Reddit user u/FlintTheDad posed the question: "What's an immediate red flag at a restaurant?" and the thread quickly filled with the red flags and warning signs people swear you should look out for at restaurants. Here's what people shared:
1."Dirty AC vents. If those are dirty, I guarantee the hot line has food debris under it. And, if that's the case, I trust nothing in that kitchen. I've run restaurants on a corporate level. It's a pet peeve of mine."
2."Massive towers of food and/or those extreme Bloody Marys with an entire burger stuck to the glass designed for people to post on Instagram. The quality is never going to be good, and it probably means the restaurant relies on people coming for the spectacle rather than the quality."
3."A huge, varied menu. Places like Chinese, Mexican, and Indian restaurants generally have large menus, but most items use the same base ingredients. It's the places that try to incorporate lots of wildly different dishes that you want to avoid."
4."Dirty restrooms. Usually, if the restrooms are dirty, so is the kitchen. They seem to go hand-in-hand."
5."That *smell*. You know the one. The floors feel a little slippery/slimy underfoot, and it smells like they've been mopping the place with the same dirty mop and bucket water for weeks. This isn't something you're likely to see in a nice place, but I've encountered it in more fast-casual dining places than I care to remember."
6."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."
7.“'ATTENTION CUSTOMERS: Due to inflationary pressures, we will be adding a 10% surcharge to all bills. Thank you for your understanding.'"
"Or a sign saying: 'No one wants to work anymore.'"
8."A steakhouse that undercooks, overcooks, or overall is a gamble in steak quality. It's a steakhouse; the steaks should at least be worth your money, not poorly-seasoned, overcooked slabs when you ask for it medium rare, or borderline rare (basically raw) when you ask for it to be medium."
9."If it looks busy and management is nowhere to be found/on their phones. I've watched managers stand around on their phones and not help with team service whatsoever. It's so frustrating working in a restaurant and you need all hands on deck, but managers/shift leads think that they're immune."
10."First thing I do is go and wash my hands (amazingly, NOBODY does this anymore but me it seems). Well, if the water is ice cold and barely a trickle, or there are no towels or hand dryers, THAT IS A HUGE RED FLAG. Then, I'll usually only order something deep fried to be safe."
11."Not a red flag about the food, but if a place has their music up so loud I can’t hear the person I’m with, I won’t eat there."
"Conversely, if it's TOO quiet. Like, not only if the sound system is way too low, but if the customers are also weirdly quiet (barely having conversations, just sort of sitting there) and the atmosphere seems almost stifling. A couple of years ago, we walked into a gastropub in Scotland just like this — very low music, the room was half-full (and this was at peak lunch time), and everyone who was there were just sitting, looking sullen, barely speaking, waiting for their food. Just really odd vibes. After five minutes of sitting at the bar trying to get the attention of staff (who were all standing around looking at their phones), we left and went to a definitely *not fancy* cafe down the block that was the absolute opposite. People just seemed happy to be there, staff were attentive, and the vibe was really welcoming."
12."Stained carpet. Chipped dishes. Loud entertainment. Yelling from the kitchen."
13."Dust on lighting fixtures or the top edge of the menu screens if you’re at a fast food joint. Our local coffee shop has the electronic signs above, and they tend to be caked in dust. This is why I don’t order food from there, because that’s where they keep the bagels and buns — directly below the dusty screens. Mention it as many times as you want, but nothing gets taken care of."
14."If the condiment containers on the tables are gross and sticky as well as the menus, run do not walk straight to the exit without ordering. They do not clean."
15."Before being seated, I intentionally observe and analyze how many other patrons appear to be looking in the direction of their assigned server. That is an immediate indication that either the service is slow, or there are a multitude of potential problems with their orders. If either is true, it will likely result in an unsatisfactory experience."
16."ALWAYS hiring, or hiring all positions. Similarly, you never seem to see the same face twice when you go in and you've never had a server who's been there more than six months."
17."High staff turnover. Full bar selection but no bartender. Dead on weekend nights. Lots of 86ed items. Empty but unbussed tables. Zero hustle among the staff. Very young servers. If servers are making good money, they will do almost anything to keep it flowing."
18."I hate when restaurants attempt to have as many tables as possible all crammed right next to each other. Then you feel like you're basically having dinner with the tables right next to you."
19."The floor. Just look at the floor and you'll understand everything. If they're not able to clean the floor, how do you think they gonna treat your meal?"
20."They're not busy when they should be, like weekends, lunch hour, etc."
21."When they don’t serve food on a plate. Instead, it’s a brick, plank, or roof tile."
22."Dirty lights, dirty ceiling fans, and sticky tables. Just turn around and walk out if you see or feel any of this. This is coming from someone who has worked in restaurants for 25+ years."
23."When you open the menu and crumbs fall out."
24."A weevil. There is NEVER only one. They will be in any and all dry goods in that restaurant."
25."Dirty water glasses. Dishes and glasses are washed by a machine, and if the machine is not being regularly sanitized and leaves food particles or residue on the glasses, that's a first indication that deep cleaning doesn't happen."
26."If a manager is yelling at staff either loud enough for everyone to hear or out in the open."
27."When you ask about your food allergy and they can't answer because they don't know what's in their food."
28."Multiple dirty tables that haven’t been cleared. If the restaurant isn’t crowded, staff should have time to clean them. If it is crowded, staff should be trying to turn tables over quickly. Dirty tables mean they are either severely understaffed or the staff just doesn’t care. Either way, you will be waiting a long time."
29.Finally: "Do a quick ‘read’ of the restaurant’s vibe. No one to greet you? Are they short-staffed or in the weeds? Staff looking stressed? Customers without menus or food and looking around? Read their body language. If it feels off initially, it’s usually going to carry on through the entire meal. Trust your instincts and leave."
Yikes, yeah. That tracks. Any other restaurant red flags that scream "you shouldn't eat here"?
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.