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    Chefs Are Disclosing The "Restaurant Red Flags" You Should Always Watch Out For When You're Out To Eat

    "Watch out for a menu that says 'no substitutions.'"

    I love going out to eat.

    But there's no doubting that leaving your meals up to strangers comes with some risks.

    I recently came across a Reddit thread from u/squid50s that asked chefs to share some of the "red flags" people should look out for when they go out to eat. Here are 24 things chefs and other restaurant workers said you should keep an eye out for:

    1. "A sick waitstaff. If restaurant owners encourage their waitstaff to work while sick (or don't help to find a replacement), you can count on getting sick too."


    person sneezing into a napkin

    2. "For my NYC people specifically: 'Grade Pending' doesn’t mean that the restaurant is awaiting judgment on their health inspection. It means that they failed and are given a grace period to fix their wrongs."


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


    4. "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."


    overhead shot of sushi and pizza

    5. "How happy is the staff? Do they seem like they like their jobs? If the staff are miserable, you're not going to get quality food or service. It's worth seeking out restaurants that treat their staff well. If they're treated well, they'll treat you well."


    6. "If your meat or pasta has dry spots as if it was left out to dry for a long time, the kitchen is not properly covering/storing their prep correctly. The walk-in is most likely not taken care of. For example, if someone leaves raw chicken out, it forms a skin that looks almost like jerky — chewy with an orange-ish/yellow color. That spot won't go away because someone has cooked it. There is no reason for your sensitive products to be left uncovered for that long."


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


    plate of oysters

    8. "I was employed by a national pest control service and the salespeople told me if the dining room is dirty or gross, do yourself a favor and walk out because their kitchen is gonna be much dirtier. There are also roaches at expensive restaurants — the same as there are at cheaper places. It's the restaurants that don't clean kitchens properly that attract pests and have continual problems."


    9. "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."


    10. "A large menu. Chances are, a lot of things on a menu means that they are frozen. Also, it's difficult to train people to be good at making 40 different things so the quality is going to suffer."


    person reading a menu at a table

    11. "If you actually smell fish at a sushi restaurant, it's in your and your insides' best interest to hightail it out of there."


    12. "If you ever order something with crab, always ask, 'What kind of crab is it?' Even though it might sound like a snobby question, it will reveal whether it’s canned or not. My favorite answer when I went out one time was, 'What are you talking about?', clearly indicating it was not fresh."


    13. "High turnover. It usually means poor management and that means unhappy employees. Unhappy employees means that they don't give a shit about you or your food."


    a restaurant exterior with a "now hiring" banner

    14. "Watch out for 'no substitutions.' If the place makes its own food, they can sub virtually anything for anything else. While they may try to play it up as, 'Our food is perfect and we refuse to change it on moral grounds,' it's almost always a sign of, 'This was made two months ago and all we do is reheat it.'"


    15. "If you can’t see their health inspection score posted out in the open, it’s probably not very good. some googling around and you can view most restaurants’ scores online for free."


    16. "Hot food should be hot and cold food should be cold. Also, look for food handlers and notice their hands. If they look like they are greasy and not using gloves, that’s a big red flag for me."


    cook chopping meat and red arrow pointing to their uncovered hands

    17. "Dirty menus. If you can't keep them clean, nothing else is going to be clean."


    18. "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."


    19. "Any big space that's empty during a rush period. Honestly, I know you shouldn't always do groupthink but if everyone is choosing to stay away...there's probably something to it."


    an empty restaurant

    20. "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."


    21. "If you walk into a restaurant and it smells like old socks, leave. German cockroach pheromones (the most common restaurant roach) smell like old sweaty socks and there needs to be A LOT of them to make the odor noticeable."


    22. "This isn't true 100% of the time but my roommate, who is a chef, said it's not worth the risk to dine at places that are very dimly lit. He said some restaurants do this to cover up the lack of cleanliness."


    a restaurant table only lit up by a candle

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


    24. And finally, "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."


    Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.