40 Obvious Signs That You Should Never, Ever Eat At A Restaurant 99% Of People Are Completely Oblivious To

40 Obvious Signs That You Should Never, Ever Eat At A Restaurant 99% Of People Are Completely Oblivious To

If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you know there are certain gigantic red flags that scream "this place is going to give me food poisoning," amongst other terrible things gastrointestinal maladies. Throughout the years, chefs have shared lists of those warning signs and I'm pleased as a peach to share them with you.

A chef in a traditional white uniform and hat energetically holds a knife, a spatula, and a masher, with a spatula handle in his mouth

According to chefs, some tell-tale signs a restaurant is bad are...

1."If you notice your feet sticking to the floor, turn around and leave immediately."

Close-up of a sneaker sole with chewing gum stuck to it, stretching as the person lifts their foot
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2."Number one evaluation effect for me is smell. If it’s a sour smell or disinfectant smell — red flag."

An older woman pinches her nose while making a disgusted facial expression
Glowimages / Getty Images/Glowimages RF

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

Close-up shot of a red restaurant menu on a table with salt and pepper shakers in the foreground
Jake Wyman / Getty Images

4."When there are pictures of food on the menu that clearly aren't from the restaurant."

Chips covered with guacamole. Text below reads "Chips & Guacamole $5.99"

5."Seeing fruit flies. Fruit flies are an indication of a dirty kitchen."

Close-up of a banana with three small fruit flies on it
Paulinakon / Getty Images/iStockphoto

6."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."

A stainless steel tray filled with chunks of watermelon and scattered black seeds. Red tongs are placed within the tray for serving

7."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.'"

A buffet tray filled with onion rings under a sign that reads "CHICHEN NUGGEST."

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

A person is cleaning a menu with a napkin in a restaurant. The menu features various food and drink options highlighted in different sections

9."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."

A chef in a white uniform and a hat, standing in a kitchen window, smiles while holding a large knife
Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

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

Partially empty buffet trays with various food remnants under a glass shield. Labels on the trays are not readable from this angle

11."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."

Three pieces of plain bread with faint butter marks labeled as "garlic bread" on a takeaway pizza box with some text

12."If the waiting staff grabs clean glasses at the top when handling them."

A hand holding a glass of orange juice, with fingers dipped into the drink. The background includes household items and a pair of shoes on the floor

13."If you ask about your food allergy and the waitstaff can't answer because they don't know what's in the food."

A man wearing a blue shirt and striped apron stands in a restaurant, holding a pen near his mouth and looking at a notepad

14."Most often, lemons for water are really gross and dirty."

A hand holding a lemon that is partially covered with mold

15."Carpet is a red flag. Yeah, 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 in a restaurant and I know they never, ever shampooed the one at my place."

An empty restaurant with wooden chairs and tables set with white tablecloths
Nebari / Getty Images/iStockphoto

16."A very well-hidden kitchen is usually a bad sign."

A man in a blue dress shirt and black tie looks through a magnifying glass, enlarging his eye
Mgkaya / Getty Images

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

Person placing a tray of food into a microwave, with green plants in the background
Freshsplash / Getty Images

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

A man in a chef's uniform stands in an empty, rustic dining area with wooden chairs and tables, looking out the window
Clarkandcompany / Getty Images

19."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."

Dan Barber, wearing a lab coat and holding a shrimp close to his nose, examining it intently

20."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."

A plate with assorted food items including noodles, a piece of meat, breaded shrimp, crab legs, and a stuffed green pepper

21."If you see lots of plates left half-full, run."

Person seated with hands folded, with a half empty plate of pasta in front of them, knife and fork on either side of the plate
Diephosi / Getty Images

22."If your server’s response to 'How is the [item]?' seems disingenuous, that’s a big red flag. They know what goes on in the kitchen, they know the complaints, and they know which items to stress over when they deliver them."

A woman wearing a red apron and black shirt stands in a restaurant, shrugging with a confused facial expression
Getty Images

23."Cheap ketchup on the table, or if they even let you see the ketchup brand."

Close-up of a textured, red, swirling sauce, resembling the consistency of ketchup. No people or text present


Magone / Getty Images/iStockphoto

24."The water. Does it taste like chlorine? Does it smell like a dishwasher? Is there any odor at all as my face approaches the cup? Is the cup hot? I’ll pretty much never complain unless there’s something floating in my water, but I am always silently judging."

Rusty pipe pouring contaminated water into a glass held by a hand
Gabort71 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

25."Does it sound like it could be two or more restaurants? For example, sushi and pizza at the same place. They probably can't do either well."

A gourmet sushi burger with layers of rice, tuna, cucumber, and tomato, garnished with a slice of carrot and small dollops of sauce around it
Dave Stopera / Midjourney

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

Six raw, shucked oysters are arranged on a white plastic plate with a small plastic spoon beside them

27."My ex-husband was a chef. We always left if he saw workers not wearing nonslip shoes. He says that’s super important and if they don’t care about that, he doesn’t even want to know what the kitchen looks like."

Person wearing a combination of pink socks and brown sandals. The person's lower legs are visible
Westend61 / Getty Images/Westend61

28."If you can smell the fryer from outside the building, get back in your car and drive on. If they don’t maintain the fryer oil, they don't deep-clean at all."

Fred the Fish from SpongeBob SquarePants walks inside the Krusty Krab restaurant. He appears animated and expressive

29."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."

A Del Taco name badge with the name "KIMMIE" displayed on it

30."My red flag is going into a busy restaurant and noticing none of the tables have food or not many customers are eating yet. This usually means the kitchen is going down in flames."

Seven children sit at a long wooden table with empty plates, looking serious and expectant
Antenna / Getty Images/fStop

31."I look for dust. Dust on the ceiling tiles or in the air-conditioning vents. I also have a habit of running my finger along chair frames after I sit down to check for dust."

A close-up of a dusty wooden surface corner, highlighting the accumulation of dust particles. No people or significant color details visible
Lukeluke68 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

32."If all anyone can talk about is the view, then you might as well go to a diner because the food will be bad (awful for what you'll pay). I've never worked nor eaten anywhere with a 'stunning view' that didn't serve lukewarm garbage at a highway robbery price."

A man and woman share a toast with drinks at an outdoor restaurant by the sea. The table has various dishes and condiments
Urbazon / Getty Images

33."Ceiling tiles. It sounds strange but if the ceiling tiles are stained, dusty, or otherwise in poor condition, you can bet that there are things being overlooked. And if there are tiles actually missing? Run."

Mold growth spreading on a ceiling corner, indicating potential water damage and a need for remediation
Peeradon Warithkorasuth / Getty Images

34."Any bars with incredibly large/deep ice tubs. If you're going to have ice in your drink, ask when it was last emptied and cleaned. Deep tubs aren't normally emptied in a busy bar; they'll just have more ice dumped on top."

A metal scoop resting in a large tub filled with ice cubes
Gunnerl / Getty Images/iStockphoto

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

Person leans over and looks into a fish tank with various goldfish inside
Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

36."Former restaurant manager here. I judge by the cleanliness of the windowsills and chair rails, exclusively."

A person's hand wearing a pink glove is wiping a black leather seat of a wooden chair with a blue cloth
Fotoduets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

37."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 a good business. Bad management does exactly the opposite."

A chef stands in a restaurant, looking at his phone. Chairs are flipped on the tables around him. His expression and posture suggest he is reading something important
Ronnie Kaufman / Getty Images

38."Salt shakers. If the holes are clogged and the top is dirty, that thing has been refilled 100 times without being washed."

Close-up of a rustic, vintage salt shaker with a metal lid, placed on a textured wooden surface
Getty Images/iStockphoto

39."Dirty restrooms. Usually, if the restrooms are dirty, so is the kitchen. They seem to go hand-in-hand."

A toilet with the seat and lid raised, and a roll of toilet paper hanging on the wall beside it

40."Flies. They’re attracted to spoiled food. So, if I see flies, either they’re too lazy to clean properly in the kitchen, don’t clean out their equipment or fridge, or worse, they’re using spoiled food by trimming bad parts out or using the entire thing."

Cartoon-style image of a black fly with large, expressive eyes and blue wings