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10 Signs a Restaurant Is Going to Be Good

I've worked in restaurants for so long, I usually know if one is going to be good as soon as I walk in. How can I be so certain? I look out for a few key details.

1 / 10
Portrait of cafe owner wearing a hat and apron standing at the counter and looking away.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

The staff is happy

The first thing I look for when I walk into a restaurant is if people are happy and smiling. Do they walk out of the kitchen laughing because of a joke the cooks told? Are they genuinely happy to be there, even if they’re not standing in front of a table of paying guests? If so, chances are good they’re working for (and with) people they like. Don’t miss red flags that you’re about to eat at a bad restaurant.

2 / 10
Restaurant with wooden interiorwitita leelasutanon/Shutterstock

You feel comfortable as soon as you walk in

Ambiance is key in a restaurant. It sets the tone for the food before you even sit down and look at a menu. Consider the decor, staff uniforms, plates and menu design and see if everything fits the type of food served. If so, the owners have thought out their concept, and that attention to detail should match the quality of the food.

3 / 10
Blurred abstract coffee shop or cafe restaurant in sunny fall morning at Dallas, Texas, US.Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

The restaurant is full (even on weeknights)

Here’s the thing: People want to eat at the best restaurants, and they tend not to return to ones they don’t like. It’s not always the case, of course—everyone has different tastes. But, chances are good you’ll like a place if everyone else in the neighborhood does, too.

4 / 10
Friendly waiter server laughing smiling having fun with customer patronEl Nariz/Shutterstock

The server can answer your questions

This one tells you two things: how well the restaurant educates their staff, and how long the server has worked for the company. If management takes the time give their employees detailed information about the food (and, better yet, let them taste it), they’re probably putting that type of care into making the dishes, too. You might be surprised at what “polite” mistakes annoy your waiter.

5 / 10
Fork with pieces of delicious barbecued meat on gray backgroundNew Africa/Shutterstock

They set expectations

I love it when a server responds, “Warm pink center?” when I ask for a medium-rare steak. Even better if the menu informs me that the paella or a whole chicken will take an hour to cook. Unmet expectations are the number one cause for bad restaurant experiences, so I know it’ll be a good one if they work hard to steer me in the right direction.

6 / 10
A blackboard in front of a cafe in Chicago, Illinois mentioning the special menu of the week.FeyginFoto/Shutterstock

The menu changes frequently

It’s always a red flag if I see heirloom tomatoes on a salad in the winter. Or asparagus as the vegetable side in the fall. Many vegetables are only available certain times of the year, so restaurants that change their menu quarterly—better yet, weekly or daily—are featuring the freshest ingredients.

Not sure what’s in season? Check out these handy infographics.

7 / 10
delicious assortment of farm fresh vegetables in restaurant kitchendotshock/Shutterstock

The food is sourced locally

Do you notice any name-dropping on the menu? Is the bread made at a local bakery? Did the pork come from a local farm? If so, this restaurant is paying a premium for ingredients, and those high-quality flavors will definitely shine through in the finished dish. Find more things that restaurant owners wish they could tell you.

8 / 10
Restaurant Chilling Out Classy Lifestyle

The menu is on the smaller side

A huge menu gives me nightmares: a ton of prep goes into making food for a restaurant, and there’s not enough time with larger menus. They require the assistance of store-bought sauces, dressings and things like pre-breaded frozen chicken cutlets. No, thank you! A menu with five appetizers, a few salad options and three to five entrees indicates the staff has time to prep every item from scratch.

9 / 10
Chef cooking in the open kitchenPBO Photography/Shutterstock

They have an open kitchen

This isn’t a 100% giveaway of how the food will taste, but I always love a restaurant with an open kitchen. You get to see what goes on behind the scenes and how the cooks and servers interact. There’s also nowhere to hide, so you also get a sneak peek at the type of ingredients the restaurant uses.

Ever wonder what’s going on in the kitchen? We have behind-the-scenes restaurant secrets from a real chef.

10 / 10

The bathrooms are sparkling and clean

This is a fantastic way to judge the restaurant’s attention to detail. If they take the time to mop the floors regularly, clean up the overflowing trash bin and restock the toilet paper, chances are also good they’re keeping the kitchen (and your food) clean and at proper temperatures, too.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.