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"I’ve Seen So Many Restaurants Ruined By It”: People Are Sharing Their Tried-And-True Criteria For Accurately Judging A Restaurant

"This isn't always easy to see, but how they treat it is a good indication of how the rest of the place is run."

Dining out can be a hit-or-miss experience — that's what makes it interesting, right? But for the people who do it often, it's not hard to develop your own unique set of criteria for determining whether or not your experience will be a good one. And sometimes, you can tell a lot about a restaurant before you've even been seated.

Recently, u/Mabbernathy asked the experienced restaurant-goers of the r/Cooking community to share the "small details" they judge a restaurant on, and I can't believe I've never thought of some of these. Here are the most fascinating responses.

1. "Look out for ginormous menus. If you say you can cook a hundred different items, then you can’t cook a single one properly."

person working in front of giant menu on the wall of a restaurant

2. "I often dine out alone. How I'm treated as a solo diner has a huge impact on how I judge the restaurant. It tells me if they care more about their customers and food, or about turnover."


3. "If I see French onion soup on a menu, I always order it. It's a great way to judge the general quality of the place. Is the beef stock made in-house or clearly from a base? Did they take the time to actually caramelize onions, or did they half-ass the process?"

french onion soup at a restaurant in a crock

4. "A restaurant always gets bonus points in my book if they actually have desserts that are worthwhile. Often they are good, but not as good as the chocolate store or ice cream place down the street."


5. "I judge if they only offer a QR code menu. I hate them and would prefer a physical one."

a person holding their cell phone up to a QR code

6. "I always order my eggs 'over medium' as a test for the cook. It's basically impossible to nail perfectly. I never complain if they're too runny or too hard, of course, but if they nail it, I'm forever impressed."


7. "The bread. I have never had good food at a place where the bread sucks or tastes a day old."

a bread basket on a restaurant table

8. "When waiters 'auction off' food when it’s brought to the table. There is a system for identifying seats around the table, and I don’t want to have to try to hear someone yell menu items over the din of the restaurant, especially when there are more than four people at the table."


9. "For breakfast joints, it comes down to the potatoes for me. They cannot be stodgy, chalky, wet, or unseasoned. Well-seasoned, crispy potatoes will always have me coming back."

seasoned, crispy hashbrowns on a plate

10. "As someone who worked in the service industry, mine are related to service. Do servers do their quality checks after you receive your drinks or food? Do they seem to care about people at all, or are they just there to look nice and phone the rest in? Do they give recommendations that aren't 'just order the most expensive item on the menu?'"


11. "When it comes to delis, it's how high they stack their meat. Too skimpy is cheap, but too high ruins the sandwich balance. Also: the crust on cured meats. You can spot it before ordering."

slicing beef on a deli slicer

12. "I am Dutch, and mayonnaise is very present in middle-scale cafes. We eat it with fries, and you get fries with 75% of dishes. Home-made vs. store-bought mayo is a very simple indicator of the quality of the restaurant, with the worst offenders being the restaurants that give you fritessaus, or fake mayo, in a single-serving baggie. Weirdly common, big difference."


13. "The water. Does it taste like chlorine? Does it smell like a dishwasher? Is there any odor at all as my face approaches the cup? Is the cup hot? I’ll pretty much never complain unless there’s something floating in my water, but I am always silently judging."

three diners cheers'ing their water glasses at a restaurant table

14. "How clean the menus are. If I’m handed a sticky menu, I’m out."


15. "How's the side salad? If it's a giant chunk of iceberg with a few shredded carrots and one big mealy tomato and cucumber slice, I'm not really trusting the rest of their menu."

side caesar salad with a few leaves of whole romaine, croutons, and a side of dressing

16. "When entrées don't include any sort of side or accompaniment, and you're not informed about it. I ordered a steak at a local place once, and it was literally just a steak on a plate. Not so much as a piece of parsley to garnish. Like, give me something or make it clear when I’m ordering."


17. "If they have plants, I check to see how dusty they are."

a cafe table with several plants near it

18. "When trying out a new restaurant, I usually buy something simple just to get a feel for it. Like mac 'n' cheese or a burger. If you can’t make something like that properly, you’re probably not gonna execute a more complicated dish to my satisfaction."


19. "At Tex-Mex restaurants, beans. If the beans are not good, then the rest of the menu probably isn't good either."

plate of beans, rice, and enchilada at a restaurant

20. "Former restaurant manager here. I judge by the cleanliness of the windowsills and chair rails, exclusively."


21. "My significant other is vegan, but I am not. So for us, it's whether or not we can both get a good meal. And for him, is his meal actually a well-thought-out meal or just an Impossible or Beyond Meat patty on a bun? I like when places are inclusive and still put effort into a dish."

burger made out of tempeh between two buns at a restauarant

22. "I always look for how many people sitting around appear to be regulars, and if they seem to have a solid base of customers. If they have them, they're doing something right."


23. "The trash area. This isn't always easy to see, but how they treat the trash is a good indication of how the rest of the place is run. Example: There's a place in town that all the locals love. Their dumpsters? A disaster zone. Total disgusting mess, and on top of that, there's raccoon, otter, and rat poop all over the place. I don't eat there."

overflowing garbage bins

24. "If a restaurant has TVs in it, I don't go. Sounds snobby, but I've seen so many lovely restaurants ruined by a stupid flat screen. Now everyone's staring at commercials like moths to a flame instead of interacting with each other."


25. And finally: "If they use that cheap ketchup instead of Heinz."

red bottle of ketchup at a restauarant

To all my fellow restaurant-goers out there: Are there any details you tend to notice that are dead giveaways about how good (or bad) your experience will be? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.