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Don’t Eat There! A Restaurant Workers’ Guide to Restaurant Warning Signs

How to avoid your own personal kitchen nightmare.

How can you feel confident that that nice meal you’re sitting down has been garnished with capers and, not say, errant rat droppings? When you’re traveling to new places to try out the local fare, how do you know if a restaurant should be avoided? You can trust your gut, you can read a whole slew of Yelp reviews, but sometimes you need insight that only someone on the inside can give you. A recent Reddit thread sought to do just that and asked the site’s chefs to point out the red flags we should all look out for when we eat. Here are some of the things you should be keeping an eye out for.

“If you walk in a restaurant and can smell grease, walk out.”—Reddit user FoxZach63

The Carpet

Carpets were a reoccurring motif. Multiple users warned that the very presence of a carpeted floor is a red flag. According to User WARZONE0423 who removes restaurant carpet for a living wrote,  “The stuff we pull out is usually black slime because of grease and grit. Most of the people we clean for try their best to get clean regularly, but even then I find it hard to eat at those restaurants.”

The Menus

“When the menus are super dirty and never cleaned, that means everything is super dirty and never cleaned,” wrote user SoMuchBsHere.

The Vibe

A common refrain was to beware any restaurant where the front of house staff is obviously unhappy or disgruntled. Not because this necessarily means you’ll receive poor service, but because it speaks to how the restaurant as a workplace operates (i.e. not great). “This often translates to the kitchen so they probably don’t care about your food if they aren’t being treated fairly,” said user CrossFox42.

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“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,” wrote user A_pencil_artist

The Smell

Another way to seek out red flags? The nose knows. “The first thing they told us in culinary school when your learning the basic rules for food safety standards is if you enter a seafood restaurant and smell fish, leave,” said user XxcontaminatexX.

“Ran a kitchen … When I started they only cleaned the ice machine and soda machine when black stuff was in the mountain dew.” —Reddit user impossibly_pixar

“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,” wrote user FoxZach63. “We clean some places where grease drips off the hoods onto cooking surfaces.”

The Bad News

Not so much a “red flag” but a harrowing tip (that’s consistent with unsanitary conditions on certain cruise ships) came from user AllyMarie93. “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.” Something that user impossibly_pixar confirmed: “Ran a kitchen … When I started they only cleaned the ice machine and soda machine when black stuff was in the mountain dew.”

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