11 Ways to Tell if You're in a Bad Restaurant (Slideshow)

A bad dining experience is about a lot more than the food
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If you walk into a restaurant and nobody acknowledges your presence for more than a minute, you might want to consider turning around and going somewhere else, unless it’s packed and the host is seating a party. In this day and age, it’s inexcusable to stand around in a mostly empty restaurant to wait to be seated. By now, good restaurant owners have learned that the second a potential patron walks in, they should be greeted with a smile. 

1) You’re Not Greeted

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If you walk into a restaurant and nobody acknowledges your presence for more than a minute, you might want to consider turning around and going somewhere else, unless it’s packed and the host is seating a party. In this day and age, it’s inexcusable to stand around in a mostly empty restaurant to wait to be seated. By now, good restaurant owners have learned that the second a potential patron walks in, they should be greeted with a smile. 

2) The Floor is Dirty

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While you’re on your way to your table, take a look at the floor. Is it visibly dirty? Are there stains on the rug? If they don’t take the care to clean the dining room floor, you can be assured that they don’t take the care to scrub the kitchen. 

3) The Table and Things on it are Dirty

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Is your table or menu sticky? Is the silverware anything other than spotless? Is there a lipstick mark on your water glass? Are the salt and pepper shakers covered with a gross film? It all adds up to more carelessness on the part of the staff, and more evidence of a dirty kitchen. 

4) You’re Ignored Once You’re Seated

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As much as you need to be given immediate attention when you enter a restaurant, the same goes when you sit down at your table. Within a minute of sitting down at a good restaurant, your water glass should be filled up and the waiter or waitress should drop by, introduce themselves, and ask if you’d like anything to drink. If you find yourself looking around for your server, it’s already taken too long. 

5) There’s Something in Your Water

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It’s not a bug, but it’s some sort of white something-or-other. Whatever it is, you probably shouldn’t be drinking it. Either it was on the bottom of the glass when water was poured into it, or it was lodged inside a now-melted ice cube taken from a dirty machine. Hopefully you notice it before it’s too late. 

6) Your Drinks Take Forever to Show Up

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Good restaurants know that the sooner you’re served your drink, the more likely you’ll be ordering a second round. So if you put in your drink order and it doesn’t show up for 15 minutes, it’s a good indication that the restaurant might not be properly run (unless the bartender is totally swamped; then your drink should come with an apology and explanation).  

7) The Bathroom is Gross

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You head to the restroom to wash up after placing your order, and it’s a mess. Once again, if the public areas in a restaurant are dirty, it’s a sign that the kitchen will be as well. And most restaurants only have one restroom, so if there’s no soap in the dispenser, that probably means that nobody in the kitchen is washing their hands with soap, either. 

8) The Food is Gross

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Obviously, this is the big one. There’s a lot we can let slide in a restaurant, but gross food is the ultimate deal-breaker. Is it over or undercooked? Is it seasoned properly? Does it taste like it’s gone bad? If something doesn’t taste good, you’ll know it immediately. If it’s an obvious result of an error in the kitchen, you’re within your rights to send it back and order something else, as long as you can explain to your server what you don’t like about it (and it’s a more egregious error than ‘I don’t like tomatoes’). If nobody at the table particularly enjoys what they’re eating, even if it’s not particularly offensive, then you have no real reason to return, even if everything else is spot-on. 

9) The Bill is Larger than it Should Be

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If you’re paying $25 for a hearty portion of housemade filled pasta, tossed in a fresh-made veal ragu and kicked up by a splash of brandy and topped with freshly grated Parm, then the manpower and ingredients that went into it most likely justify the price tag. If you’re paying the same amount of money for an overcooked piece of chicken breast on a roll with some melted cheese and fries on the side, then you’ve been ripped off and should have probably looked for a restaurant that wasn’t right in the middle of Times Square. Expensive ingredients and labor-intensive dishes will cost more, and unless it’s all been microwaved you should be okay with shelling out a little more for it. If it’s a blatant price gouge because you’re in a touristy area, then there’s no excuse. 

10) They Don’t Take Credit Cards (and Don’t Tell You Outright)

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This one’s a major pet peeve. If a restaurant is cash-only, they should be upfront about it from the minute you sit down. You should probably assume that the slice joint is cash-only (or know that Peter Luger is before you go in), but at a sit-down restaurant we all expect to be able to pay with a credit card, and if you can’t your server should tell you before you order. If you find yourself having to scramble to the nearest ATM while your date waits uncomfortably, you should reconsider returning if you aren’t already. 

11) Nobody Says Goodbye

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The wait staff’s job is technically over once you pay your bill, but that doesn’t mean that they should ignore you once their work is done. A simple “goodnight” from the host on your way out can be a great capper to a solid meal.