If You See This in a Restaurant, Put Down the Menu and Make Other Plans

From a wan welcome to a sticky shaker, here are the six suspect things to look out for.



In the age of social media and the mini computers we all carry around with us at all times, it’s easy to look at online reviews for a restaurant before we decide to try it. But sometimes we go in unknowing, like people used to do back in the day before smartphones but after the invention of the telegraph. If you find yourself in the situation of not being able to know if a restaurant is good or bad, there are a few signs that might tip you off that you may have made a bad decision.

A dirty restroom

I’ve said it before and I will say it again from the mountaintops. When you step into the restroom and are greeted with a wet floor, an overflowing trash can, or a lack of soap in the dispenser, listen to your inner lifeguard whistle. If a restaurant doesn’t make the effort to clean an area that customers see, what might other parts of the restaurant look like? Rinse your hands under hot water, shake them off since there are no paper towels and swim to safety.

Related: The Fancier the Restaurant, the Harder It Is to Find the Bathroom

A 10-page menu

If the menu is wordier than Gone With the Wind, you might want to reconsider. A truly great restaurant focuses on a select number of entrees, while a menu that spreads itself too thin, well, just doesn’t. It’s hard to trust a kitchen that can make meatloaf, lasagna, and enchiladas. The restaurant might think it can master all cuisines, but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Disclaimer: If it’s a diner, the menu can be as long as they want it to be, but choose wisely. Eggs, yes. Lobster fettuccine, no.

Related: If It's Not on the Menu, It's Not an Option and Other Advice from a Longtime Waiter

Sticky menus and grimy salt and pepper shakers

This is yet another clue that the restaurant does not place cleanliness next to godliness. When you sit down, look at items on the table to see what state they’re in. Anything that has a higher viscosity than normal means that no one took the time to wipe it down after the last customer used it. That salt shaker could have been in the mouth of a child who just finished eating a Rice Krispies Treat. By the way, the correct level of viscosity on a menu is absolutely no viscosity.

Related: It's Time to Say Goodbye to the QR Code Menu

A strong odor

Walking into a restaurant should delight your olfactory senses, not assault them. You want to smell herbs, garlic, bacon, or brownies, but if you smell bleach, bug spray, or chemicals, it’s not a good sign. If the scent is a repugnantly strong air freshener that smells like funeral home flowers, what smell are they trying to cover up?

Related: I’m a Bar Manager, and COVID-19 Permanently Altered My Sense of Taste

You’re being ignored

You should be acknowledged by someone when you enter a restaurant by either the host, a server, or even someone standing behind the bar. You want to know that they know you are there. If after being seated you still feel neglected, it could be an indication of what’s to come. The service isn’t up to par. Think of Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction and say, “I will not be ignored.” You deserve better than that and it’s okay to leave. Calmly, though.

Related: When Restaurants Don't Make You Feel Welcome

Photos of all the food

Restaurants that need pictures instead of words or explanations to describe the food might leave you disappointed. Besides that, there is no way the food that arrives at your table is going to look identical to the image you saw in the menu. Again, if this is a diner, it gets a pass, but those photos are stock images. The line cook isn’t uploading photos from his iPhone or anything.

Related: Photographs That Changed the Way We Eat

This is not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule. It’s possible you can order a pasta dish based on a picture that was on page nine of a sticky menu after being ignored by your server in a restaurant that smells like Clorox and has a bathroom covered in filth, but the chances are slim.

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