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The wrong place to dine

The wrong place to dine
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These tell-tale signs indicate you’ve opened the door to an eating establishment that likely isn’t up to scratch – and it’s time to look elsewhere for your next meal.

The car park isn’t clean

The car park isn’t clean
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If you get out of your car and come face-to-face with open dumpsters, rubbish and cigarette butts on the grounds, you may want to keep driving, says Ken Rice, a consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Rice says dirty windows and doors are also a sign the restaurant isn’t focused on cleanliness, and that may carry over into the areas where your food is prepared.

The restaurant has too many ‘themes’

The restaurant has too many ‘themes’
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Themes, styles and designs are a great way for restaurants to promote their personality to guests, but too many may be a red flag. “All restaurants have a look and feel. That’s what attracts customers,” says publicist, Fabiana Meléndez. “If you end up somewhere that has too many themes, such as a cool dive bar inside but a nautical-themed beach bar out back, this can sometimes be an indication service and management are not in sync behind the scenes.”

The staff appears disinterested

The staff appears disinterested
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Everyone can have a down day, but if the entire staff looks like they’d rather be anywhere else than here, you may be in for a regrettable experience. “If the front-of-house staff looks disinterested and checked out, it is a sign that the management isn’t doing a good job running the restaurant,” says food blogger, Michelle Stansbury. “And if the front of house looks unengaged, the back of house probably is as well.”

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Their reviews are influencer-heavy

Their reviews are influencer-heavy
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When restaurants are looking to boost their online profiles, they may hire PR teams to reach out to local bloggers, journalists and people who frequently post reviews. They may offer free or discount meals and turned-up customer service, hoping for a great review – but that may not be the real restaurant experience, Meléndez says.

“Restaurants, especially upscale ones, have PR teams dedicated to generating good publicity. Whether it be a write up or pictures of your favourite influencer dining there, we work around the clock to ensure restaurants are always providing stellar service,” Meléndez says. “But what matters is how they treat everyone. If you see influencers singing their praises on Instagram but find their Yelp reviews are questionable, this is a big indication of bad service.”

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Everyone in the restaurant is a tourist

Everyone in the restaurant is a tourist
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If you want to get to the good food, go where the locals are. Tourist-filled restaurants are a red flag. “If you only see other tourists at a restaurant, perhaps because it’s the only place near a popular attraction, I would hesitate to eat there,” Stansbury says. “Restaurants where the locals are eating indicate that at least some diners are there because of its reputation.”

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The restaurant smells

The restaurant smells

Your nose knows when you’ve stumbled upon a not-so-stellar establishment, Rice says. Whether the restaurant smells like stale grease, burned food, or just an overall stench that burns your nostrils, trust your nose’s instinct and walk away. Kitchens and restaurants that emphasise cleanliness will work to eliminate lingering smells from refrigerators, cooktops and other places where odours can emanate.

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The bathroom is dirty

The bathroom is dirty
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If you’re on the fence about a restaurant, take a look at the bathroom. It’s a good indicator of how clean the remainder of the place is. If the bathroom is neglected – the soap dispenser is empty, the toilet paper is on its final squares, the floor is soapy and wet – it’s a sign the staff isn’t keeping up with their tasks, and that might signal they’re not keeping up with other restaurant cleanliness tasks, too.

“It’s noteworthy that in all of my career, I’ve never been in a restaurant with a poorly-maintained restroom that had a stellar kitchen or served a superior food product,” says Alan Guinn, a consultant in the restaurant industry for more than 25 years. “The restrooms serve as an immediate indication to me of the lack of attention to detail that can undermine food quality, even prior to having it served for me to enjoy – or not.”

The kitchen is chaotic

The kitchen is chaotic
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Restaurant bathrooms are often near the entry to the kitchen, so while you’re back there checking out how clean the stalls are, spy on the kitchen. If it looks messy or out of control, it might be time to head out the front door. Reality TV shows aside, kitchens may be busy but they’re rarely chaotic. Organisation and cleanliness are important for health inspections and for making the whole place run smoothly. If the kitchen looks far from a well-oiled machine, it’s time to go.

The errors keep coming

The errors keep coming
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Restaurants are very busy places, and errors happen. However, if things go wrong again and again – and again and again – this may be a sign something isn’t quite right behind the scenes. “Servers are human, and an error or two can occur, especially if the noise level makes it hard to hear each other,” Meléndez says. “But if you order one appetiser and receive another, or simply never get it at all, while your entrees also got mixed up, this is a flag that service may not be up to snuff.”

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