As customers, it's important to be aware of warning signs that can indicate a poorly-run restaurant. These can include things like dirty or cluttered dining areas, rude or inattentive service, and a lack of consistency in the menu or dishes. Otherwise, we can end up with a nasty experience that could've been easily avoided.
However, most of us regular folk can miss a lot of these clues. So how about we educate ourselves a bit? For starters, let's take a look at a Reddit post that asked chefs to share the red flags they look for when they go out to eat. It has received over 4.4K comments, many of which provide some really interesting insights into reading these places. Bon appétit!
#1If I see Gordon Ramsay eating with a camera crew at the same restaurant I'm in, bye my guy.
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#2I 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.
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#3Massive 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.
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#4I was a line cook for four years "special" just means that we have a surplus of or is expiring soon.
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#5As 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.
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#6If your arms stick to the table...
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#7A 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.
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#8Not a chef but a 15 yr server. If the servers take 10+ min to greet the table when the restaurant isn't full, it has always been a poor experience overall. It tells me nobody is managing the entire restaurant correctly. And that carries over to food.
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#9I’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.
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#10Line 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)
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#11A big one is definitely an empty parking lot during Lunch and Dinner. If the entire town is skipping out, you should too.
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#12If 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.
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#13Not 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.
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#14My 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 .
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#15Bathrooms. If dirty or missing paper. GTFO. Same with dirty menus.
Edit: For clarification purposes, a dirty restaurant does not necessarily determine the quality and taste of the food you would be eating.
Example: A restaurant has one bathroom for both workers and patrons. The chef uses that bathroom to poop, they wipe their a*s and head to the sink. They turn on the sink with their hands and wash their hands, but are out of paper towels, so they shut the sink off with their hands, the same hands that had poop on them. Now their hands have poop on them again and now their hand is covered in poop bacteria. The chef then opens the pull door with their poop hand (now imagine how many other patrons touched that door handle, so now their grossness is now on the chefs hand.)
Now one can argue that they may have a sink in the kitchen to wash their hands, my thought with this is that if a cook thought it was okay to touch the faucet again with no paper towels and to touch the door afterwards, that person is not going to wash their hands correctly out back either.
All I am saying is that your food will taste fine and there’s a tiny chance of you getting sick due to the cleanliness of the restaurant/cook. Point of it is that the chef still has s**t bacteria on their hand when they’re handling your food. In reality you are eating their poo
Also, recently when into the bathroom at my local grocery store, no soap, no paper towels. F*****g disgusting. I brought the attention the store manager and called health inspector. Not a lot of businesses realize the nastiness of their facilities.
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#16I 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.
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#17The 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.
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#181. 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.
#19Fancy dishes that are cheaper than they should be.
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#20Not 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.
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#21-Aprons. If I see anyone with an apron on and they’re heading to the bathroom, or if they take it off and set it on a table or booth, they’re probably not too conscious about cleanliness. They touch that apron a lot, and then touch your food.
-If the plate is extremely hot, your order has been sitting in the window for an extended period of time. Meaning it’s already pretty dried out and the cooks aren’t cooking to order. Nothing dangerous, just a bit of a turn off.
-The cleanliness of the dining room, including the floors. If they aren’t keeping it decently clean or sweeping the floors in the areas you are, just imagine what the areas you don’t see look like.
Edit: in all the restaurants I’ve cooked in, the plates were never kept extremely hot or in a hot box. They are usually kept at room temperature or a little above. I have been told time and again that this is because although a hot plate would keep the food warm longer, it also runs the risk of injuring a customer. The rule was always that if a plate is too hot for the server to carry it, the expo should switch out the plate. This is why I said “extremely hot”, not just hot or warm.
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#221) 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.
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#23Not a chef exactly, but I make a lot of the salads and dips at the deli I work at. We have a hot case with fried foods, my boyfriend is the night fry cook. My direct manager makes these weird burritos. If a customer asks what’s in them, he says, “a little bit of everything.” When we asked him what that meant, he told us that he grinds up most of the left over fried foods that get stored in the walk-in and wraps them in tortillas. Even worse then that, I texted him while closing asking what to do with the unsold burritos at night. He told me to put them in the walk in and he would grind those up and make new burritos at some point. The next day I couldn’t tell if he’d just put the same ones out again or if he did make those “new” burritos. My boyfriend and I refuse to make, eat, or recommend those.
Long story short; if someone tells you something is made of “a little bit of everything” but won’t specify what, DONT F*****G EAT THAT S**T!!!!!!
#24This 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.
#25My dad’s a chef, and I’ve worked with him in a couple kitchens.
A couple things I generally look out for:
1. Tables, are they clean? Generally the wait staff should be on top of this, if you walk in and and most tables are dirty then this might indicate poor management, so who knows what the kitchen looks like.
2. Is the restaurant area clean in general? If you’ve watched Gordon Ramsay, you’ll see him visit restaurants and find dirt everywhere. If they can’t be bothered to clean the area the customers can see, god knows what the areas they can’t see are like.
3. Much of the menu isn’t in stock. If you’re in a restaurant and a lot of the items aren’t available this rings a few alarm bells for me. The head chef should have a good idea of what to order for the days service.
4. Rubber seafood. If seafood (calamari, scallops) is advertised as ‘fresh’ but comes out rubbery, either they’ve cooked it wrong or it’s frozen.
6. Other diners. Do they look happy? Are they arguing with the wait staff over the bill? Are things being sent back a lot?
#26If I'm somewhere that fries a lot of their food, I'll look for exceptionally dark fried foods or food with the "dirty fryer" taste. If this place makes their money off their fryers and they aren't having their oil regularly changed and cleaned, then they aren't doing any other important cleaning either.
#27If you go into an Asian restaurant that is full of white people, leave and find one that has Asians that are happy to eat there.
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#28Fish 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
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#29Mixed food items. If your sliced egg has bits of lettuce in it, your sandwich edges have a sauce that doesn't belong there... These are all signs that the cooks aren't cleabing their knives between items. Good chance of cross contamination from raw ingredients.
#30This may sound very weird, I was taught in my culinary classes that if you ever go to a seafood restaurant and they have “all you can eat” fried fish... be VERY weary. Granted this is different from some costal cities. But the idea is, usually, they are doing this because they are getting a new shipment of fish in the next day and need to get rid of all the old stuff.
#31Cash only establishments- its not always the case, but could mean fishy finances and payroll. Side note, most of the restaurants that I go to that are cash only tend to have lesser quality products, such as canned green beans and sweet potatoes, and yes, I can taste the difference.
Any manager or waiter that is willing to defend the doneness of a dish, when it’s raw and it’s not supposed to be, tells me something is wrong. For example, I had a pasta dish with a poached egg on top, it came out raw, like not even splashed with warm water raw. I brought it to their attention, they argued it’s “supposed to be like that” but I wasn’t having it, so they brought it back, now the egg had cheese on it, and the bowl was super hot. This tells me that they microwaved it or broiled it, instead of giving me a new one. I was pissed, didn’t eat it. Asked for a refund and just sat there because I didn’t want to make a scene. I feel really bad too, because my grandparents were in town wanting to spend a night with their grandchildren at dinner.
Any menus that say “no substitutions!”- look if I can’t have home fries instead of ham with my biscuits and gravy, why are you even open? Seriously, this is a legit problem.
Any restaurant that serves a meal in a bizarre way, including food served on a red flag.
#32For me it would be front of the house knowing the menu. A good chef will have people taste all dishes and specials through training so they can describe it to customers. If I ask a waiter or waitress what's in something or how it tastes and they go "let me ask the kitchen", nevermind. I'm good.
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#33If everything smells like bleach, run away. It means they're so dirty they dont know how to mix bleach properly, or are trying to cover up other smells with it.
#34I work in hospitality, and have for over 8 years. I say if the glass on the cabinets or windows have hand marks all over it and are gross, i'll tell you now that your food will be too.
#35I look at the stuff stacked on the racks. It's easy to see if a restaurant just serves Sysco food. I need real ingredients
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#36I'm not a chef, yet a do have an education in nutrition.
Fake cheese. Similar processed ingredients. By fake cheese I mean that liquid cheese called "nacho cheese" that isn't actually cheese. ~~Don't you dare try to tell me it is because they put real cheese into a vat and diluted it with other poisonous c**p until it turned liquid. It's really not that hard to just shred some cheese onto something, and the only reason people use that fake cheese c**p is because it's cheaper.~~
Also, sometimes I'll pretend I don't know anything and say "The food is so great here. Is the sauce homemade?" when I know it isn't, and if they lie I know not to eat there. I don't trust lying restaurants.
#37Seriously its not just chefs....you can ask basically anyone in the restaurant industry other than the Hosts and often times even them. Occasionally, especially them. The restaurant industry is EXTREMELY cross train heavy. Pretty much everyone has done something on both sides of the door if not multiple somethings. I've prepped and done dish and also hosted, bussed, barbacked, and served. If you want real answers, you're gonna have to pay attention.
Watch the bussers. See how many you can spot compared to the size of the restaurant. Anything over about 25 tables needs two bussers unless its dead. And that's regular tables. If there are multiple banquet setups and large party sections and things of that nature, it needs to be 2 bussers regardless. Watch what tasks the bussers are completing in what order and how quick they are. Do they use tubs? Do they bus by hand? Is there a visible sink where they wash hands after bussing and before setting tables?
Watch the servers. Are they pre-bussing? Are they refilling drinks? Are they checking in with tables? Are they communicating with bussers, bartender,s hosts, anyone? Are they at the bar waiting long periods of time for drinks?
Look for managers. Do you see them walking around? Do you see them talking to tables? Doubly important if the place is busy.
There's so so so very much more but if you look for this basic set of things you'll be able to spot problems that tell you to go elsewhere. Cleanliness, speed, interaction, mood, consistency, etc. All of it is there if you're looking for it. You'll be a hell of a lot more informed than "OMG THE DISHWASHERS HAVE MAGNETS IN THEM" guy down below.
#38If I see any cooking staff standing outside visible to everyone smoking I'm out.
#39Red flags for me are :
-misspelled menu items/bad grammar on social media posts
In this day and age, there is really no excuse.
-S****y sign/ branding:
If you are rocking clip art images and lettering from ms word, how much can you really care?
-Servers mispronouncing things:
I know that everyone is human, and I’m not saying my own servers have always been perfect, but I will be god damned before anyone gets away with saying “chipole-tay” or parpa-delle”
#40My first boss was an ice cream.... Chef? Dunno. He made ice cream. He had a nasty a*s kitchen and stuff I would never eat because I know just how old that cookie really is, and I've seen how he makes that chili.... Ick. (Yeah, chili and ice cream. I don't know. It was a weird time.)
So when *he* told me never to eat at the place across the street, you know it was bad. Really, really bad.
His criteria happened to be knowing the health inspector and how often that guy shut a place down, and what for.
#41Food coming out cold or dry you know they kept those until someone ordered it.
#42“Do you make your own desserts?”
“Where is your coffee from?”
My two indicators on the food quality.
I don’t need to pay $9 for a Sysco molten lava cake. I don’t need to pay $4 for a Starbucks coffee.
#43"Fresh fish everday"
#44Plates with chips (large cracks) in them is a big indicator for me. Those chips host a lot of germs and if the restaurant isn’t throwing them away then they’re probably slacking in other areas of food safety.
(My mom was a chef)
#45Food isn't the right temp.
#46I'm not a chef, but I am pretty critical on the quality of the utensils. If there are food residue or if it feels sticky, i'm going to have a chat with the owner of the restaurant
#47Not a chef, but this clue is 100% accurate, in my experience.
If the main signage for the restaurant is broken: a light is out, the backlight is failing, is really dirty, or something on it needs to be replaced:
bad management and a terrible experience awaits you!
I call it every time I go out to a new place.
Friends and family always blow it off, doubt it, or think I’m joking
It’s true. Every. Single. Time.
Once you notice, you’ll see this clue everywhere.
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#49I'm not a chef, but my mom is. She said that really dim lighting can be bad if you are not at a really high-end restaurant.
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#50On the other side of the coin, if your food takes hardly anytime at all to hit your table that screams it wasn’t made to order and either was sitting under a heat lamp or microwaved.
#51Fine Dining (Roughly $60 > per person) : If I go to a restaurant that labels themselves farm to table, seasonal, local or loyal to a specific region, I expect their menu to 100% reflect this - including wine list. If not, it is all marketing and I lose trust and won't dine there.
Also for fine dining, if they overuse potatoes. Potatoes are cheap, versatile and quite frankly a filler food. Great for some dishes but not everything. Too many potatoes lacks creativity and is more than likely, restaurant being cheap.
Fast Casual: I watch for cross contamination - specifically the type of restaurants that make the soups/salads in front of you. If the team is handling proteins (raw or not) and not washing their hands and/or using new utensils when switching to vegetables or dry foods, I am out. Same with if they are handling food and then doing odd jobs, handling cash, etc and not washing hands/changing gloves. If front line/customer facing team does not do this, they have not been properly trained in food safety and I can only imagine the short cuts going on back of house. Yuck.
#52if you go when they open and used things are being used (like potato soup isn't white) its a good tell they're reheating everything like soups and gravies..
a legit classy place tosses everything out like that at the end of the night, since its a rule right, can't reheat things twice (well you can, but shouldn't)
#53Hair nets and fingernails. Got served sushi by a chick with 3" long gel nails with 1/2" grow out, it was nasty.
#54My wife and I have a rule that if we order appetizers and they’re poorly executed, bland, or not cooked well then we don’t get entrees.
#55When I'm told I can't order a burger under medium-well.
#56Chipped plates and servers who don’t know the food they’re selling.
#57Look at the tiles on the floor, if they are dirty out front, imagine what they look like in the back.
#58Serving staff hanging out behind the bar/front desk/hutch chatting or on their phones. Means weak management to me. Hearing cooks yell at FOH for customer mods or any reason really. That doesn’t f*****g fly in my kitchen.
#59Was a chef. Flies. Anywhere in the restaurant. Screams bad food/waste handling procedures. Also, the employees gathering in groups to gossip in view of customers, rather than do their duties, or at least look busy. If you have time to lean...
#60Not a chef, but... magnetized tableware.
My wife and I were eating breakfast in a beach-front tourist joint when we realized that our knives were magnetized. If you moved a knife in your table setting, any other utensils that touched it would move with it.
It turns out that some forms of stainless have iron, and can be magnetized. What was happening was that this was a high-volume place where they serve and clear tables at lightning speed, all the time. When they scraped the old food off the plates and into the garbage barrels, sometimes the dirty utensils were going with the food. So this restaurant installed magnets on the chute into the garbage barrel to trap stray utensils. When this happens a lot -- and apparently it did -- the utensils get magnetized off the magnets. And the knives are the most obviously magnetic because they have the most mass.
So when I find a restaurant with magnetic knives, it's not exactly a red flag. But they're definitely more concerned with speed and production above all.
Image credits: Tall_Mickey
#61Sea food restaurants hundreds of miles away from the coast.
#62"Hot Policy" if the wait staff is "attractive" that means they are distracting you from the plate.
#63I ask the waiter what they like to eat off the menu. If they don't have something asap and they aren't new, bounce.
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#64Tbh I look for old people. Old people know their food, if there is no old people I'm out.
#65- 30% owning country visitor rule. For specialized food, like sushi in the US or Pizza in China or Burgers in Dakar, AND if there's a sufficient local population, look for places that have at least 30% clientele from the country of what they're making. For example, in Shanghai, go to Japanese resteraunts where at least 30% of the guests are Japanese. This keeps things "authentic" and of a quality like at home. This is obviously only possible in cities with large international populations. Also Chinese restaurants are often an exception if they have a different menu for Chinese.
- View and location... Generally speaking, the better the view and/or location, the less good the food needs to be. Anyone who's ever eaten in a skyscraper or on a beach may have noticed this. note: Am not saying all restaurants with a view or great location are bad, just something else to consider. If there's another restaurant doing similar food with a worse location or view, and they've been around a while, they probably have better food.
- Tourists vs. locals. This is somewhat related to point 6. If clientele are largely 1 time visitors, i.e.s tourists, chances are food won't be as good, as they don't really care if you come back.
- Where are the cooks from? If it's a Japanese restaurant, but everyone behind the counter speaks Chinese to each other.... Maybe not. Same goes for say an Italian restaurant where people in the kitchen have never been to Italy. note: am not saying this is a hard rule either, maybe all the Chinese guys in the Japanese restaurant trained under a good Japanese chef, etc... But generally speaking, it's something to consider.
- Things that don't go together, "Pizza, Burgers, Sushi, Pho" for me is a clear warning sign. There's little chance that any of it will be good.
#66Playing Commercial Radio.
Too cheap to pay for a music service, they are skimping everywhere else
Image credits: AxisBoldAsJimi
#67Maybe this is just me being too much of a ball buster but when I go to a restaurant the bread basket(if they serve one) is somewhat an indicator of the meal to come. What really shows me that this restaurant is doing the bare minimum is if they serve FROZEN PACKAGED TABS of BUTTER. Give me some tapenade, chili oil, hummus, whipped butter, compound butters...hell even a decent olive oil on a plate would suffice. Just no frozen packaged tabs of butter I need to warm up by keeping it between my hands for 5 mins.
#68For me if they will not give me a tour if the kitchen. The many restaurants I have cooked at we always allowed guests to come in supervised. We would show them the kitchen and answer whatever questions they asked. Provided we were not slammed busy, we always took 30sec to chat with them.
Oh and we tried not to swear. That never was a success tho.