- Jeff Greenberg/ Getty
- When you try a new restaurant for the first time, there are red flags you should be on the lookout for.
- If a host or server doesn’t immediately greet you, the restaurant could have bad service.
- If the parking lot, menus, or bathrooms aren’t clean, the restaurant might not care about its guests.
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Finding a new, local restaurant can be difficult, especially with divisive online reviews and endless recommendations.
But there are other subtle signs throughout a restaurant to determine if it’ll offer a pleasant dining experience, from bad-tasting food to low quality cleanliness. From the moment you enter the eatery, there are certain ways you should be treated and things you should look out for before even sitting down at a table.
INSIDER spoke with restaurant and hospitality experts to find out the things you should be aware of before ordering your meal.
1. If nobody greets you when you enter the restaurant, you might want to try a different eatery
Many great restaurants have a host or hostess that welcomes you to the eatery as soon as you arrive. They usually bring you to a table or let you know how long the wait will be. Their job is important because they are the first face you see at the restaurant, and they are great examples of what the rest of the experience could be like.
If you enter an establishment and there is no one at the host stand, leaving you to twiddle your thumbs in the entrance, you might be in a restaurant with not-so-great service.
“It just shows they are not on top of anything and there’s no attentiveness to service,” Perry Groups’ restaurant and hospitality consultant Dennis P. Gemberling told INSIDER. “If they’re lacking there, they’re most likely lacking in all other areas of the operation.”
2. If a server does not come to your table within five minutes from when you were seated, you could have bad service
A great server introduces themselves and takes drink orders within minutes of your arrival at the table. If the server is extremely busy, they should at least introduce themselves and say, “I’ll be right with you.” At poorly managed restaurants, neither of these things happen, leaving you to feel unwelcome and under appreciated.
“That’s the number one no-no as a restaurant,” Gemberling told INSIDER. “It just speaks to the lack of supervision, lack of training, and lack of putting the customer first.”
- Jeff Greenberg/ Getty
3. If the parking lot is dirty, the inside could be dirty, too
When pulling up to a restaurant, you should take notice of the cleanliness of the building’s exterior. If you’re stepping on cigarette butts, seeing overflowing dumpsters, and uncleaned windows, it’s obvious that the restaurant does not prioritize cleanliness. This should be a red flag as to what to expect inside.
“I think it speaks to the overall operation,” Gemberling said. “If the parking lot is a little dirty, then you get in the restaurant and that’s a mirror to the parking lot, then it’s all downhill.”
Gemberling does understand, however, that a lot of restaurants share parking lots with other establishments and have no control over their cleanliness.
4. Similarly, if the menus are dirty, the eatery might be a bad choice
Sometimes you’re given a menu that has dried up food stuck between two pages, and that should immediately be cause for alarm. Restaurants should be wiping down the menus between uses and making sure each guest is getting a fresh menu. If not, you should take your business elsewhere because cleanliness should be a top priority, according to Gemberling.
“If they’re not keeping the menus clean, they’re probably not keeping the restrooms clean, the servers probably aren’t keeping themselves clean,” Gemberling said. “There’s a whole set of issues that can grow from that.”
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5. Likewise, if the bathroom is filthy, you’re at a restaurant that doesn’t care about the guests’ experience
The dining experience doesn’t end when you enter the bathroom. The same atmosphere that is shown throughout the restaurant should flow into the bathroom. If restaurant managers don’t clean up the bathrooms, it’s obvious that they don’t care about their customers’ experience.
“It is always said that the cleanliness of the restaurant is reflected by how clean the restroom is. While on a road trip, I decided to stop at a restaurant for a quick bite. Not only was the restroom not clean, but I could clearly see the kitchen and it was not the best view. I walked right out and swore never to visit that restaurant again,” Firoz Thanawalla, chef and owner of Chef’s Satchel, previously told INSIDER reporter Sophia Mitrokostas.
6. If you’re the only party dining in the restaurant, there’s probably a good reason
If you look around the establishment and notice you’re the only party there, it’s probably a sign of bad things to come. It should be especially worrisome if you’re dining during peak meal hours, like lunch or dinner. Gemberling added that if the restaurant specializes in that specific meal – like Denny’s does with breakfast foods – and there’s no one there, then you should try a different restaurant. Remember, if it’s not popular with the masses, then it probably won’t be popular with you.
- Jeff Greenberg/ Getty
7. If the host refuses to seat you where you want to sit, they probably aren’t adaptable to customer needs
Gemberling said he once went to a sushi restaurant alone and they had him sit at the bar, despite all the empty tables. When he asked for a table, they told him they could not seat one person at a table because the place may get busy. He said this is a sign of bad customer service.
“If they’re so intent on seating you in a certain place or not letting you sit where you want, I’d turn around and walk right out,” Gemberling told INSIDER.
8. Be aware that great reviews don’t necessarily mean it will be a great restaurant
Online reviews can be deceiving, so you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. Gemberling said he has gone to restaurants with mediocre reviews and actually had a great time. On the other hand, he said he has gone to four-star restaurants and had not-so-great experiences.
9. On the other hand, if the menu has too many options and does not specialize in anything, you might want to reconsider your dining choice
No one chef can specialize in everything. Typically, they pick one type of dish and do it well. In fact, that’s why there are restaurants that specialize specifically in seafood and in BBQ. If the menu is a laundry list of every type of cuisine, that should be cause for alarm.
But the problem may be even more complicated than that.
“Anywhere that has a really broad choice of food rings alarm bells as to how fresh the food is. For example, a restaurant will not buy fresh meat every morning if the chances of someone ordering a steak are one in fifty. Compare that to a steak restaurant that only offers five different cuts of meat, where the chances are one in five,” food and restaurant columnist Luisa Ruocco previously told INSIDER.