basic things every person should watch out for. You won’t know if your food is clean or delicious until you order it but you can test it with a drink.
I’ve worked in restaurants where the ice maker would have dead roaches in it because they’re using buckets that go to the floor for transporting the ice upstairs.
Another restaurant doesn’t use disinfectant for their rags, just rinsing it in the sink with cold water!
Coffee shop doesn’t use soap for their mugs, didn’t run them through the dishwasher either.
Oh and flies landing on the raw chicken that’s sitting out on a summer day in the kitchen.

You know they don’t care in the back if the front of house don’t either.

Image source: gnarl33


Image source: CanoeShoes, Priscilla Du Preez

As a Chef it is always important for me to eat at a locally owned and operated establishment instead of a massive mega corp restaurant. There, even if you possibly have a poor experience you are at least supporting your community. Also I believe you greatly improve your chances of having a delicious meal made from the heart, rather than a plate designed for max profit in a board room.


Image source: GodOfBeverages, Ashim D’Silva

I’m sure others have said this but the general smell. Not only can smell deter me from visiting a restaurant but the restaurant I work at recently had our pipes replaced and the dining room smelled of raw sewage for about 2 weeks. We lost a lot of business because of it.


Image source: Subtropical_Blues, Jerry Huddleston

Not a chef, but a restaurant manager for circa 10 years until I left the industry last year. Obviously I’m *extremely* aware of these red flags, as it was my job to notice them for a decade.

To name a few; huge menus, dirty tables, exhausted/anxious looking waiting staff, no cocktail menu, beer tastes “odd”, no beers/ciders on tap, no one greets you at the door, odd atmosphere, dead plants, overhearing waiting staff saying “I’m sorry that’s not actually on the menu tonight”, intros/listing specials when sat that takes longer than 30 secs, over-friendly/overbearing staff, sad/ill looking chefs if an open kitchen, inappropriate/inconsistent/too loud/no playlist (a personal hate of mine), anything that mention’s a chef’s name in the menu (Pete’s Chicken Special), menu descriptors that don’t describe what food you’re having… this is kind of inexhaustible, not gonna lie.

Sometimes, though… you just want a McDonalds.


Image source: Gregtkt, Nicolas Hoizey

1) It’s a Friday/Saturday/Sunday night, and there are barely any guests in a restaurant/bar/club. Those are the 3 busiest day of the week. Any restaurant worth its keep should be at least 50% full, if not have a waiting list on these days.

2) This got mentioned earlier, but usually if the bathroom is messy/dirty I can expect the kitchen to be the same. Granted there may be exceptions, but they’re usually rare. It shows that people aren’t cleaning the common area for patrons properly, or often enough, which probably means the kitchen is the same way.

3) A manager who is disrespectful/abusive to his/her staff. This usually means that they see themselves as superior to their crew members. They may have a superior title, but we’re all people. If they don’t see themselves as equal to the rest of the crew, that means that when there’s a rush, the kitchen, as well as other parts of the restaurant are down a person.

Shanilou Perera

Shanilou has always loved reading and learning about the world we live in. While she enjoys fictional books and stories just as much, since childhood she was especially fascinated by encyclopaedias and strangely enough, self-help books. As a kid, she spent most of her time consuming as much knowledge as she could get her hands on and could always be found at the library. Now, she still enjoys finding out about all the amazing things that surround us in our day-to-day lives and is blessed to be able to write about them to share with the whole world as a profession.

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