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Deal Breaking Restaurant Mistakes?


I thought this might be a good topic and we might get some surprising anecdotes.

The question is, what mistakes have restaurants made that you just can't forgive and thus will never go back? Name names or not- it's up to you. I am choosing to be kind this evening and not name my offenders.

One deal breaker has happened to me in 2 different places- one being Thai and one Mexican: Rancid meat. You know, that good old dead dog in the road for two days smell. Detectable all the way from the plate, I didn't even have to bring it near my face with a fork first. The Thai place wanted to argue about it, saying it must be the marinade I'm smelling. Yeah, right, like we all don't know the smell of rotting meat. Must be the marinade. The Mexican place was at least very responsive to the complaint. But still, I figure it's a deal breaker. Why? Because either the cook smelled it and decided to serve it anyway, or, just as bad, DIDN'T notice the odor, and that makes for one scary cook. Who can't smell that?? Either way- deal breaker.

Deal breaker two: Raw rice. Mixed with the cooked rice. A well-regarded "organic" "healthy" place that I did have a good meal at once before. How does one even accomplish a mix of cooked and raw rice? You cook some and then throw raw grains in at the end? The mind boggles. Thankfully I didn't bite into the rice hard. Because if I had, it would have cost me at least $2K in dental work. I am lucky and they are lucky. Fortunately for them, i'm just not going back, because that was a deal breaker.

  1. Excessive noise
    Dirty silverware
    Dirty bathrooms
    Rude or condesending waitstaff
    Inept service
    Being in the restroom with a waitress and observing that she doesn't wash her hands after using the toilet
    Being ignored once seated

    For me it's almost never about the food. I can forgive the occasional kitchen screw-up but I can't forgive poor sanitation or poor serivce

    23 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva


      Based on your list, do you only eat out at Michelin starred restaurants?

      RE excessive noise. Do you mean from the din and chatter of other diners due to poor acoustics or music, or both?

      RE dirty silverware. This is a pretty low threshold considering lots can go wrong when trying to clean/wash mass quantities of silverware.

      RE dirty bathrooms. Ever been to a hole-in-the-wall? Lots of grimy restaurants, but lots of great, great food upfront.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        My Best Friend was an inspector for Food and Drug in San Diego. If the bathroom is not kept clean, neither is the kitchen and that can be ascertained from the letter grade near the entrance to the restaurant. Plenty of hole in the wall places are not fancy, but are clean. There is a standard of maximum pieces of silverware that can be washed in an automated machine and when that standard is exceeded, not all the pieces get clean. The place is taking shortcuts. Most all of what DD says are deal breakers for me also.

        As far as the food goes, the first time I visit anywhere, I order a "basic" food and/or beverage (regular coffee at coffee shops, bean burrito and quesedilla at a taco shop, plain (with pickle, onion, lettuce and tomato on the side) burger...stuff that they should be able to make properly and well. If they can't do that properly, I don't go back.

        1. re: Cathy

          Having grown up in a family that's been in the restaurant business, I'm well aware of the sanitary requirements by the local health depts., as well as the common belief (true or not) of the association between restroom cleanliness and restaurant cleanliness.

          That said, I would not use just the sign of a dirty bathroom to nix a restaurant completely off my list. Unless the restroom is basically one big petri dish of a high school biology experiment, I'll take my chances.

          Taking short cuts, as you say, is certainly not a good sign, but to use any single one of the examples -- dirty restroom, unclean silverware, etc. -- to blackball a restaurant completely is, in my opinion, a bit drastic.

          Now, if a restaurant exhibited ALL of the symptoms mentioned by DiningDiva, then absolutely, nuke the place!

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Well, yes. Not a single incident, but if there is a combination of the above, I will try the place once more and if there is a repeat, then I do not go back.

            [My friend was an inspector for more than a decade. She says there is a definite correlation between bathroom and kitchen cleanliness. Especially if they pass an inspection perfectly and a repeat/quick/surprise visit happens within a month.]

            1. re: Cathy

              Well, ok, that makes more sense.

              RE restroom and restaurant cleanliness. I've worked at many restaurants, and I can say that it holds true at some, and at others not so much. In fact, at one place I worked at the restroom was cleaner than any other place in the restaurant (dining room included), but the kitchen was, well, a hazmat scene waiting to happen.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                um, yeah-- usually the cooks aren't the same folks who clean the toilets. i personally wouldn't want to eat at a place where the cooks *did* clean the toilets. . .

                "oh wait, i'll just finish wiping down the prep tables right after i go empty the sanitary napkin receptacles in the ladies'. . ." yeah, not gonna happen.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  Well, depending on the size of the restaurant, sometimes it *is* the same person who mans the stoves and watches after the toilet.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          No, in fact, I don't think I've ever eaten in a Michelin starred restaurant.

          Excessive noise - poor acoustics or too many hard surfaces (which is too frequently a design desicision of the trendy), intrusive/ or inappropriately loud sound track, not being able to carry on a normal conversation with my dining companions without having to shout. Dining is a social affair for me and part of that includes being able to interact with whoever I am dining with. I don't enjoy being bombarded by noise to the point where I can't converse with whom (or is it who) I've chosen to dine.

          Dirty silverware - yeah, dirty silverware. If the staff, be it dishwashers, waitstaff, bus boys or runners don't care enough to give the place setting the once over when setting the table to ensure they're clean, why should I care to eat in that restaurant (and I'm not talking about a place that's slammed and the doing the old "turn and burn"). So, ipse...are you saying that it's okay to expect a customer to eat their dinner off a fork that's got dried on eggs from the morning service? Somehow, I don't think so. I also don't care for dirty, cracked or chipped plates and dishes, or water glasses with the residue of someone elses lipstick.

          Dirty bathroom - I eat in a lot of hole-in-walls, including those in foreign countries. If there is no toilet paper for me to use, is there toilet paper for the kitchen and waitstaff to use? I don't particularly want my food prepared by someone who's used the facilities but can't clean up appropriately after use. If there is no soap for me to use, is there soap for the staff? If the wastebaskets in the restroom are overflowing, what does the sanitation in the kitchen look like. I also don't want to see food stored in the restroom because there is insufficient storage in the kitchen. A restaurant bathroom doesn't have to be gleamining spotless and it doens't need an attendant. For me, however, it does need to be reasonably clean and appropriated stocked with TP, soap and towels (paper or otherwise)

          I am by no means a germ-o-phobic American requiring pristine restrooms, I do require basic sanitation and/or cleanliness. I am pretty well known among my friends and acquaintances for having a cast-iron gastro-constitution and for being willing to try just about anything anywhere. After 30 years in the business and being ServSafe certified for way too many years, I can make that leap of faith in a foreign country. I shouldn't have to make that same leap of faith in the U.S. where restaurants have a multitude of health and safety regulations with which to comply.

          Being a hole-in-the-wall is not an excuse for poor sanitation

          1. re: DiningDiva

            I don't think anyone suggested you should eat from dirty silverware. It would be expected that you would send it back. I just think it would be odd to write a restaurant off because of it. Especially as you said you'd be willing to forgive a kitchen screw-up. I don't see why a dishwasher screwup is any different.

            Now if everybody at my table had dirty silverware or it happened more than once.....

            1. re: donovt

              donovt, my thoughts exactly.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            You don't need to be a Michelin restaurant to have some pride in things. For the record Michelin does not assign stars or even list an establishment based on any of DiningDiva's criteria.

            There is nothing snobbish about wanting clean facilities in a restaurant.

            1. re: Withnail42

              Who said anything about being snobbish?

              My point was, if a restaurant was noisy, is that a deal breaker? Never go back to a restaurant that is noisy?

              Or, if you get one fork with a piece of dried food on it? Never go back again?

              That's a pretty harsh threshold. Restaurants are not run by automatons, but human beings. And the last time I check, human beings are still fallible.

              Not suggesting that a diner should tolerate any of the things on DiningDiva's list on a consistent, or even sporadically regular, basis. But to suggest that even one slight hiccup would nix a restaurant, is, well, a pretty shortsighted in my opinion.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                I am more likely to give a restaurant with dirty silverware a second chance than I am one that is excessively noisy. My tolerance for noise gets lower the older I get. As I said up thread, if I can't carry on a conversation with my dining companions it detracts from the dining experience for me and I *would* be highly unlikely to go back to that establishment again.

                FWIW, I don't think I'm alone...or why would the SF Chron include a decible rating in their resto reviews

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I'm the opposite; I'll go back -and have gone back- to noisy places, rather than one with badly washed silverware or bathrooms that are unstocked or have no hot water. When I'm eating, I don't want someone else's meal still on my utensils, plates, glasses or cups, and I especially don't want the staff to practise good basic hygeine. We tried out one restaurant and was seated at a table that was just bussed but not set up yet. The manager went and got us our set ups (cutlery & napkins) and was completely oblivious to the nickel-sized piece of spinach still stuck to one of the forks. The MANAGER. We promptly pointed it out, got up, and never went back,
                  Now, I'm no princess, either. I've gone back to places where I sent the lipstick-embossed cup or the knife with the brown stain back. It was the fact that the manager didn't notice it (and it was more than a little stain).
                  Hell, one time my mom and I were splitting a chili omeletter at our a place we used to frequent (and still would if it was still there), when I noticed something crunchy in the chili. I wiped my tongue with my finger, looked at it, and to my horror, the particles sparkled; it was glass. We immediately spit it out and ran to the bathroom to rinse our mouths out, and immediately took our plates to the manager. Apparently, one of the ceiling bulbs had fallen and shattered in the kitchen. They thought that they had removed all the pieces, but some had made it to the chili, which they immediately disposed of. Accidents happen, and we continued to go there.
                  I think what I'm trying to say is that there's a difference between a one-time occurence and what is "normal practice", and if it's common for a restaurant to have food stuck to it's plates, and no toilet paper or hot water and/or soap available in the restrooms, then I'm not going there.

                  1. re: Michelly

                    I'm with you. I think almost any mistake is forgivable. It's repeat offenses that would put a place on my no-go list.

                    1. re: Michelly

                      "I'm the opposite; I'll go back -and have gone back- to noisy places, rather than one with badly washed silverware or bathrooms that are unstocked or have no hot water."

                      Please read my original reply in which I said excessive noise, dirty utensils, etc, and was, essentially, excoriated and told I was being a prima-donna for expecting a reasonable dining experience and clean silverware.

                      I don't want to sit down and find dirty utensils, smudged glassware or chipped dishware, nor do I want to see whoever is setting tables handling utensils by the eating end. These are all training issues, or lack thereof. I don't want to be waiting to use the restrooms and watch my waitress come out of a bathroom stall and head straight back to the floor without washing her hands(had that happen, left without ordering). In the State of CA, hot water is mandated for food handling establishments (118* IIRC), I want to turn on the facuet and get hot water, not a barely warm trickle.

                      Oh, and your lightbulb in the chili? In CA, the restaurant would have been in violation of CalCode regs that state all lights bulbs must have protective coverings. The last place I opened was delayed for 3 weeks due to light bulb coverings for - of all things - pendant lights over the espresso counter. Building inpsector would not sign off on the permit until those were in place.

                      I've been in the food business too long and have seen too many things. There are a lot worse things than "bad" (which is totally subjective), not tainted, food. My dining dollars pay for more than just food. They pay for the service and the sanitation. They pay for getting recalcitrant dishmachines serviced, refrigerators repaired, pest control, and employee wages. If the chef/owner, owner or management team aren't paying as much attention to how the front of the house is being run, or don't care, plain and simple, I'm not going back. Now, if it's a place I'm familiar with and haven't had a problem in the past, of course, I'll cut them some slack and go back, but if it happens more than once, chances are I'm not going to be quite so willing to cut them the same slack the 2nd time.

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      +1. there is a new restaurant in the area that is supposedly very loud and the owner posted on a local site stating that was the way she wanted. jfood has absolutely no interest in going there with that noise level. food CANNOT be enjoyed with too much noise.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        DD and sound levels: Washington Post also surreptitiously measures the decibel level and posts the range in the review (and DC has some horrendously loud places that exceed OSHA standards for prolonged hearing safety) there's a pan-Asian/sushi place on I street NW that I would prefer to never return, decent space, fun atmosphere decent service and all, but if one can't hear with highly raised voices across a freaking tiny lounge table and without a pre-existing otic condition, well it just wasn't pleasant or relaxing. if companions were to insist, I'd play along, but I won't choose to return.

                        cleanliness can be easily addressed either on the spot or a call to the health department, if a place has been designed without consideration of noise, well that's not changing anytime soon.

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          The Philly Inquirer restaurant critic also includes a decibel rating in his reviews. It really detracts from a dining experience if you have to shout to your dining companions just to be heard above the noise. I've wondered if some restaurants intentionally choose sound-deflecting materials in order to intensify the noise levels, thereby creating a sense of "high energy" in the room.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          It was your line 'Based on your list, do you only eat out at Michelin starred restaurants?'

                          That gave the snobbish impression. that you were chastising the poster for being too picky and have over the top boutique expectations of any restaurant.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            In many cases, yes on not going back to noisy restaurants. We either are conducting business, or wishing to converse in normal tones. That has been a deal-breaker for us on many occasions. Locally, many restauranteurs know how we feel, but are either locked into hard surfaces, or feel that the "vibe" is more important. They have all lost our business.


                        3. re: ipsedixit

                          I agree with you. I don't love anything on DiningDiva's list, but it's not a deal breaker for me unless it's really appalling. I have to confess that my favorite dim sum place, Emperor's Garden in Boston, doesn't have the cleanest facilities and I have seen a server--yes, this is gross--merely rinse her hands rather than wash with soap. But I don't know anyone who has been sick from eating there.

                        4. re: DiningDiva

                          Great points all.

                          There is another thread on noise levels, so I will not belabor that, but will say that we seldom return to noisy restaurants, though some really love them.

                          For #4, see my comments about the sommelier. Do not put on airs. In most cases, I know more about wines, than they ever will, and I pay their salaries. Be accommodating, and NOT condescending. I know the difference and WILL hold it against both you, and the restaurant.


                          1. re: limster

                            Yeah, I think that would be criteria as well.

                            I will put up alot, and I mean alot, for delicious food.

                            1. re: limster

                              Just reread my post: in the fourth line, I meant to say that I DO want the staff practising good basic hygeine!
                              Aaah, you know what I mean!

                            2. I can only think of one specific incident in recent memory that has kept me from going back to a place. It's a local Vietnamese place that gets praised often on CH, but I thought the food was bland, the service left a lot to be desired, and then there was "the incident." One of the waitresses went around filling water glasses with a big, heavy glass pitcher. She would rest the spout of the pitcher on the edge of each glass and pour until the water was so high it would actually flow back into the pitcher. Bleh.

                              1. It was nothing to do with the food or atmosphere................
                                I was out to dinner with my now ex wife for our anniversary at a local steakhouse. The waiter was too attentive, he would not keep his hands off me. I warned himn to remove his hand from my back, but each time he returned to the table, he would brush my clothing or touch me. I was livid. the last time he but his hand on my wrist, I smacked him with the bread board (it had a paddle handle).
                                We got up and walked out leaving the partially eaten meal on the table. The manager stopped us at the door and inquired if there was a problem. I explained that his waiter refused to keep his hands to himself, and I was tempted to call the police and have home arrested for battery.
                                The idot manager's reply: "Well I see what attracted hiom, you are a rugged looking man"

                                We never returned, even skipping my nephew's college graduation dinner held there. I was glad when they went bankrupt, bulldozed the place and built a bank on the spot.
                                I do not tolerate physical contact by a waiter or being hit upon by someone while I'm obvviously with someone.
                                Flattering, no, disgusting yes.
                                Did it cause me to bad mouth the restaurant for a long time to many people, you bet. If the manager had apologized, I would have just left. With his stupid reply, I gladly spread my venom.

                                1. Most have been listed:

                                  - rancid food
                                  - dirty utensils and dishes
                                  - dirty bathrooms
                                  - touching
                                  - try to scam jfood. and if you get caught, man up and apologize. better to eat a mistake than lose a customer. i.e. do not pad the bill with ficticious charges.

                                  Now jfood's big one, treating jfood like an idiot. most people in the world are not good liars. do NOT treat jfood like an idiot, he can smell BS from across the room and most people do not remember what they tell people and get caught 99% of the time at jfood's table.

                                  1. I really had to think about this one. I would have said:
                                    bad food
                                    hair in food
                                    wait staff not washing hands after bathroom trip

                                    But, I'm pretty sure I've been back to a place who served my friend a burger with a hair in it. Yeah, I remember going back but it took a while, like a year.
                                    I'm darn sure I've not paid enough attention to notice who does or does not wash their hands after going, I guess I wouldn't really know unless I was waiting to use it and didn't hear the faucet. That has never happened but I think it would stop me from returning.
                                    I've definitely been back to a place that had bad food. I'm pretty sure that one bad occasion could be the result of a bad day or the cook being sick and hastily replaced by a novice--ya never know! If friends insist they love the place, I'll go back to try it again.

                                    And, the real killer is cockroaches. I have to admit that:
                                    Yes, I know most restaurants have them even if we don't see them.
                                    And, yes, I have been back to a restaurant that had them for all to see.

                                    Once upon a time, there was the absolute best Indian restaurant in L.A.. Nothing was better. I was very young, maybe eight, and Indian restaurants were not plentiful (at least not that I knew of) at that time. All the customers saw them and just ignored them or shooed them away. Maybe it didn't bother me because I did what my parents did and even though they were bothered by it, they never let it stop them.

                                    Twenty-five years later, I was eating at one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in--great, I can't remember if it was in San Francisco or Santa Cruz!! Either way, they were everywhere. Tiny roaches all over and I was about to run out. One was on the table, one on the floor, one on the wall. If you see one, there are probably zillions, right? I couldn't eat my food because, well, my mind played tricks on me and I just couldn't. I never went back.

                                    And, now that I've posted this, I remember the place with the bugs. It was in Santa Cruz. And, I've remembered that there was one place I never went back to. It was IHOP in CA, on Washington. We went there twice a month for breakfast so my dad could have the Swedish pancakes. I had issues with eggs and would order my eggs omlette style, overly cooked. Every time we went, they remembered my egg choice and always cooked them the way I liked them. One time, they looked at me like I was crazy. We don't serve eggs omlette style unless you order an omlette. Whatever. I politely explained that the cook always did this and asked if they would check with him to see if it was okay. Nope, wouldn't do it. So, I ordered a glass of water, because I was pretty sarcastic at that age. Next visit, I tried again thinking that maybe a different cook was in the previous ocassion. They brought out the ugliest, runniest nuclear accident I'd ever seen and slammed it down in front of me. Wow, that was the last time and I never returned. I'm not really an IHOP kind of gal, I like most other places, but this was a place my dad loved so it was kind of a bummer.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                      And, the real killer is cockroaches. I have to admit that:
                                      Yes, I know most restaurants have them even if we don't see them.

                                      i would totally disagree that "most restaurants" have roaches. ime it's very few places and it's related to several factors including climate, age of the building, location factors (such as being located in a converted warehouse or in a shopping mall w other food establishments), and of course, filthy conditions. dh and i have only collectively worked in 2 places w roaches in our careers. the climate helps, i suppose-- roaches are *not* normal for food establishments where i live, but might be much more commonplace or in "most" restaurants in socal or NOLA.

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        It's definitely more common in some areas than others. In Florida you can have a pristine home and still have roaches and other critters. Some roaches are brought in by a dirty environment, but others simply don't care and will live in the walls regardless.

                                        1. re: queencru

                                          Ug, thinking about it is icky...

                                          I had been told that most have them when I complained about it back in California. I wonder if it was due to the location and humidity? Oh, and depending on the surrounding buildings.

                                          I just assume that it isn't that big of a deal as long as a place is clean and is doing something to prevent an explosion of them, to keep them at bay.

                                          Still, on the table, Not okay with me.

                                        2. re: soupkitten

                                          Well, for me it is a flying cockroach, larger than my "free range chicken breast." When they exceed the size of say an English sparrow, that is the end. This is especially true, if they swoop down and grab my main course, flying about the dining room with it int their little claws!


                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            To be honest, cockroaches don't bother me all that much.

                                            I live in a subtropical climate, and cockroaches are everywhere. *My* kitchen has cockroaches, so I'm not all that freaked out about the fact that a restaurant has them. Cockroaches in the food are a different story, though.

                                            When the local vermin is approximately the size of a VW beetle and can fly, you sort of have to learn to live with them.

                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                              Yeah. It's when they grab the filet, and then fly about the room with it in their claws, that one begins to notice. "Cover the wine Ethyl, the cockroaches are heading for the Bordeaux!"


                                        3. Dirty Kitchen. Use to go to a local Indian restaurant, and one day I went in back to the restroom. The kitchen was filthy, and there were dirty towels everywhere, it was disgusting.
                                          Never went back.
                                          Now I go to a restaurant where a waiter was very friendly, but he couldn't stop putting his hand on my back. I couldn't stand it, I asked him several times, but he kept doing it. I am friends with the owner and mentioned it to him. The waiter didn't talk to me for months, but he never touched me again.
                                          Being ignored by a service person.

                                          1. Bugs. Specifically roaches. Specifically in the dining area. Specifically on my table.

                                            10 Replies
                                            1. re: CocoaNut

                                              Yep, that's it. Live cockroach on my tray. I loved the "Saucy Noodles" at that place but couldn't bring myself to go back after that.

                                              1. re: CocoaNut

                                                Add my vote for bugs, especially roaches (even one). I see a bug I'm outta there!

                                                Another deal killer is if I have a problem, calmly discuss it with it the manager (away from the crowd), and I get excuses, or worse, an attitude.

                                                Any place closed by the health dept. (and later allowed to reopen) won't even get a first chance from me.

                                                At least where I live there are enough good places that I don't have put up with that stuff.

                                                1. re: al b. darned

                                                  Keep in mind that sometimes with strip malls, if someplace adjacent has a bug problem, it's hard for the restaurant to keep the bugs out. Any extermination attempts will lead to the cockroaches and other critters running into another shop. I am still not thrilled to see them, but in some places it's very hard to get rid of them.

                                                2. re: CocoaNut

                                                  Except of course, if it was on the menu, and you ordered it, right?

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    ha close! I was by myself in a decent VN place for the first time on B'Way in SF years ago, enjoyed the meal and as I always took a late lunch usually could spread out in a booth with a newspaper. as if on cue, the moment my plate was removed a roach fell from the ceiling onto my paper. and I don't care if they stay on the floor, but not in my lap.

                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                      That would send chills up my spine.

                                                      Was it at least house trained (or in this case, restaurant trained)?

                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Well, it did wait until after the dishes were cleared... If that isn't house training for a roach, I don't know what is.

                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                          that was sort of my take, it least had the decency to wait.

                                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Now, I don't know about Coconut, but I am seldom going to order the "fried cockroach special." That is not normally on my general list.


                                                    3. re: CocoaNut

                                                      My husband found a cockroach in his lamb biryani at a restaurant near us. Never. Going. Back. It's a shame, because they do some awesome South Indian specialties.

                                                    4. Bad oysters...as in, sick for 2 days bad.

                                                      1. I guess the one thing, and it's really not about food or sanitation, is having my change rounded off in their favor. I don't care if it's pennies, it bothers me quite a bit.

                                                        1. Besides the obvious: bad food.

                                                          Staff (servers or cooks) who I see putting their hands in their mouths and then touching food or dishes

                                                          Servers that wreak of cigarette smoke

                                                          Dirty bathroom
                                                          I believe it is an indicator of an overall dirty, careless establishment and besides it ruins my appetite

                                                          Overall surliness and rudeness by any of the staff people

                                                          Dirty silverware or dishes.
                                                          I understand that a dishwasher will sometimes fail to clean completely but I expect the wait to staff to check items before using them. I ate at a well-known restaurant in NYC last year and was presented with a spoon that literally had food caked on it. I walked out before ordering.

                                                          1. -- ages ago in NYC, i stopped eating in a sushi restaurant after i watched the chef kill a small gnat o the wall w/ his hand...and then continue making sushi...(mentioned it on CH but the post was deleted by the mods under the "Thou Shalt Not Name Names When It Comes to Vermin" rule...

                                                            -- but rude staff would be my main dealbreaker...i have pretty much a zero tolerance rule on it...

                                                            1. Lack of sanitary practices incident: We arrived at the restaurant just after another group left. Our table had been cleared of dishes, but hadn't been reset yet. Clueless young busboy takes a filthy rag that had been used who knows how may times before and wipes down the table. Then, without washing his hands, picks up napkins, clean plates, glasses and flatware--not by the stems, but by eating ends--and proceeds to set the table. We watched in disgust and then called the manager over. He apologized profusely and recleaned and reset the table himself. We haven't been inclined to return, though.

                                                              Surly staff incident: We arrive fairly late in the evening and there is only one other table occupied. The "hostess" wants to seat us next to the other group, which is noisy (small children). We ask if we can take a table a little further from them. (We even point to a table.) She refuses to seat us elsewhere and announces in a rude and impatient voice that "this is only table available now." Since it's getting late and we're tired and hungry, we decide to stay against our better judgment. About ten minutes later, a couple walks in and--you guessed it--they are shown to the very table that the hostess refused to give us. More than two years later, we still tell people about this incident if we hear that they are thinking of going to this place.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                                Interesting. We had similar happen twice.

                                                                At the first, we had booked though the concierge service of a very high-end credit card. The only stipulation was for a "romantic table," since it was our 10th anniversary. We were shown to an interior table, while there were a dozen table at the oceanside. I asked about those, and was informed that they were all booked. We were seated, and no one showed. I inquired, and was told that it was likely that Japanese businessmen might show up with their "dates," and that all tables were reserved, just in case. Well into our dining, a couple was finally seated at one of those many tables. When I asked, I was told that no Japanese businessmen had shown up that night, so they finally released those tables. OK, we stayed there over the next dozen years, and each time, had "pillow talkers" telling us that they could accommodate us at that restaurant. Yeah, not likely to happen.

                                                                At another location, my wife was speaking at a major event, and it was her birthday. I booked a "romantic table," again. We were shown to a tiny 2-top, where the silverware tray hit my wife's chair, with every seating. There was one table at the window, overlooking the courtyard. I asked the hostess about being reseated there. "No, that table is reserved." I waited, and no one showed. I approached the hostess again, and inquired. "No the party has just not arrived." Well, we were now an hour into their reservation, and my wife was being beaten by the silverware cupboard. I asked again, and was told that if that party did not show in 15 mins., we'd be reseated. When I returned to our table, there was a couple being seated there. I commented that the party had finally shown up, and my wife pointed out that that was the couple, seated behind us. I inquired again and was told, "they made such a fuss, that we felt that we had to seat them there." So much for being a nice guy and not creating a scene. After my scathing letter, we were offered a full comp, plus wines, and we refused.

                                                                Each restaurant has closed, and been reopened as something else. Too bad, as we would have loved to dine there, and would have been fine, had we been treated with some respect.

                                                                In another instance, we had dined at a particular restaurant over the years, even after we left New Orleans. We celebrated my wife's birthday at one particular table, at one particular restaurant. She was speaking at a major event and it was her birthday. I made reservations for that restaurant, and that table. They were accepted. I FAX'ed the restaurant twice, and called them twice, to insure that we had that table once again. All was OK. When we arrived in the city, I called once more, and all was OK. We arrive on her birthday, and I mentioned that we had reservations for "table #8." We were told that some important patrons had shown up and requested that table, so they got it, and we would be seated elsewhere.

                                                                Well, after dining at that table for about 30 years, we were ripped. We had also hosted meals for parties up to 30 in the past. Let's just say that we have only returned, when others made the reservations, and we were but guests. I hosted a meal for 250 in the City, and some would have loved to dine there. No on my watch! Another restaurant got the booking, and did a wonderful job. Guess who would get the next major party?

                                                                No, treat me with respect, and honor my requests, and I will be a patron. Treat me badly, and I will take my $ elsewhere. Remember, you are not the only restaurant in town, and might not be around next year.

                                                                Two have closed and been replaced. Stuff happens.


                                                              2. A chunk of meat in vegetarian pasta.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Sarah

                                                                  Similarly, servers who refuse to be informed/go around and around/argue with customers who are trying to get information from the server about whether dishes are, in fact, vegetarian. I'm looking at you, guy who scoffed when I asked whether there was meat (e.g., bacon) in the potato soup and then served me bacony potato soup. Douchebags.

                                                                  Okay, douchebaggery in general. I can overlook a lot for good, professional, friendly service.

                                                                  1. re: occula

                                                                    ugh, this. With the worst offense being arguing. The one who would not accept the fact that there was real bacon on my salad / wouldn't take it back, after I had asked ahead of time...seriously, just because it's little, doesn't mean it ceases to be meat.

                                                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                                                      Now, if it is good (really good) bacon, just tell them to put it onto my plate.


                                                                2. I'm pretty easy when it comes to eating out. I like dives, mom & pops, chains and fancy places. Presentation is often wasted on me.....I can also live with bad food and service. Usually, if there are any miscues, I almost always forget about them and do not hold it against the establishment and rarely mention any concerns. What I cannot excuse is when they ask you how everything was....I voice my concerns....and then they become combative or simply ignore my concerns.complaints. I feel if you ask the question, you have an obligation to make me whole. Being lied to is also going to nix any future visits.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                                    Since you are so easy going, eat at just about anywhere, don't care about presentation, bad food or bad service, I'm surprised you actually have any complaints.

                                                                    I'm actually very picky when I eat out. I care about the food, the service, the cleanliness. But I don't use the "how was everything?" moment to express concerns. I try to express them politely as they arise or let my dollars do the talking by not returning or tipping low for bad service.

                                                                    1. re: taos

                                                                      So. if asked the the question, I'm supposed to lie? You oviously have expectations to be met for your dining pleasure.....or you hold it against the staff or restaurant. where as I understand sometimes *sh#t happens* and it's no big deal.. There are only three times I complain about food....when it's clear the shelf life of the item has been passed and it has been served, if it's over-cooked past my desired preference and requested temperature....and if it's been over -salted. Just because you do not like the way something is prepared, or not how your Grandma made it is not reasons enough to send you dishes back or complain.

                                                                  2. Bad Food: Old or otherwise, if it doesn't taste good, smell appetizing, and have a good texture I won't be back.

                                                                    Rude Service: Genuinely busy wait staff juggling multiple tables are doing exactly what they are being paid for. If someone forgets to bring a drink or is inattentive refilling water thats fine - But fix it after I've requested it and don't act above the task.

                                                                    1. As far as deal breakers - dirtiness, bad tasting food, food that has gone off, double swiping credit cards.

                                                                      There are other things that won't necessarily be deal breakers, in the sense that I wouldn't set foot in the restaurant again, but will mean that I am not likely to choose to go back - mediocre food, poor ambience, indifferent service.

                                                                      As far as service goes, I generally go for a second chance. There are some restaurants that I've dropped from consideration because of repeated issues. One is pushy service - there was one Chinese place where the food was decent, but the waiter kept trying to push more food on us (we were taking visitors in a big group), and wouldn't take no for an answer (hint - if we say we don't want dessert or coffee, it's not the time to bring us the menus and leave us for fifteen minutes). Another is mistakes - a wrong or forgotten order happens occasionally, but if it happens regularly, I can't be bothered.

                                                                      Ambience definitely affects it. A place that is hot and badly lit and noisy may have good food, but poor dining experience. This, though, is more a matter of individual taste.

                                                                      1. Fish that is NOT fresh. Hate that.

                                                                        1. All of the above, and greasy food.

                                                                          I'm not only talking about fast food, but there's food that is so ill-prepared that it becomes unnecessarily become greasy. A little drizzle of olive oil to finish the dish is not greasy, but fried clams that are soggy, baked bread crumb top floating in oil...

                                                                          I once ate a baked lobster dish at a restaurant. Lobster meat in a gratin dish topped with bread crumb. The whole thing was swimming in oil. I told the server to bring it back. They drained my dish and the chef came out and told me that's how the other diners like it. They always complained to him, "more butter, more butter". After that I swore I would never eat around there ever again.

                                                                          Otherwise, I usually give 2 - 3 opportunities for each restaurant.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: cutipie721

                                                                            Must have been in New Orleans, where butter is the base of the food pyramid.

                                                                            Cross over the Pearl River, and fried lard is considered a delicacy.


                                                                          2. There are different price points for me. If I'm spending over $150 per person, I expect as close to perfection as possible. Mistakes are fine but if the server is snooty, food isn't wonderful, place isn't immaculate, I probably won't go back. I expect the bathrooms to be clean. But, if I'm at a cheap hole in the wall place, as long as the food is good, I'll go back. And, then there are the shades of gray but the bottom line overall. If the food is great, in general, the rest I can live with.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                                              Funny, you are first to mention price. I think that is the main reason I've quit a restaurant, is if I don't think I'm getting value.

                                                                              Occassional poor service and occassional bad food - - happens.

                                                                              But nobody ever lowers their prices to fit the quality, or lack thereof.

                                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                That's exactly it--about the value. I can throw away a couple of dollars but won't throw away a couple hundred dollars.

                                                                            2. There is a mid-range chain, seafood restaurant. When it was new to the area, I ate there twice. On both occasions, I left and soon became very queezy, though never became exactly "sick". I did not and will not give it a third chance.

                                                                              1. getting sick from the food!

                                                                                1. To me, it's when I sat at a sushi bar and ordered sashimi only noticing the hair on my third piece. When I pointed it out to the manager he lifted it up to the light to see if I was lying..as if I wanted to get out of paying for the pieces I ate.

                                                                                  My instinct before walking in said not to; it was empty but I had such a craving I went against instinct. Never do that.

                                                                                  As he was still investigating the piece of tuna, I walked out. I spent the next week hoping I wasn't growing a tape worm.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: blondee_47

                                                                                    Hairs in food just happens, even with nets. If I found hairs in multiple dishes or on subsequent visits, I'd think maybe there was a problem. But a single hair on a single dish could happen in any restaurant.

                                                                                    Of course, the manager should have just brought you a new plate. Did you seriously walk out without paying over a hair?

                                                                                  2. Don't be all nonchalant when someone actually hurts themselves in your restaurant, especially if that someone is someone I care a lot about. Seriously, I know people pull stunts, but when my 70 year old mother falls out of a booth as a result of poor step lighting, can you maybe at least try and pull yourself away from the bar and feign a little interest? (sorry, still not over that one)

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                      That is just awful!! That was truly poor service but also it was from an employee who was not properly trained. They pay for insurance for a reason and they should have had standard operating procedures that include 'what to do if someone is injured". That is just wrong, you don't have to be over that at all!

                                                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                        I was at a two-story chain restaurant when a glass fell from the upper floor onto our booth. I don't remember that much was done other than an "Oh we're sorry"- we didn't even get moved to another area to ensure there wasn't any stray glass still on the booth that could hurt someone. Needless to say I have never returned.

                                                                                      2. here's another one for discussion. Open kitchen, chef wipes the rim of the plastic container with his finger and then cleans the finger by placing it in his mouth and then plates the food with the same finger?

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                                          Ow, I just baked bagels this morning. I asked our contractor if he wanted one. As I was putting cream cheese on it, I got some on my finger and licked it off. I suddenly remembered it wasn't for me or the kids and washed my hands again so I could see someone doing what you saw--but then again, if I were on display, I'd be extra careful.

                                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                                            Now, if you observed the chef kissing the valet on the lips, that WOULD be an issue! This would be especially true, if the valet had perhaps licked the tires on your car, when he parked it.


                                                                                          2. For me the deal killer is when the waiter/waitress doesn't check back to do refills on water/beverage glasses. If my water/ice tea/diet coke is kept topped off, then I'm pretty darn easy to please.

                                                                                            1. people have mentioned many good reasons to avoid a restaurant. i guess for me, a number of things or bad experiences at a place have to add up (excluding food poisoning or other serious offenses).

                                                                                              we have a chinese/japanese/sushi place in town that has probably the most reliable good sushi, but the service is so incredibly bad and surly, i refuse to return.

                                                                                              once they refused to accept coupons for a bill, the other time they ARGUED with friends of ours about what they had ordered: the server had brought the wrong dish but insisted that's what they had ordered, as in "no, you didn't." sorry, that's a strike-out, and no tip for you.

                                                                                              never been back.

                                                                                              1. Bad food and bad service will make me avoid a place, but I might give it a try again later, particularly if I'm with someone who wants to eat there.

                                                                                                One pet peeve I have from working in business, however: If I go there during lunch, you better get me out in an hour. It's especially frustrating if you're waiting around forever for the check, and you see the servers standing off to the side chatting with each other instead of helping you. If I'm particularly worried about the time, I'll often let my server know that I'm in a rush, or ask for the check when the main course is brought out. I've also sometimes see the servers get angry with me about that.

                                                                                                And on a similar note to the OP: raw french fries. I've had that happen way too many times from places where they start out frozen. Yuck.

                                                                                                1. I was at a hole in the wall (They had a check cashing window in the back of the place never seen that set up before) taco place up in East Harlem a while back. It had read about it as being a good spot. One orders at the counter so I waited there for five minute while they very slowly served the one woman in front of me. She did not have a big order. The slowness in it's self was quite a feat as all the food is sitting ready to go in (staffed) steam-tables. Finally they were done with her the cashier much to my surprise opted not to serve me but headed of to mop the floors. After another minute or two another woman who had been make a smoothie or something nearby came to take my order.

                                                                                                  Before actually taking my order she decided she wanted a little snack and picked up a pice of fruit. I wasn't thrilled by that but still not a deal breaker. At least she wasn't mopping the floors. When she bit into the fruit there was a huge spray of juice that hit me on the face. It also got on my shirt and arm. The with her mouth full of food asked me what I wanted.

                                                                                                  I grabbed some napkins and walked out.

                                                                                                  1. Well, in my case, the first to crop up was a restaurant in Phoenix. We were hosting a high-level candidate, and had about 20 guests. My wife was the hostess.

                                                                                                    First, our server captain kept pouring glasses of wine to the rim. I pulled her aside and pointed out that we would be buying a lot of wine, and to please pour proper glasses. There was no need to upsell me.

                                                                                                    Next, my wife ordered one of the "specials." The party was being served, and then the server told my wife that they had run out of _____. OK, what are the options? "Well, we can do _____." That was ordered, and 19 people waited, and waited and waited. Finally, the server approached and told us that ____ was not available. Now, we had all waited for 30 mins. and my wife, the hostess, was not going to be served for perhaps another 20 mins. Bad form - really, really bad form. My wife was finally served, and others were finally able to eat their cold dishes, but we cancelled three other candidate dinners there, and at the same level.

                                                                                                    Now, going back a bit, we hosted the first candidate's dinner elsewhere. The sommelier took my order for a particular full-bodied domestic (US) Chardonnay, as the candidate's wife had expressed an interest in such a wine. It was corked, and I pulled him aside to inform him of the problem. In a feigned French accent (he was British), he asked what was wrong with the wine. I told him, in a whisper. He then asked what I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted that wine, but a good bottle. In a very loud voice, he proclaimed that the chef would cook with my returned bottle, as it was good. At that point, I stood up and told all in the restaurant that if the chef used a corked bottle of wine for any dish at my table, I would take my party and walk out. That restaurant lost the next five candidate dinners, at about US $4800 / dinner. The second restaurant lost the next three too. Sometimes, it is hard to give some places business.

                                                                                                    To me, those were "deal breakers." They not only cost each restaurant business in that series of diners, but for life. It took the new owner of one of those many years to court us back, even after I defined the problems, and he promised that all had changed. After 12 years, we just hosted a dinner for 50, and all was good, but in the meantime, that venue lost out on many thousands of $'s of bookings, just from my wife and me.

                                                                                                    That is the nature of the restaurant business. One never knows who is in the house that night, and how their experience might affect things for years to come.

                                                                                                    Same thing when we hit the FOH. Who knows how much business we have in our pockets? Gotta' teat everyone like Daddy Warbucks, and induce them to love the restaurant.


                                                                                                    1. It seems like everything there is to be said on this subject has already been said, and now the conversation is just going in circles. We're going to lock it now.