Special Report

16 Signs You’re Eating in a Bad Restaurant

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Ambiance: Empty restaurant

This one’s easy: If it’s mealtime and your chosen eating place is empty (especially if their nearby competition is bustling), well, maybe the universe is sending you a message.

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Ambiance: Blaring music

Most restaurants provide recorded music as part of the experience, but it shouldn’t be so loud or intrusive that conversation becomes impossible. The same goes for live music. Unless you’re in a place that doubles as a concert venue, it should be tasteful and unobtrusive. Do you really want to listen to a piano-banger doing ersatz Billy Joel or a punkabilly band playing “Brown-Eyed Girl” while you’re savoring your tuna tartare?

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Ambiance: Unpleasant aromas

Does the restaurant smell like cleaning products (as when a server sprays Windex on the next table over)? Is there a reek of garbage leaking in from the back door, or a stench coming from the restrooms? Did your server douse himself or herself with an excess of Old Spice or Jungle Gardenia? These odors will not enhance the dining experience, to say the least. If a restaurant smells like anything at all, it should be food.

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Ambiance: Uncomfortable seating

When you settle down in a restaurant for a leisurely meal, you want to settle down in comfort because you’re going to be there for a while. Rickety or narrow chairs, benches with no backs, cramped booths, or tiny tables (often jammed so closely together that you and your neighbors bump elbows) are hardly conducive to pleasant dining.

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Ambiance: Dirty tables, table settings, or menus

If your tablecloth is stained or your bare tabletop is sticky; if there is lipstick on the glasses; if bits of dried food still cling to your fork; if the menu you’re handed is dog-eared and grease-stained…well, let’s just say that hygiene obviously isn’t the restaurant’s strong suit, and you might think twice about actually eating their food.