Top Signs that a Restaurant is Not Clean Enough to Eat At

Do you like to go out to eat at restaurants? Not only can you dine on tasty meals, but you don’t have to do any work… Trista - June 10, 2021

Do you like to go out to eat at restaurants? Not only can you dine on tasty meals, but you don’t have to do any work yourself. When you go to a restaurant, you want to the service and food to be excellent, and the place to be clean. Whether it be a high-class restaurant, small family diner, fast-food joint, or even a bar, the business shouldn’t be filthy. Because who wants to go out and spend money somewhere dirty, with terrible food and bad service? It’s not that hard to wipe things down and refill soap dispensers. However, you would be surprised with how some establishments can be when it comes to those simple tasks.

Some restaurants have dirty, unhealthy conditions and are just plain gross to be around when you’re trying to eat your meal. Not only that, but unsanitary kitchens are a health risk for those involved. Just imagine going out to eat with some friends. The service is okay; it might not be the cleanest place you’ve ever eaten at, but you’re hungry; you turn around and get food poisoning because the kitchen is filthy, even though you had no idea. You probably wouldn’t want to return to that restaurant anytime soon, right? But how can you tell if a restaurant is clean enough to eat at? Check out these top signs to look for when you enjoy your next meal — hopefully!


20. Look at the soda fountains and ice chutes for clean standards.

According to many Reddit users, the best way to determine the cleanliness of a fast-food restaurant is to check the pop machine. More specifically, the spouts and ice chute, especially the loading part. u/earthDF has reportedly worked as a server and line cook for several years in the fast-food industry. This Reddit user says, “Number 1 red flag is the spouts on the soda fountain. Those things are one of the easiest things to clean in the whole place. If they’re mildew-y, that kills my interest in eating there.”

The Reddit user goes on to say, “I’m fine with a bit of a mess elsewhere, especially in a high volume place since it will get messy over the course of the day. However, those spouts take multiple days of no washing to get to a point where they are noticeably disgusting.” Others users also said these soda spouts and ice chutes are quite easy to clean. So if they are moldy, it is likely indicative of a general lack of hygiene for the rest of the restaurant.


19. Avoid a restaurant if it has that dirty dishrag smell.

Foul smells are a dead giveaway that you are in a less than pristine food establishment. However, in particular, you should pay attention to any unpleasant smells you may notice right after a staff member has wiped anything down, such as a table, tray, or menu. A Reddit user known as u/rWoHgFyxoJhYka says, “We all know that smell; it’s that smell when you take a dirty rag and dirty dish-washing soap you just used earlier to clean the dining room table instead of using clean water and fresh soap and rinsing it twice.”

Other commenters on Reddit were also quick to point out that a heavy smell of bleach or chlorine is just as bad and might also indicate overuse of chemicals on equipment. That turns into high odds that these chemicals may have come into contact with your food; think about that. Talk about some of the unhealthiest things you may have come across in your food while at a restaurant!


18. Pay attention to the changing of gloves.

According to a study done by the CDC, staff engages in roughly nine activities per hour that should involve hand washing or switching gloves. Only 23 percent of restaurants practice proper hygiene after handling dirty equipment. That includes a cash register and money, leading to food-borne illnesses. Suppose you were to walk into a low-staffed Subway restaurant and they ring up your sandwich with the same gloves that they just made it with. In that case, the chances are you are running a high risk of contamination.

Restaurateur, Nick Kamboj, says, “Chefs not using gloves provide many opportunities for contamination to take place in the food. There is a high risk of cross-contamination of allergens by not using or changing gloves.” It’s the same thing with workers not washing their hands after handling money and touching clean surfaces where food is prepared. Alternatively, touching food instead to prepare or cook it. You wouldn’t go to the restroom and then prepare dinner without washing your hands, would you? So why let someone else, do the same thing when it comes to your food?


17. Don’t eat somewhere if trash has taken over the parking lot.

Not many sit-down or formal restaurants have trash cans placed around their parking lots. However, fast-food restaurants usually have at least one placed somewhere outside their building. Besides the fact that single-use take-out packaging is horrible for our environment, fast food parking lots that are full of trash really should be trouble for another reason as well. They usually indicate a lack of overall cleanliness, including what’s probably going on inside the building itself.

Just like the case of sticky tabletops and filthy bathrooms, trash should not liter the exterior. Piled high in bags indicates a lack of managerial oversight and even minimal investment in hygiene. A customer known as @kuefler on Twitter tweeted alongside two pictures of trash that was strewn outside a McDonald’s. “Hey @McDonald’s! Are you ever planning to clean this up, or are you opening up a landfill next door?” That McDonald’s must have been filthy if the parking lot was starting to look like a landfill to its customers.


16. Go somewhere else if there’s no hot water in the bathroom.

If there is any time that you are unsure of a restaurant’s cleanliness, according to restaurateur Nick Kamboj, you should always check to see if the bathrooms have any hot water. “If you go to the bathroom and find that there is no hot water, then you should seriously consider leaving,” explains Nick. “In many municipalities, it is mandated by the Health Department to have a restaurant to have hot water. The reason for this is that hot water is necessary to thoroughly clean dishes, pots, and pans and to ensure that they are hygienic for chefs and customers.”

Nick Kamboj goes on to say, “If there is no hot water for you in the bathroom, the probability of there being hot water for the kitchen staff is also low.” Anyone with any common sense would know that hot water is necessary to clean. How will things get properly washed. For example, when it comes to dishes, floors or toilets? You wouldn’t want to wash your dishes at home with nothing but cold water. Likewise, you don’t want to wash your hands in cold water. So why go out to eat somewhere that would do exactly that?


15. Never dine somewhere the restrooms are unkempt.

This one should be a no-brainer. It is all too common in dining venues when it comes to a dirty bathroom, sadly. No one likes a filthy washroom, especially when they are out in a public one. If a restaurant isn’t properly taking care of its facilities, there is probably a good chance that the kitchen isn’t in pristine shape. It may be difficult, or impossible, to see inside a kitchen at a restaurant, but if the bathroom is filthy, that should indicate that the kitchen might not be far off with its cleanliness, either.

Suppose the staff at a restaurant doesn’t have the common decency to ensure that the restrooms maintain a certain level of cleanliness. Then what hope is there for the space in which they are cooking your food? Next time you encounter a dirty sink, a gross-looking toilet, or a lack of hand soap, you should probably do yourself a favor. Head straight for the exit door instead of staying and eating in that establishment. Otherwise, you might have a crazy doctor story to share afterward.


14. Avoid restaurants with dirty dishware, too.

When you are at home, you wouldn’t want to eat off dirty plates, silverware, or glasses, would you? It doesn’t matter how unhealthy the food is, and full of calories and sugar. You wouldn’t want to go to someone else’s home and eat off of dirty dishware there either, right? So why would it be okay to go to a restaurant that serves food or drinks on dirty dishes? If you are at a restaurant and spot a lipstick stain on your water glass, that isn’t yours. That is the moment your attention to detail is heightened.

There’s no need to go running out at the first sight of this, as these things can happen from time to time. However, from that moment on, when you notice a dirty glass, you should take note of how clean the rest of the other dishes and utensils are. It can be forgiven if it’s just a one-time mistake, they happen, but if dirty dishware is a repeat offense, the cleanliness of the kitchen should then come into question.


13. Pick a new favorite spot if the one you are visiting does not use fresh meat.

Suppose you are ever at a fast-food restaurant and are given a chance to peek beyond the cashier to the cook’s station, set your gaze on the burger patties that were just placed on the griddle. If you see grill marks on your raw burger meat, that’s a clear sign that they are not using fresh beef for your burger. Not all restaurants use fresh meat. Maybe it’s because of the prices of meat or the convenience of it. Whatever the reason, it’s something that should be avoided.

The New Food Economy explains a popular practice of “tumble marinating” meat, which means tossing it together “with a hearty brew of salt, oil, sugar, chemicals, and fat” before shuttling it onto a conveyor belt for a blast of convection oven cooking. The meat is then rolled with a faux-branding tool that gives the impression of being charred on an open-flame grill. Now, doesn’t that sound just appetizing and delicious to you?


12. Stay away from sticky tables.

Suppose you are sitting at a table and your elbows start to stick to the tabletop or the seat feels sticky. Maybe when lifting a food tray from a pile gives you the sensation of pulling apart velcro, then you don’t need a professional to tell you that you are not in the finest dining establishment. Sticky trays and tables reveal how down and out a restaurant is precisely because they are apparent to even the untrained eye.

Suppose the staff can’t seem even to pull their act together enough to wipe down a ketchup-covered four-top, for example, which is a red flag that’s basically on par with a ceiling leak that’s dripping menacingly into a bucket behind the register. In that case, there is no telling how egregiously unclean the kitchen is since it’s away from the public eye. You wouldn’t leave your kitchen counters at home feeling sticky, so why would it be acceptable somewhere where it shouldn’t even be a thought? If these dirty elements are obvious, imagine what toxins are lurking in places you do not realize.


11. Go to a new restaurant if nutritional information hasn’t been listed.

Nutritional information is good to know for so many reasons. Whether you have diabetes, you are watching your sodium intake, or you are trying to watch your calories. No matter the reason, when you rely on this information to help determine what you are going to order when out at a fast-food restaurant, it can be quite frustrating when the nutritional values for things aren’t listed or available somewhere. Calories counts that are sky high are a surefire sign that you should probably skip the drive-thru.

However, if the nutrition information is listed, you can make an informed decision without being in the dark. As part of the Affordable Care Act, fast-food chains are generally required to post their caloric values on their menus. Not only that, but with additional information on sodium and fat available onsite. This rule only applies, though, to chains with 20 or more locations. Thus, it leaves many chains free to make their high-calorie, high-fat recipes without anything to deter the customer’s knowledge. If the information you want is unavailable and you are still going to eat at a smaller fast-food chain, you are leaving your order up to nutritional guesswork.


10. One sign of of a bad restaurant is when the “fresh” food isn’t in season.

You don’t have to be a self-proclaimed vegan or vegetarian who only eats food that came straight from the farm to your table cuisine to expect a certain level of freshness for your food. Similar to the idea of mystery meat, most people usually want to know where their food is coming from. So when something that is not in season is appearing on the menu, you begin to question just how fresh it is because chances are it probably isn’t in that case.

If something is on the menu that isn’t in season, that can be a sure sign that you are not at a good restaurant. Unless you are at a high-end restaurant where you know, without having any doubts, that the fresh fruit or vegetables are flown in daily straight from Southern California, chances are the food you’re eating is not the freshest nor the healthiest. So maybe it’s a good idea to think twice before eating someplace that serves food out of season.


9. Don’t eat somewhere if the kitchen is about to close.

If you want to have a late-night meal somewhere, you may want to rethink going out to a restaurant. Chances are, if it is late, the kitchen is about to close, and that means you may want to skip that meal there. The reason being for this is that the food you order has likely been prepped earlier. Who knows how it was stored, or if it was just sitting in a pan.

The truth is that you probably won’t have the best entree you were hoping for. Furthermore, the workers at the restaurant might not be the most eager to treat you to an enjoyable meal. They are ready to go home. Even worse, the server may be in a poor mood because you are keeping them. If you are hungry and want a bite to eat, the best bet is to whip something up in your own kitchen. That way, yu can avoid the hassle of eating old food and dealing with staff in less than cheery moods.


8. You know the restaurant isn’t clean enough if the tables aren’t being cleared and bussed.

Would you want to sit next to a pile of someone else’s mess, as their dirty dishes, for instance? Not many people probably would. It doesn’t make a difference if people are waiting for that table or not; it should be cleared. People trying to enjoy their meals would want to see a bus person swoop in on that dirty table within a minute of the party leaving. If the bus person is too busy or occupied with another clean-up, another employee should come over to help clear the table.

Not only should the table be cleared off and wiped down, but a quick sweep under and around the table with a broom is also usually necessary, especially if children were eating there, as well. Not only that but condiments such as the salt and pepper shakers should be quickly wiped down, too. If you were at home and just had a family meal, would you clean up the mess at the dinner table right away or let it sit and be a sight for sore eyes? So why would you want to look at someone else’s mess while you’re trying to enjoy your meal?


7. Is the staff distracted or miserable? Eat somewhere else.

Everyone in the service industry has had their fair share of shifts where they were not in the mood to give people service with a smile. It happens. However, those who are seasoned in the industry know how to fake a smile. They can rely on their coworkers to give them a hand and get them through the shift as best they can. However, when you happen to notice that the entire staff seems like they would much rather prefer to be somewhere else.

Alternatively, they seem to be more interested in their own drama and socializing than helping you out with refilling your beverage glass or responding to your waving hand towards them. It’s a pretty sure sign that the restaurant may be going downhill fast. Moreover, think about it: if the staff has mentally checked out, there’s a good chance that the management has as well. There are many reasons why the team may be miserable at their job. Do you want to stay at that restaurant and find out why for yourselves?


6. You should avoid restaurants where the kitchen or server is making more than one mistake.

We are human, and humans all make mistakes now and again. So one minor mistake by the kitchen or your server isn’t anything to get all worked up about. However, consistent inaccuracies or errors that are not quickly and pleasantly corrected are signs that you probably shouldn’t be eating in that restaurant. Some errors that should never happen include the server or staff delivering you something different than what you ordered. (And then insist on it being you who made the mistake). Alternatively, even getting the wrong table’s food delivered to yours, especially if you are on a diet.

You should pay attention if your meat is cooked improperly. Also, if the food has been sitting too long under the heat lamps. Receiving cold food is also a red flag. In some cases, a server could even forget to input your entire order to the kitchen. These are just a few other things that you should not overlook. It’s obviously up to you how you handle the situation when multiple mistakes are made in one visit, though. If the server isn’t nice enough to offer you something to make up for your bad experience, it’s best to ask for a manager. Be polite but also clear about your meal’s shortcomings.


5. It’s never good to feel rushed while eating.

When going to a restaurant, you want to relax and enjoy your meal, but when you feel like you are being rushed out the door, it’s not a very enjoyable experience. It can feel exactly like you are being rushed when your entrees arrive at your table just minutes after you have received your appetizers. Good servers know to time the orders going into the kitchen accordingly so this does not happen to their customers.

Someone shared their story about this exact thing happening to them. This person and some of the friends, who were all former servers, specifically asked their waiter to hold off on “firing” their entrees until they had time to enjoy their apps. However, less than 5 minutes after receiving their apps, their burgers were brought out. When asked to send them back and bring them fresh ones after they were done with their appetizers, the waiter tried to argue with them about just taking the old, old burgers. Needless to say, it’ll be a long time before they eat there again.


4. If servers seem to want you to leave, maybe you should.

There are legitimate reasons as to why your server will drop your check off early in your meal. Maybe you are seated at a busy sidewalk cafe, and that’s their policy to avoid dine and dashers. Alternatively, perhaps you are eating at a busy bar, where the updated check is kept in front of you at all times. That way, in case you need to leave in a hurry, for whatever reason. However, in some sad instances, it could just mean that your server doesn’t want to deal with you anymore.

If a server is getting ready to end their shift, for example, between lunch and dinner, they really should either wait it out until your meal is finished or let another server finish your table for them. It’s not always the server, in any case. Sometimes it’s the kitchen staff. They could be bullying a server into getting a table to leave. Why? Because the kitchen staff can all go home for the night. Is a server being rude or pushy about trying to get you out the door in a hurry? That’s a sure sign that the restaurant’s management is not keeping a good eye on what is happening.


3. Great service doesn’t mean much if the food is terrible.

Although excellent service can make up for a lot, nothing will make you return to a restaurant if the food is truly terrible, right? A few things to look out for would be flowery menu descriptions that do not accurately describe what you actually get served, as well as cheap ingredients being subbed in for more expensive items. You will likely spot inconsistencies with food quality and portion sizes if the kitchen is being run poorly. So keep an eye out for these things.

Unfortunately, once great restaurants can go downhill, particularly if they lose the chef or key kitchen staff they once had. Even having money troubles can cause a restaurant to go downhill with its service and menu. Some think if they serve cheaper bread and butter or cut down on the size of alcoholic beverages, the customers will not notice. However, they are just fooling themselves. Because guests of that restaurant will surely notice; it may be a little harder to see if you’ve never been there before, but regulars will, for sure.


2. Avoid those sticky floors.

Like restaurants, you also want to keep an eye out for the cleanliness of a bar. Although cleanliness is a given, it can sometimes be tough to tell just how thorough the staff is there. An assistant manager at Berkhamsted Porters Restaurant, James Farley, says you can look at how dirty or sticky the floors are to gauge the staff’s dedication to cleaning, especially if you are stopping by for lunch.

A sure sign that someone is not doing their job is for there to be a sticky floor in the afternoon, and it could be an indicator of more significant problems going on behind the scenes. “That shows the cleaning is not up to scratch, so then I wonder how clean the lines are,” says James. The floor is one of the most basic and easiest things that should be kept clean and presentable. So if you are sticking to it when you are stopping by for a quick pub lunch, you are better off heading right back out the door and going somewhere else with non-sticky floors.


1. Bars are no different.

There is a surprisingly easy way to check how much effort goes into keeping a place clean. Marko Mihajlovic, a TourMakers tour director, says you should check to see if there is dirt and dust accumulated on signs indoors and top of light fixtures. “This is usually a very tiny problem; it requires minimal effort to fix, a lot of time to accumulate, and it is so obvious, yet no one took to it,” says Marko.

Whether you are in a restaurant that is high class or in a bar just to have a few drinks and visit with people, this shouldn’t be acceptable. It is an indicator of neglect in the establishment and neglect that has gone on over a long period. It’s also an inattention to detail bound to extend to other parts of the bar and restaurant that you may not even be thinking about or even want to know at that point, honestly.