Restaurant Red Flags: Signs You Should Eat Anywhere Else

Treating yourself to a restaurant meal should offer a much-needed respite from the chore of cooking and cleaning at home. Unfortunately, the wrong restaurant can destroy your relaxing evening. 

Poor service and terrible food will leave you wondering why you even bothered. You could have stayed home and cooked for less stress than this!

While scrolling through the popular R/askreddit community, I found a question designed to help. A user asked others to share red flags that might indicate you’re in a bad restaurant. 

You may want to skip establishments waving any of these flags.

Long Menus

Many casual dining establishments offer many options for even the pickiest of diners. However, usually, the menu will be about three pages, and most meals will express a common theme: American casual, sandwiches with some salads thrown in, diner fare, steaks & chicken, etc. 

One Redditor claimed that restaurants with super long menus offering too much variety could be red flags. One user even quoted Gordon Ramsey, saying, “a long menu tells me, your customer, that you’re willing to apply heat to anything edible and serve it to me like it’s a decent meal. Find one page worth of things you are good at, stick to it.”

Others disagreed, saying if all the ingredients are similar, there’s nothing wrong with offering them in varying combinations. 

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Long Waits Despite Few Customers

It’s understandable to have long wait times in hip, busy restaurants. But if you find yourself waiting forever to get seated in a place with a handful of customers, you can rest assured your entire experience will be bad. 

“I remember this one restaurant in Wisconsin took over an hour to bring us our food. There were only 2 other tables occupied. It was not busy. The food came out cold and seemed like it was sitting there for longer than it should have been,” shared one user. 

When there are no Ethnic People at the Ethnic Restaurant

A delicious ethnic restaurant will attract folks of that ethnicity who want to enjoy the foods of their culture without having to cook. A Thai restaurant with no Thai customers in a region home to many Thai people is a waving red flag that the food is inauthentic. 

There are some exemptions, specifically when there isn’t a large ethnic population in the area. In small-town Pennsylvania, there may be only one Chinese family, who owns and operates the local Chinese joint. The food is excellent for the area but often caters to the clientele’s tastes. 

One Redditor shared their experience at a Mexican restaurant. 

“Went to a Mexican restaurant in a city that’s like 30% Hispanic last week. Reviews were good, never been there, thought I’d check it out,” they said.

“After I placed my order, I noticed that 90% of the patrons during the lunch rush were white. And old. Old. Food was about as good as you’d expect.”

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Lack of Sanitation Rating

In most areas, restaurants are required to post a sanitation rating, showing customers how they scored on their latest inspection. 

You can assume they didn’t score well if the rating is absent or hidden. 

Of course, the rules and regulations vary. Some users from small towns say they’ve only seen ratings in big cities, while other countries may have different rules altogether. 

A Bad Smell

When walking up the path to a restaurant, you hope for the delicious aroma of freshly cooked food to waft upon you. 

However, if you smell sewage, something rotten, or anything that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you should turn around and walk away. 

I had this experience at a local Mexican restaurant the other day. There was a slight sewage smell outside, but we were on a tight timeline and decided to go anyway. The food was bland, and I found a ceramic chip in my taco. I will not return. 

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Dirty Floor

Pay attention to the cleanliness of the floor, windows, menus, and other small things. “If they can’t keep the floor clean, they aren’t cleaning the important stuff,” stated one user.

Of course, some users mentioned places like Texas Roadhouse, where the peanut-coated floor is part of the ambiance. If you expect peanuts on the floor, it’s okay, but if the floor is crusty when it should be clean, you may want to think about what else they don’t clean. 

Empty Parking Lot

Locales know which restaurants are good. If you pull up during a prime dining time and the joint is empty, you should ask yourself why. 

Sometimes, an empty restaurant signifies a poorer town where folks don’t eat out much or a refined menu that the locales don’t quite enjoy. However, in a crowded neighborhood, at least a few folks should be going out to eat, and if they’re avoiding a particular place, there’s likely a reason. 

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Lots of Elderly

One Redditor mentioned that restaurants that cater to senior citizens likely have bland food. Of course, it’s not bad or a red flag if that’s what you’re looking for. 

However, if you’re seeking a flavorful meal, you may want to avoid places that cater to older folks with sensitive palettes. 

Fishy Smell

Even restaurants that specialize in fish shouldn’t smell like fish. 

One user shared an experience at a sushi restaurant with a fish smell. “I remember going to a sushi place with a friend of mine once, and it smelled like fish as soon as we walked in the door. I looked at him and told him we need to find a new place because I’m not getting sick tonight for sushi. He fought me on it, I told him to get a big whiff of the place, and he agreed with me,” they said. 

Fresh sushi shouldn’t have the iconic “fish” smell in the first place, so it’s a bad sign if the sushi joint, or any restaurant for that matter, smells like fish. 

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Dirty Bathrooms

Many Redditors simply commented “dirty bathrooms” as the most prominent restaurant red flag. Some said they visit the bathroom before ordering to determine if they really want to eat there. 

If a restaurant doesn’t take time to keep the bathroom clean, they probably aren’t cleaning important areas like kitchens. 

Avoid the Restaurant Red Flags for a Great Meal

To enjoy a fantastic night out, pay attention to the red flags Redditors shared in this thread

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Some restaurants with long menus may do everything well, while empty joints may have horrible advertising but great food. However, in general, the Redditors are right on, and if you want to have a great night out, you’d be wise to avoid restaurants waving red flags.