10 Signs You’re at a Bad Restaurant

6 min read

Before you head out on your next dining excursion, you might want to take a look at this article to avoid a bad dining experience. Here are ten ways you can tell you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.

10. It’s Dirty

Dirty Dishes
Source: Pixabay

Well, this goes without saying, but if the bathroom is filthy, the tables are dirty, the salt and pepper shakers are clogged, there’s dried ketchup caked around the bottle lid, and the menus are a mess, find some other place to dine. But, it’s not just the inside of the restaurant you should be concerned about. If the windows, doors and even the parking lot (e.g. trash and cigarette butts on the ground, open dumpsters, etc.) are dirty, it shows that the restaurant isn’t focused on cleanliness, restaurant industry consultant Ken Rice told Reader’s Digest. If the outside area isn’t clean, perhaps the area where your food is being prepared isn’t clean either, Rice added.

9. It Smells Bad

Smelly Cheese Shop
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Well, if a restaurant is dirty, then naturally it’s going to smell bad. But, it’s not just foul smells you should look out for. If you notice smells like burned food and stale grease, it’s a sign that the kitchen area hasn’t been cleaned properly in quite a while. It’s important to note that some buildings will naturally have an unpleasant smell, CityPages.com says. For example, the bathrooms in hundred-year-old buildings may smell due to old plumbing. “But if the room reeks of old mop water and bleach, if more than one fruit fly dive bombs your drink in a sitting… or if you do in fact smell fermented food and you haven’t ordered any, you know what you should probably do,” CityPages.com said on its website.

8. Not-So-Friendly Staff

Source: Pixabay

If the staff isn’t happy to see you, doesn’t say hello when you walk in the door, and ignores you once you’ve been seated, it’s a sign that you’re in a bad restaurant. Yes, it could be that the staff is swamped. It happens–especially on very busy days/nights. But, what matters is if the staff shows sincerity. If they truly are swamped, someone will (or should) come up to you and apologize for keeping you waiting. If not then it’s likely that they just don’t care and don’t take their job seriously. It also means that management isn’t doing a good job running the restaurant, Michelle Stansbury, food blogger at Eat, Drink, Be SD, told Reader’s Digest.

And, last but not least, if no one says goodbye as you’re leaving, don’t make any plans to return to that establishment.

7. Lots of Errors

Multiple Mistakes
Source: Pixabay

Everyone messes up every now and then, but if you’re in a restaurant and one mistake after another keeps happening, perhaps you should reconsider dining there. As we said a minute ago, sometimes restaurants can get very busy. And, when things get really hectic, mistakes are bound to happen. But, if the drinks and appetizers aren’t right, they bring your hot meal out cold, they bring out your appetizer with the main course, and all the entrees are mixed up, it’s a red flag that the service there isn’t all that great.

6. It’s Empty

Empty Restaurant
Source: Pixabay

If the restaurant is empty during peak hours or if the staff perks up when you come in because you’re the first customer they’ve had in a long time, that’s a clue that something is wrong. It could be that the food or customer service is bad, or it could be that the food is overpriced.

TIP: While you’re still in the vestibule, ask to see a menu. If everything looks a bit costly, then you know that it’s likely the restaurant is empty due to its high prices and not its bad food or customer service. Now, if you don’t mind paying $40 for chicken, go inside and dine. You just may find your meal and overall experience quite enjoyable.

5. It’s in a Bad Location

Food Sign Interstate
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Daniel Barcelona [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

If a restaurant is located near a major train station, don’t count on the food there being all that good. According to Traveller.com, they most likely cater to people who want something to eat in a hurry and are not counting on getting any repeat business. The same holds true if it happens to be within sight of a major tourist attraction. Not only will the food be mediocre, it’s also likely to be overpriced. Stansbury suggests heading to the restaurants where all the locals are dining instead. That indicates “that at least some diners are there because of its reputation,” she told Reader’s Digest.

4. It Has Bad Reviews

Thumbs Down
Source: Pixabay

The best way to avoid dining at a bad restaurant is to check out the online reviews first. If it has a score below 3.5, it’s best to avoid eating at that establishment, Traveller.com advises. If the reviews are influencer-heavy, that is, if they’ve hired a PR team to get local bloggers, journalists and others to frequently post reviews, you might not be getting an accurate description of the restaurant. “If you see influencers singing their praises on Instagram, but find their Yelp reviews are questionable, this is a big indication of bad service,” Fabiana Meléndez, a publicist in Austin, Texas, told Reader’s Digest.

3. You Don’t Smell Smoke

Smoke Coming From Grill
Source: Pixabay

Okay, normally this is something you don’t want to smell at a restaurant. But, if you’re going to a barbecue restaurant, it’s exactly the kind of thing you want to smell.

“Do you smell the smoke? Is it hickory and oak? If they’re not running the pits while you’re there, it’s a possibility they don’t cook fresh every day,” Myron Mixon, a Barbecue Hall of Famer, told Fox News.

“You should see a smoker either outside the building or in a smokehouse,” Tuffy Stone of Q Barbecue told Fox News. “If they don’t have one, I would be worried,” Stone added.

2. They Have a Street Team

Human Billboards
Source: Wikimedia Commons

But, not just any street team. If they have someone outside ushering people in off the street and trying to convince them to eat there, it’s a sign that they’re desperate for customers and that the food may not be all that great. Ryan Sutton, a blogger and Bloomberg critic, told Food and Wine magazine that taking the word of a street team member is a lot like ordering a product from an infomercial. It’s likely that these people are biased, so it’s best to do some research on your own first before dining there.

1. The Menu Uses Flowery Language

Menu On Chalkboard
Source: Pixabay

If you see words and phrases like “luscious” and “fall off the bone” in the menu, it’s a pretty good chance they’re hyping it up a bit. “When I read the menu, it needs to have a brief description,” Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South, told Fox News.

Speaking of language, Traveller.com says that multi-language menus are also a red flag. “There’s reasonable logic for a menu in Prague to be translated into German and English, for example. One’s the major language of neighboring countries, and the other is the nigh-on global lingua franca. But if there are also translations in Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, then it’s usually a sign of a place going whole hog for undemanding tourists,” the website said.


Do you have any restaurant dining tips to offer? Feel free to do so in the comments below. Thanks, and bon appetit!