Chefs Share The Restaurant Red Flags Diners Should Look Out For

Kasia Mikolajczak
hands of a tattooed chef working on food plating
Unsplash | Sebastian Coman Photography

I don't know about you, but I like to dine out occasionally. And since things can get boring if you keep going to the same restaurant, people often venture out and seek out new spots. But how do you know if a restaurant is good or not? Besides, reading online reviews, that is.

Well, as it turns out, there are some things you need to look out for, alright. A recent Reddit thread asked, "Chefs, what red flags should people look out for when they go out to eat?" And you've got to read some of the best ones.

This Seafood Red Flag

plate of seafood
Unsplash | Adrien Sala

"If you can smell the seafood when you walk in, then it's not fresh. Fresh seafood doesn't have that scent we usually associate with it — it doesn't get that until it's old."

Oh my goodness, that makes total sense, no?

This Argument

waiter holding a plate of food
Unsplash | Louis Hansel

"If employees try to argue with you about food quality in order to dissuade you from sending something undercooked back, just leave. It means they have a cook who can't take criticism and your chances at getting a sneezer are greatly increased."


This Disinfectant Trick

a man saying "now I get it."
Giphy | The Paley Center for Media

"Number one evaluation effect for me is the smell. If it’s a sour smell or disinfectant smell — red flag."

Aha! Now I get it. And I'm going to stay away from places that smell weird, hee-hee, or ones that try to compensate by using too much disinfectant.

This Oyster Trick

oysters sitting on a plate of ice
Unsplash | Anima Visual

"Ask where your oysters come from. If they don’t know, you don’t want them. Works for most seafood."

You know what? I've never had oysters and now that I read this I would be very careful if I ever want to try them.

This Observation

fish in a fish tank
Unsplash | Huy Phan

"Random, but if there's a fish tank, take a look at it. If it's clean, you can bet the kitchen is too."

I would never have thought of that, but now that I think about it, it does make sense, no?

This Buffet Fact

cartoon character eating food from a buffet
Giphy | LAIKA Studios

"No matter how well managed a buffet is, it can never be sanitary. It is not reasonably possible to run a sanitary buffet business. This is true of salad bars, hot bars, dessert bars, or whatever other kind of bulk food in a trough they are serving you."

And we just went to a buffet the other day. Crap!

This Red Flag

white restaurant menu on a white table next to cutlery
Pexels | Pexels

"Stock photos on the menu. Cheap silverware as well."

Yeah, if they don't even take the time to take actual pictures of their food, I'm not willing to chance it. I want to see what my food will look like before I order it.

This Absentee Behavior

Justin Timberlake with a look on his face while writing says "still waiting>>>"

"When you walk on the building and you aren't greeted or nobody makes eye contact."

Oh, I absolutely can't stand that. And I can tell you right now I've walked out of restaurants for this reason alone. That's right.

This Jack Of All Trades Idea

interior of a restaurant
Unsplash | shawnanggg

"I tend to look down on fusion places as ‘jack of all trades, master of none.' Everything might probably be passable at best. 'Oh really?! You’re serving sushi, Thai, Chinese, Korean, and pho? Get outta here!’"

I tend to agree with that.

This Observation

waiter holding a plate of food
Unsplash | Petr Sevcovic

"Look at the wait staff's name tags. People usually keep the same name tags the entire time they work there. There should be a little bit of wear and tear on them. If everyone has brand new name tags, that means they're all new, and service is going to be slow and bad. It also shows that the restaurant isn't good at staff retention and should make you question the quality of what you're eating."

Sounds about right, huh?

This Carpet Issue

Kristen Bell from The Good Place making a face
Giphy | The Good Place

"Carpet is a red flag — 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."

No carpets in restaurants, please. Thank you.

This Staff Fact

restaurant staff at the bar
Unsplash | Vanna Phon

"The biggest thing to keep an eye on though IMO is the staff. If there are 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 [expletive] 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."

I hear this loud and clear.

This Bathroom Check

woman saying "let's get the hell out of here."
Giphy | FOX TV

"Dirty bathrooms and dirty floors equal dirty kitchen."

Um, that should be the biggest red flag. If you see anything dirty, my advice is to pick another place to eat. I always say better be safe than sorry later.

This Menu Fact

person holding a restaurant menu
Unsplash | Nienke Broeksema

"A huge menu is a sign that food is either frozen, pre-cooked and reheated — or ingredients are not very fresh."

There's no way they could cook all that from scratch. That's all I'm saying. Do you agree with that?

This Look At The Manager

restaurant manager on the phone at a laptop
Unsplash | Austin Distel

"Where's the manager and what are they doing? Do they look exhausted or are they upbeat, helpful, and engaging with their staff? Good managers tend to attract good staff which in turn leads to good business. Bad management does exactly the opposite."

That's right.

This Ambiance

dishes on plates on a table with wine glasses and flower vase
Unsplash | Stefan Johnson

"Ex-chef here, but weirdly, the setting. I've found if a restaurant puts effort into the ambiance, it's normally an extension of their food. Not always, but it has been a pretty solid rule."

I wouldn't always agree with that. Sometimes they can put too much emphasis on the decor and not the food.

This Bread Test

person holding a loaf of bread
Unsplash | Kate Remmer

"The bread. It has to be good bread. If they can't get the bread right, they don't know anything. No chef in their right mind half-asses the bread."

Ha, ha! If they can't get the bread right, what are the chances the rest of the food is good, huh?

This Fact

empty restaurant
Unsplash | Jason Leung

"If the area is busy but the restaurant is empty, that’s usually a bad sign."

Aha! I always look at that too. It just doesn't make sense. If it's a popular area the place should be hopping. If it's not, there must be something wrong.

Sorry, buffet-lovers.

A hand using a serving utensil at a buffet.
Unsplash | Ulysse Pointcheval

"Buffets are disgusting.

Don't eat at buffets.

Yeah, it's cheap, and often a 'good deal.' That 'all you can eat' thing sure sounds appealing.

No matter how well managed a buffet is, it can never be sanitary. It is not reasonably possible to run a sanitary buffet business."

Sigh, everyone loves a buffet but I definitely always wondered about how clean they really are.

Specials can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Hands reaching over dishes in a restaurant kitchen.
Unsplash | Fabrizio Magoni

"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."

Another tip is to check and see if the special features in-season or limited-time ingredients. Those are usually a green flag, for sure!

The truth about menus.

A hand pointing to a menu.
Unsplash | Jessie McCall

"When the menus are super dirty and never cleaned, that means everything is super dirty and never cleaned."

Ewww... there's nothing worse than realizing the menu is sticky and covered in grime.

Speed of service is not always a good thing.

A man saying bon appetit.
Giphy | Blown Away

"If you order a meal that should take a long time to cook and it comes out very quickly. It’s been pre-cooked."

I never thought about this before, but it makes sense! Of course, if the restaurant is packed and the food comes out quickly, that's usually because the kitchen prepped some of the food beforehand. However, if the restaurant is empty and your food come out quick, there's a good chance it was simply reheated.

You might want to skip ice in your drinks.

Ice cubes falling into a glass.
Unsplash | Kaffee Meister

"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."

Oh no, I'm going to start asking for drinks without ice from now on.

Oh my goodness.

woman saying "hmm... nah!"
Giphy | Braxton Family Values

Can you believe all of that? I have to admit a few of these restaurant red flags were already familiar to me. But I'm glad that I know the rest of this stuff. Whenever you decide to eat out, you really need to pick the right establishment. Otherwise, you may be in for a rude awakening. What do you think of that?