Nobody wants to go and spend their money at a restaurant that's unsanitary or unethical! Just the thought of it is enough to make you shudder. But it's not always obvious what to look for when you're checking a restaurant out, so chefs went and revealed the biggest restaurant red flags to look out for!

Even if you find a place to eat with exciting new dishes or recipes that you haven't had in a while, keep an eye out. Just one of the following warning signs could easily ruin the whole experience.

So if you see any of these restaurant red flags, it's safe to say that you should get up and begin to back away slowly!

Is anybody coughing?

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. -thick_andy

Apparently, it's kind of a problem.

It's not just the wait staff either. I've worked in the industry as a chef for close to 7 years now. In my times I've worked with chefs who are borderline on the brink of death and still working.

I hate this mentality with a passion as so many chefs think that it makes them tough or calling in sick is for the weak. When in reality, you're a hazard to your colleges and customers and you're not working at 100% so why even show up being such a burden?


Attention NYC!

For my NYC people “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. -ImSuperSick

How does the dining room look?

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 cause their kitchen is gonna be much dirtier.


Infestations aren't exclusive to "cheap" places.

There are also roaches at expensive restaurants, the same as there are in cheaper places. It's the restaurants that don't clean kitchens properly, that attract pests and have continual problems. -BringMeTwo

IHOP doesn't hide well, apparently.

I went to an IHOP, and there were ants crawling on the walls, so I told the waitress about it, and she said "WHAT?!?! AGAIN!??" She could have covered that up in a better way. I was really hungry so I just moved to another table, but those pancakes were so nasty. I still love IHOP, but I just won't go to 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 one next time. -Sunset_Bleu

Inspect the salt shakers.

via: Getty

Salt shaker. If the holes are clogged and the top is dirty, that thing has been refilled 100 times without washing. -faployst

Kids these days...

My brother once unscrewed the lid off of a Parmesan cheese shaker, licked his finger, and dipped it in there. I've asked for a bowl of Parmesan from the kitchen ever since then. -Cootersheroes

How do waiters handle the dishes?

Late to this one but as an ex waiter, I can't stand seeing waiting staff grabbing clean glasses at the top when handling them. -arseniy1234555

This one's for the gluten-free folks.

If you're gluten-free, for whatever reason, please don't go to a from-scratch Italian restaurant.


There's literally nothing we can do to get that out of anywhere. Thanks to the flour, it permeates the air.


When you think about it, it's just too hard to prevent cross-contamination.

See this is what's pissing me off about where I currently work.

We do pizzas, from fresh, and every check has one.

But we offer gluten-free bases. Because sales. And I'm expected to make GF food. In a kitchen. That's been pelted with flour for 7 hours. When we're busy.



Lessons from a former health inspector:

Former Health Inspector here:

If there's a self serve soda machine go ahead and take a napkin around the inside of the Sprite/clear-soda-available nozzle. If your napkin comes out pink, brown, or orange SKIP THE SODA.


Here's why!

A Sprite nozzle should come out clear. If it's pink or orange then it's slime mold (it's actually a bacteria, but that's what we called it). If it's brown, it's likely cola. But if the cola nozzle was put on the sprite dispenser and is still brown you know the nozzles aren't being cleaned properly.

Also, go ahead and look closely at the ice chute. I see green algae in those a lot.


Good clarification on the 'slime mold,' but this only makes it grosser!

I knew someone would teach me something today! The slime mold is a Protist, not a bacteria. Still not quite a mold, closer to a fungus. Almost. Microbiology is rad, everyone. -StumbleKitty

Ice machines are just shady if not well attended, okay?

As a former maintenance man...ice machines are algae farms. Very effective ones. Like if you needed a metric ton of algae in a hurry, invest in ice makers. -maintenance_tales

This is just... a horror story.

When I was working at my old job we had ants crawling out of the soda taps. Our owner kept selling sodas to customers well aware of it. me and my coworker put an “out of order" sign on the machine and he took it off and kept selling them. Eventually, quit that job because the owner was so bad. -blainesinger47

Check out the restaurant workers' morale!

Not a chef, but an ex-restaurant manager. 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. -ohno

See any staff eating? That's a good sign!

And are they eating in the restaurant?

I never got the management that wouldn't allow staff to visibly eat in the dining room. When I see staff eating the food I actually relax a little bit. (Similar but less reliable than "What's your favorite thing?" and reading between the lines.)


Some coffee shop advice:

Former barista and assistant manager here:

If the restaurant has a coffee machine visible, take a look at the steamer. If it's covered in white, means they don't clean after frothing the milk.

Most likely they don't run steam after heating up the milk, meaning that there is residual milk inside the nozzle of the steamer, which gets burnt and generates bacteria. Don't order coffee in there.


It also might mean they "clean" with dirty wipes.

Also most likely the cloth used to "clean" the steamer from time to time is disgusting and used for more than just wiping the milk out of it.

A restaurant with a good philosophy about health and safety cleans the coffee machine every night.


If you didn't know what rodents smell like...

If there's a funky smell that's even slightly (or stronger) urine-like, the restaurant probably has a rodent problem. Best to leave. -renewed_artist

Does each staff member have too much to do?

Overworked staff. What cleaning jobs do you think are getting missed if staff are far to stretched and or unhappy at work? -fiendlymcfiend

And is the staff consistent...or rapidly changing?

We avoid restaurants that are constantly having staff turnover for this exact reason. There is a place here, open less than a year constantly advertising for staff. Right now he has 7 positions open out of maybe 15. If it is an ongoing issue, it is probably mismanagement. Unhappy employees handling food just makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. -ElElseEle

Some restaurants can't seem to stay in one lane.

Does it sound like it could be 2 or more restaurants?

Example, serving sushi and pizza at the same place. They can't do either well.


Quality often has nothing to do with the size of the place.

Big dim sum place I went to had food spatter on the baseboards. I was skeeved.

Hole in the wall Taiwanese place? There's not even dust on the top part of the bathroom mirror. And they only have a staff of 4?! I don't understand how they do it.


Important seafood rule!

Ask where your oysters come from. If they don’t know, you don’t want them.

Works for most seafood.


How to tell when the kitchen is a disaster zone:

You might have to be a chef to recognize this, but 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.

One time I noticed this and could see some food slowly stacking up in the window, but no orders coming out. I mentioned it to the server and he replied, "I wouldn’t suggest ordering food". He brought our drink check and we left. He was tipped well for his honesty.


This pest control worker is throwing SHADE.

Not a chef but pest control so I'm in and out of multiple restaurants all day, and I can tell you this, 95% of quick-serve fried chicken places are vomit-inducing. Particularly one based with an old guy as the mascot. -SlayinDaWabbits

It's better to do a few things well than a hundred things sort of okay.

Not a chef but my best friend is and he says a large menu is a red flag. 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.

EDIT: Yes, SOME places like Chinese restaurants that are different combinations of about 30 fresh ingredients are an exception.


What you shouldn't smell in a sushi restaurant:

I've heard that if you actually smell fish at a sushi restaurant, it's in your & your insides best interest to hightail it out of there. -bellabane

Basically, there's a lot you can check for.

I have worked for many restaurants and been to many others. If the place has low lightning (unless it's intentional), roughly no customer activity, floors aren't clean, place smells bad, booth seats move, drinks that taste funny (not a drug joke, this is a sign that they don't clean their soda fountains or tea urns) and low-quality customer service are all signs that you should look out for if your going to eat. If a restaurant is poorly maintained, the food might not be of good quality either. -That_One_Bread_Crumb

Anthony Bourdain spilled the truth about brunch:

Read Anthony Bourdain's book. He runs down a bunch.

Brunch is just using up leftovers from the rush of the weekend. Generally worse quality food.


Anthony Bourdain knew it all.

(cont'd) Mondays and Thursdays are typical new inventory days. Eat these days for the freshest food.

Only order shellfish from a SHELLFISH restaurant. Know what a restaurant does well, and order that.


Here's a few tips from a seasoned chef:

I asked my mom, who was a chef for 30 years. This is what she told me:

"You're better off sticking to restaurants you know are good if you can. Find a place you know is doing things right and give them your business. But if you need to find a new place- like if you just moved cities or something- order food you know pretty well. For me, that's always the soups.

If it's something you know really well, then you'll know if it's good or not. And if they do that well, then the rest of the food should probably be alright too. But if something's wrong with your order, like it's too salty or undercooked or whatever, then there's something wrong with the restaurant."


And finally, tips for people with restrictive diets!

I wasn't a chef, just a humble stock boy, but I can say this; a good amount of hot food isn't truly kosher/halal, and a lot of seemingly vegan food isn't.

9 times out of 10, it's a result of ignorance; a skillet that made sausage during the breakfast shift might not have been washed before being used to blacken chicken or saute vegetables for lunch. Simple mistakes can be attributed to human error and shift changes.

1 time out of 10, it's a result of necessity and space; two types of meat might share a tray due to a lack of space. This is more a result of the menu dictating the kitchen, instead of vice versa.

If you live by strict (voluntary) dietary restrictions, dine as such: kosher restaurants, halal restaurants, and vegan restaurants will always beat one restaurant with kosher/halal/vegan options.

-sibuttadopo Enjoyed these restaurant fails? Stay tuned for the horrible, trendy ways restaurants have tried (and failed) to plate their food...