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10 Warning Signs Before You Visit... (moved from Tristate)

Originally I wanted to start a post of the “10 Worst” in Westchester. But fearing it might be removed, I decided to start a post of some of the tell tail signs of the worst. Here’s my first 10. I would love to see some additional ideas from other posters.

1. Silverware. Did they skimp here? If it’s diner quality forks and knives, you’re better off at the diner.

2. Stemware. Are they serving wine in a nice wineglass? Or is it a 6oz. “fill to the top” Libby glass. If it’s the latter of the two, expect yourself to buy wines that are worth less than $3 per bottle. Any restaurant that takes their wine serious invests in decent stemware.

3. Napkins? Open yours up and fold it into a triangle. Does it fold evenly? Again, X20 on the Hudson uses White Plains Linen. No skimping – anywhere. When a restaurant skimps on such a small detail, think they won’t do it with other things?

4. Rail Liquor. Are they serving Red Roses whiskey for their house liquor? Restaurants that seek out the absolute cheapest liquors, do the same with food. Always.

5. Bathrooms. Always check the paper tissue. Skimping here saves the restaurants a few pennies but sends out a clear message as to what the think about their patrons.

6. Hand Towels? If the bathroom has a blower that blows all the germs around while drying your hands, run.

7. May I see the kitchen? Just ask. Even if you could care less. If the response is sure, smile and say thanks. If they say Insurance doesn’t allow it, they’re lying. The health department allows patrons in the kitchen anytime if accompanied by an employee. Never trust a restaurant that won’t let you see the kitchen. P.S. If they say it’s illegal, ask them how over 50 restaurants in NYC have tasting tables in the kitchen.

8. Chef? Is there an executive chef that staffs the kitchen? If a kitchen is staffed by 5 non-english speaking guys, chances are they’re working strictly for a paycheck, not for their love of food. This translates directly to the food.

9. Bread deliveries. Does the restaurant allow delivered bread to sit by their front door until someone gets around to opening the place up? I like to know my food is safe and not tampered with.

10. Advertising? Pick up an issue of Clipper magazine. I love to read it. It let’s me see which restaurants aren’t doing well. Not true you say? Read the next paragraph. It’s really and extension of Advertising.

Discount offers. Most, if not all, of the restaurants in Clipper have discount offers. “Buy on Entrée and get another free” means the entrees are worth half of what they were charging in the first place. Could you imagine your dentist running a similar campaign? I was at a restaurant on Central Avenue in Scarsdale that was moderately full. I asked myself with this terrible food, how? Then I noticed nearly everyone there had ½ price coupons and kids (kids eat free).

Try this: http://www.restaurant.com/about_gcp.a...

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  1. Couldn’t help but add #11.

    Rated? If the Candlelight Inn Scarsdale can harbor up a Zagat rating, you’ll need to ask yourself why a restaurant that’s been in business for over 2 or 3 years cant. When you walk into a place that hasn’t gotten any reviews, there’s usually a good reason. Incidentally, the restaurant I discussed to in rule number 10 is in Zagat. Unfortunately, the review says “stop by for the margaritas, then go to dinner someplace else”. If that was my restaurant and someone said that, I’d fire everyone, starting with myself.

    1. Sorry, but it appears to me that our definitions of worst just don't jibe. Specifically:

      #1: Huh? Are your only choices 'fine dining' and the 'diner'? Quality of flatware means almost nothing in my experience. It may in fact mean that the place is more concerned with appearances than with the food.

      #3: Ditto on how they fold the napkins and type of linen used. May also vary depending upon which busperson is doing the folding. and I've eaten at some great places with paper napkins!

      #6. Again, huh? Have you seen studies that hand blowers are somehow unsanitary because they 'blow the germs around'? Can you site me something here to try and convince me? I dont know, but I've heard the opposite (ie that a paper towel dispenser is more unsanitary because you ordinarily have to touch it in order to advance the paper. Germs are spread by touching. Not to mention the unsanitary appearance of lots of waddled up pieces of paper that didn't quite make the waste basket.) Besides, the business in question may have put in the blower because someone thought it would be greener than paper. While I do expect bathrooms to be regularly cleaned, and to have a way for employees to wash their hands (ie soap, water, someway to dry), I wouldn't dream of judging a restaurant based on my own concepts of what is and isn't sanitary, at least not without more evidence...

      #7:the question of what is and isn't legal when it comes to restaurant kitchens is normally decided by a state or even a local ordinance. Therefore, the issue of tables in kitchens happening in New York is probably irrelevant outside of the boroughs.

      #8: Absolutely false, in my experience. Some of the best food I've had comes out of kitchens where English isn't spoken, and a lot of those guys (and gals) really love food. If you follow #8, you eliminate many family-owned 'ethnic' eateries. (again, would you want the only options to be 'fine dining' or 'diner'?) Besides, many executive chefs speak Spanish these days....

      #9:no, I don't want my bread to be tampered with. OTOH, at least this means they are getting a daily bread delivery, and if it is from a local bakery, it could mean the bread is fresh and good....

      #10: sure, many lousy places try and entice crowds with coupons. But that doesn't mean that the place has to be lousy because it does offer discounts. I can think of a few of my favorite but underpopulated places that I wish would use coupons to try and up their business (because I worry that they will go under!).

      I will agree with you that if the place advertises that kids can eat free, it isn't likely to be good....OTOH, if I walk in, and the owner offers me a little something extra for my young child...

      #11: No Zagat rating, I am so THERE to try it!

      2 Replies
      1. re: susancinsf

        I'm with you susancinsf. Honestly, I think this list is a bit far fetched. Do you only go out for $200 per person meals? It would be nice if I could afford to eat like that every night, but then again, I would be missing so so much chow! Some of the best food we ate in NYC this spring was from food carts - where we were lucky if we got a thin paper napkin. Completely agree with the bathroom blower too. And if I were running a busy kitchen, the last thing I would want to do is give you a tour, show you experation dates etc. - I would be concentrating, along with my non-english speaking pals, on preparing your meal.

        1. re: susancinsf

          Any IHOP is a guilty pleasure for me and I love it that kids (my kids!) eat free on Tuesdays. But obviously if Michael Mina said kids eat free on the first Thursday of everymonth, then I'd be confused....and not likely to try it out!

        2. Really disagree with #8 (along with susaninsf): What ever ethnic food can't be harmed by having cooks of that ethnicity. Or of some other: The cooks and chefs in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles are famously Mexican, as one of his "No Reservations" episodes celebrated. I have no problem with sushi chefs who speak Spanish--in Mexico, in Colombia, or in the US.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I disagree with almost every number of the list for reasons already given. What should have been on the list instead- and there are exceptions to this- is the amount of patrons in the restaurant. Usually word of mouth is all that is needed- not even Zagats. I live in Forest Hills NY. Recently a small take-out Cuban joint opened up without much press at all but overnight it became packed...because the food is good and authentic. Sometimes though I do break my own rule- if especially it's an off hour or the menu looks really good- you never know- you might find an undiscovered gem. The rules listed at the start of this post though seem very pretentious and just goes to show how subjective a good dining experience can be. For myself, the food is of utmost importance. I've gone to "upscale" places with amazing ambiance, impeccable silverware...and lousy food. (Good example is Tavern on the Green in NY- beautiful restaurant, subpar food) Sometimes good ambiance does equal good food- but that in and of itself is never a rule from my experience.

            1. re: NicoleFriedman

              Nicole, if you were to ask the staff at Tavern "how's the food?", they would admit that they're not about the food. It's about the view. And, with that being said, they grossed 38 million dollars last year. Second in line being TAO at 27 million. TAO falls into my 10 point list perfectly.

              1. re: billyparsons

                so your list is just a system to judge whether a restaurant can gross 1/3 billion dollars in a year or not? not about the food at all? well fine, but i'm unclear on how "the list" picks out "the worst" of anything, as your title would imply.

                and as a wise farmer said: "it's not what you gross, it's what you net."

            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

              My point exactly. Anthony Bourdain runs the show. He lays out specific instructions in his kitchen and drops by frequently. I've been there, met him, and his restaurant holds true to my rules.

              1. re: billyparsons

                Actually, by Bourdain's own admission, he spends only about 2 months a year in NYC, and his title of executive chef there is largely ceremonial. The chef de cuisine is Mexican and Tony didn't train him. If you met him at Les Halles recently, you were very lucky and he wasn't really working. Here's a video clip where we get it straight from the horse's mouth. http://travel.discovery.com/video/vid...

            3. Can't really agree with much of what you have here as many of the "don'ts" are a matter of price point. Napkins, liquor, toilet paper, silverware are only relevant in relation to the cost of the meal/feel the restaurant is trying to set. I will agree that if a restaurant wants to project a passion for wine the stemware is important along with the wine list.

              I would venture that most all my best meals involved people for whom English was not a first language.

              Never heard of blow dryers as anything but environmentally friendly.

              And, advertising/discounts as a way to drive traffic or awareness - why would you fault a restaurant and not a soft drink, auto mechanic, cell phone company etc.

              I would offer: #1 Consistent bad feedback from chowhound = strong warning

              1. I've found frequently that non-English speakers in the kitchen make food just as passionately, if not more passionately than English-speakers. Not only that, but they're making Chinese, Japanese, African, Continental and many other types of foods. I think it may be tough to find a kitchen that's *not* staffed by a group of foreigners...especially here in Texas.

                Can't say I've ever worried about the TP either.

                Actually, can't say I've ever worried about much on your list. If the food sucks, you'll hear it here on Chowhound, or by word of mouth. Or you'll find out by yourself. I doubt perfectly square napkins have much reflection on the food, other than jacking the price up. ;-)