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Sep 24, 2010 10:09 PM

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.....

          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.