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15 Essential Rules For Choosing A Restaurant

And for getting the most out of your experience.

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1. If you see chefs smoking outside the front door, keep walking.


Because that place doesn't value the customer, I promise you.

2. Toilets tell you a lot.


If the bathrooms are a state, why should the kitchen be any different? Also: No running water in the bathroom? RUN.

3. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy decor.


The cleanliness of a restaurant is important (see toilets above), but the look of it doesn't always reflect the quality of the food. Let’s call it "the Paris effect," in honor of the first restaurant everyone stumbles across in Paris, a romantic brasserie just off the Champs-Élysées with red roses on the tables and charming art on the walls and the worst slop you’ve ever eaten.

4. Be wary of a chef with a dirty uniform.


A little bit of dirt is par for the course when you’re working with food all day. But an "I've just slept in a dumpster" catalog of stains on a chef's whites (aka uniform) spells all kinds of trouble.

5. Big menus = Mediocre food


You’re telling me you made 200 different dishes fresh today? Please.

6. Skip fusion.


Don’t trust any restaurant that claims to be an expert in more than one type of specialty food. A chef can be a sushi king or a curry guru, but what are the chances they’re both? Mighty small. Remember: Jack of all trades, master of none.

7. Assess the mood of the other diners.


The number of other diners doesn't matter all that much, but the look on their faces does. Are they enjoying themselves here? Or do they look like they're in the middle of a Waco-style siege?

8. Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu.


Just because it costs more doesn't mean it's better. Many restaurants wildly overprice one dish — usually steak or lobster. This is a rich tax, for those with more money than sense.

9. Stick to what the place knows.


Don’t order chicken in a seafood restaurant or steak tartare in a diner. The $30 pizza you get in a five star hotel will be the saddest pizza you ever eat.

10. Treat your server well.


Most of the time, kindness is repaid. If you look out for them, they’ll look after you.

11. Go for the simple stuff.


Sometimes less is more. A dish with 35 ingredients has 35 ways to mess up. And nothing screams a chef’s lack of confidence like not knowing when to stop.

12. Specials aren't always special.


Sometimes they’re the oldest stuff in the fridges, which need to be sold quick or chucked. (Although at a quality restaurant, they can be an opportunity for a chef to express creativity. Use the rest of the guidelines in this post to decide if that special is going to be special.)

13. Never ask your server what you should eat.


Servers get told to push certain dishes. Like the specials, those “recommendations” are often the stuff that’s getting a bit old. If you ask what their favorite dish is, you will often be told what they want you to buy, not what they like the most.

14. If something isn’t right, don’t keep quiet about it.


There's the old myth that if you complain in restaurants they’ll spit in your food. That's incredibly unlikely. If something is wrong, you need to offer the place the chance to put it right. Usually they'll be thankful — most places want to be as good as they can be. So let them know.

15. Leave like a boss.


Congratulations! You know how to dine like a pro. Now thank your server and praise the food, tip generously when you pay, and leave with a smile. That way, the chances are they’ll be happy to see you again.

This post was written by Simon Wroe, a former chef and freelance journalist based in London who just released his first novel, Chop Chop, which is set in a restaurant kitchen.

Wroe writes about food for Prospect magazine and art and culture for The Economist. Learn more about his new novel here.

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