30 Chefs Reveal Restaurant “Red Flags” That Indicate You Should Eat Somewhere Else
Cooking a nice dinner is hard so don't be too hard on yourself if the rice is a little gummy and the chicken is a little dry. That is, if you're not charging people money for it, of course. If you are, they expect quality. Or at the very least, to not have food poisoning.
To find out how to spot places that can't promise these things, a now-deleted user posted a question to Reddit, asking "Chefs, what red flags should people look out for when they go out to eat?" And they responded.
Continue scrolling and check out some of the most upvoted replies.
The first thing they told us in culinary school when you're learning food safety is: If you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave
XxcontaminatexX is one of the people who replied to the post. "I've only been a cook for [about] seven years now," the humble Reddit user told Bored Panda.
"From what I've seen during this time, restaurants should pick up the slack when it comes to product dates."
In fact, that's exactly the red flag XxcontaminatexX mentioned in their initial comment. "The first thing they told us in culinary school when you're learning food safety is: if you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave."
When the menus are super dirty and never cleaned, that means everything is super dirty and never cleaned
In culinary school, every single chef instructor says the same thing: If it's misspelled on the menu, that's on purpose. It's so they don't have to sell you the real thing. A prime example is 'krab cakes'
To save their supplies from the bin, restaurants may freeze them. And this isn't necessarily a red flag! Contrary to popular belief, not all frozen foods are bad for you, and many frozen ingredients can be a key part of a healthy meal.
The act of freezing doesn't make food healthy or unhealthy—a lot depends on the nutritional content of the food that gets frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, can be just as nutrient-dense as their fresh counterparts.
Edward Meier, a former Chef in Resorts at Myrtle Beach and Mackinac Island, said restaurants might freeze their food for other reasons too. "By freezing food you can cook it in quantities large enough to keep the cost per portion reasonable," Meier explained. "Cooking in large quantities then portioning and freezing it, you can hold it ready for service, cutting prep time to the minimum needed to reheat it."
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
We have a sushi place me where the chef gives you free samples of future dishes. This usually means they take pride in their work and want to see peoples reactions before committing it to the menu.
Meier said that most restaurants try to cook from scratch at time of service whenever possible. But some foods take much more time to prepare for service. "For example, you go to an Italian restaurant with a friend who orders pasta primavera while you want lasagna. The pasta dish can be assembled and served relatively quickly but making one serving of lasagna from scratch would take much longer and cost per unit would be high. Whether you make the pasta order wait on the lasagna to go out together or serve the pasta and make the lasagna eater wait on service so they are forced to watch the other customer eat while they wait, you are not going to have happy customers."
'Catch of the day' restaurants better have a lake or an ocean within a 50-mile radius. If they are advertising fresh-caught Alaskan salmon and you aren't in Alaska, chances are that [thing] is not fresh
If the area is busy but the restaurant is empty, that’s usually a bad sign.
"By making lasagna in large quantities then portioning and freezing it, the loss in flavor is minimal but being able to heat it up while the pasta dish is cooked fresh means both orders can go out at the same time," the former chef said. "This way the customers eat as soon as possible, making them happy and turning the table over quicker so you can serve more people sooner. Win win. It also means the cost of making the lasagna is cost effective meaning you can charge less but still have a profit margin high enough to justify offering it on the menu."
I guess, the important thing to remember when looking out for red flags in restaurants is you have to be mindful. Serious issues aside, use your best judgement and if you're unsure about something, you can always ask the staff about it.
I always look for how the staff interact with each other. If they all seem to enjoy being there, and coordinate well, more often than not it's because everything is running smoothly and they have a good system, which usually means they know what they're doing and you can expect good food
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 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.
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.
Ask where your oysters come from. If they don’t know, you don’t want them. Same for most seafood.
When my boss (the owner) used to host and people would complain to her about the hour wait on Saturday night at 7pm and then threaten to leave, she would tell them, "If the restaurant you choose does not have a wait on a Saturday night, you may not want to eat there." And then turn her biggest sh*t-eating grin on them
Watch the wait staff. If the majority of them seem disgruntled or upset, things probably aren't great. They probably don't care about your food if they aren't being treated fairly.
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.
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 shitty 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 everthing in the place runs.
Pro tip: Look up the health inspector reports for your county.
Used to work in a fancy kitchen. Any place that is charging more than $25 for a chicken entree is a goddamn scam.
Easy way to tell if Mexican food will be good. If the salsa is bad, then the food is likely bad.
Mexican places that take pride in their salsa take the same pride in their food. If you get the watery, tomato sauce with chips then more than likely the food will be uninspiring.
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 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
Don’t order fish on Sundays. 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
Never order the bouillabaisse/cioppino/seafood stew if it's being run as a special. That means the chef has a lot of old seafood to get rid of and is putting it all in a flavorful broth to hide the taste
I recently went to a new-ish barbecue place.
I knew the moment I opened the menu it was going to be awful.
The place had at least 120 things on the menu that run the gamut from burgers to Lobster Thermidor. When you see that, you know it's going to be terrible. It means they're trying to do everything rather than focusing on a smaller range of things and doing it very well.
As I suspected, it was terrible.
How does the place actually smell? Does it smell like good food? Then it likely is. But if it smells like perfume or something sterile? That could be a sign that they are trying to hide something unpleasant
Seeing fruit flies. Fruit flies are an indication of a dirty kitchen
Stay away from buffets and salad bars. A lot of the time it is the same stuff that just gets refilled over and over. Super gross.
When there are pictures of food on the menu that clearly aren't from the restaurant