The oldest restaurant in the world, called Sobrino de Botín, is located in Madrid. In 2025, it will be 300 years old. The restaurant wouldn’t have lived this long if the hosts were not truly hospitable. Not all restaurant owners are so attentive to their clients. Sometimes, even a regular business lunch or dinner may be ruined if the service or the quality of the food is not good enough. But you can reduce this risk if you know a few secrets.
The Enlighten team has found life hacks from people that regularly go to restaurants and is ready to share them with you: what gestures that signal that you have a bad waiter and what sounds are an indicator of a bad kitchen.
Call the restaurant. Maybe, you will change your mind about visiting it.
- If you are planning a visit to a restaurant in advance and you are calling the place to book a table, check the time. You shouldn’t have to wait for too long for someone to answer. Good restaurants pick up right away. This is a sign that the place has enough staff, the duties are distributed among all the employees, and the manager is not chopping salads instead of answering calls.
- If you really want to test the restaurant, try asking the manager to do something for you that will make other guests uncomfortable. For example, ask them if it is possible to turn on really loud music just for your table. If they agree, this is a bad sign.
- Check the reviews about the place online. Of course, they will be mixed: even the best places make mistakes. But a good sign is if the representatives of the restaurant react to the reviews. It means that they value the reputation of their restaurant.
- Make sure you look at the entrance. Broken tiles and an old and dirty rug speak for themselves.
The appearance of the space and the waiter can help you evaluate the service.
- Pay attention to the waiters’ uniforms. Most of the time, good places make their staff wear below-the-knee aprons. This length protects the waiter in case he or she spills a plate of hot soup on themselves.
- Another important factor is how they clean the tables. The good way is if they clean the space within 2 minutes after a guest leaves. If there is nobody at the table and the plates and used napkins are still there, the waiter is not fast enough. If there are still remnants of food on the table, imagine what the kitchen looks like.
- Everyone knows that the toilet has to be clean. Also, the presence of all the products, like toilet paper and soap, is very important. The surface of the mirrors shouldn’t have any fingerprints or stains on them. Look up at the ceiling: the dust on the lamps is a sign that cleaning is not the main priority for this place.
The condition of the menu will tell you about the habits of the staff.
- If you have already chosen a seat at the table, check the time. The menu has to be given to you within 5 minutes. If the wait is too long, prepare to not get your order in time because why would that be any different?
- The way the dishes are described can already tell you a lot about the level of the place. If you are offered something like, “the most tender beef with delicious potatoes and fresh parsley,” this is a sign that the place lacks taste. Good food doesn’t need any colorful descriptions. What the menu should have, however, is the list of ingredients, the weight, and the price.
- An extensive list of food is not good. If there are too many choices, it means that some ingredients spend way too much time in the kitchen. Besides, a good chef can’t specialize in everything. If an Italian restaurant has steaks, sushi, and hamburgers, we doubt that any of these dishes will satisfy you.
- Look closely at the cover of the menu. According to a study, this is the dirtiest thing in the entire restaurant: 185,000 bacteria can be found on it. If you see stains or fingerprints on the menu, which is the face of the restaurant, just imagine what is happening behind the closed doors of the kitchen.
One simple action can be a sign that your waiter is not careful.
- You can get your first impression of your waiter before you even place your order. If they are in the dining area, talking to the bartender, they are probably not very qualified. In good restaurants, it is prohibited for the staff to talk at work.
- Pay attention to the way your waiter holds a glass: they are not supposed to hold the upper part of it. Look at the glass itself closely: if this rule wasn’t followed in the kitchen, you will see fingerprints on the surface.
- Look at the waiter’s hands. If they have dirty nails, this is a sign you should worry about.
- Finally, another simple rule that is very easy to check is, when a waiter serves your dish, they are supposed to name it. If the plate is just placed on the table, it means that the restaurant hires people without the right qualifications.
One sound can give away the secrets of the kitchen.
- Try to listen closely. If the dining area doesn’t have very loud music and the kitchen is not too far from you, you can hear the sound of a microwave oven being used to defrost or heat up your meal.
- If you already have some doubts about how fresh the food is, try to remove some of the ingredients from the dish that you are ordering. If the waiter refuses to do this, it is very likely that the food is served from the freezer. An obvious hint is when a difficult dish is served way too fast —faster than it would take to cook it,
- Finally, pay attention to the food temperature. It will be too high after it was heated up in the microwave oven. If your order had alcoholic cocktails, they shouldn’t be too cold. Sometimes, establishment tries to hide the low quality of the ingredients this way: when drinking cold drinks the quality of the ingredients is not as obvious.
Bonus: If they think you are a mystery shopper, you may get the best kind of service.
- Sometimes, in order to check the level of the service, so-called mystery shoppers come to restaurants. Their job is to find all the weaknesses of the place. Ask the waiter to tell you in detail what several similar salads consist of. The staff might be tricked into thinking that they are being tested and will do everything they can to make a good impression on you.
From now on, we will be much more careful about our glasses. What do you pay attention to when visiting a restaurant?