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Tell-Tale Terms

We are lucky enough to live in a time of restaurant saturation. There are tons of places to eat in most American locales. Hell, if my unscientific observations and drunken calculations are accurate, there are actually three point two seven (3.27) pizza places for every adult in the State of New Jersey.

There is a grey cloud to this silver lining though. It seems everyone eats out more than ever and has opinions to share on the subject. Any dull, cocktail party has some turn of conversation that leads to folks recommending dinner places without solicitation and regaling you with glorious tales of mediocre chow. Ugghh!

Consequently, I've started to note certain words, phrases, and prefaces that set off warning sirens in my brain - spreading imaginary, yellow, "Caution: Do Not Enter" tape across the front door. So far, these have proven pretty good "tells":

"They have the BIGGEST portions!"

"It's my kids' favorite."

"They don't even HAVE vermouth." (Usually, detours into a vodka conversation . . . ."

"Make sure you try the fried calamari." (This one may be pretty NJ-centric, but it's become almost as ubiquitous a restaurant offering as tap water. Not sure why it's such a good trigger that the person speaking doesn't know much . . . .)

Anyway, you get the just. Are there things you hear from folks that make you rethink trying the spots they suggest?

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  1. Check your Valu-pak for a 10% off coupon
    Monday is pasta night
    They have unlimited...

    3 Replies
        1. re: tcamp

          I have been good places with a groupon. It has been a few years though.

      1. If they have commercials on TV it is probably a no-go.

          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            That's about half of all Yelp reviews...

          2. "Any dull, cocktail party has some turn of conversation that leads to folks recommending dinner places without solicitation and regaling you with glorious tales of mediocre chow. Ugghh!"

            So other people aren't allowed to make recommendations? This seems somehow anti-social.....

            1. Comments to-date seem focuses on restos deemed unduly mass market. My own warning bells relate to restos with foodie pretensions. Note that these terms don't necessarily portend bad food but they just are turn-offs for me.
              "Small plates" or tapas-style - fine if they serve traditional Spanish tapas but otherwise just not a format that I like
              No reservations taken - sorry, I will not wait in excess of an hour (or even 15 minutes) for a table
              Craft cocktails or any resto that hypes its "mixologists" - I am strictly a beer and wine gal so really don't care about your mixed drinks. It won't prevent me from patronizing the resto if it has good food and a good wine list but it won't be what attracts me either.
              Any restaurant that hypes it's bacon and pig-centric menu -- I've nothing against pork products but this focus is overdone

              1 Reply
              1. re: masha

                Small plates to share -- bah. Invariably, not enough of things I like and too many of things I'm not crazy about. Stupid service, exemplified by seven meatballs (or whatever it may be) for three people in a tiny crock and regulation flatware. A bill that makes me curse (to myself) mildly or profoundly. Needless to say, this is A) a minority opinion and B) something I don't do anymore.

                And everything else Masha said.

              2. "The bartenders/other patrons/tunes are smokin' hot."

                I have nothing against smokin' hot things, but at this stage of my life, I'm really more interested in food & drink.

                1 Reply
                1. I stay away from anything with a "vibe". Hip vibe, cool vibe, chill vibe, hot vibe...no, just no.

                  2 Replies
                  1. "Kids eat free"

                    "Chicken fingers"

                    "Food court"

                    "Wandering (accordionist, mariachi band, crooner)"

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: pinehurst

                      I invite you to the east Houston Barrio on a late Friday or Saturday night and rub shoulders with Mexican-American families, my wifeacita included to change your mind about mariachis.

                      1. re: James Cristinian

                        I know I'd enjoy dining with you and wifeacita, and somewhat relatedly, had a grandmother who listened to Celia Cruz in the house all the time, but I just don't like live music while I'm eating out. In a box, with a fox, etc....even good live music! I'm incorrigible.

                    2. I never, ever, give the slightest credence to the comments of others, unless I know their general opinions about food generally concur with mine.

                      All of the tell-tale terms, as the OP puts it, that might immediately put me off would go to the wall if someone whose food views I respect said "The food is great".

                      1. Communal tables. I know they are trendy and supposed to promote community among diners, but sitting at one always makes me feel like I am eating in my high school cafeteria. Yeck.

                        1. There's an exception to every rule. We moved to a new neighborhood last year and a neighbor recommended a local spot ("great selection of microbrews", "terrific sandwiches"). He was right, it's become our local favorite (and gets raves from every guest we bring there).

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ferret

                            That's not so much an exception as it is a corollary. There's certainly some good direction to be found out there. The key is figuring out who's worth trusting before the conversation turn back to the weather or reality tv. After all, it's not like your new neighbor said, "We love the place. They have Bud Light on multiple taps and it's the only restaurant around that puts enough mayo on their ham sandwich to keep 'the old ball and chain' happy."

                          2. "It's my kids' favorite."

                            If I referred you to my kids' favorite restaurant, you'd be spending $50/person on sushi.

                            Not everyone's want to eat cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets. My kids would rather eat sushi and Thai drunken noodles over a nugget anyday.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: boogiebaby

                              I think we must share a child in common, boogiebaby. :-)

                              1. re: boogiebaby

                                I rue the day I shared my steamed artichoke with my kid.

                                1. re: tcamp

                                  My husband would say the same about the time he shared his escargot with our son. Daddy got one, kiddo ate the rest.

                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                    Our version of that problem was soft shell crab. Boy, was he ticked off. The father, not the crab.

                                    1. re: rockycat

                                      Something has me thinking the crab's last tweet wasn't "#bestdayever" either.

                                2. re: boogiebaby

                                  I remember my 2 year old getting her first taste of lobster, and then the repeatedly open mouth for more.

                                  1. re: boogiebaby

                                    Pfft. My kid is 26 and still eats that crap. But I must admit he has branched out a bit to Indian food.

                                    1. re: boogiebaby

                                      Same here. Having a kid and baby who know what good food is makes it easier to go out to eat at nicer restaurants, but so much more expensive. My 11 year old would dominate the cheese plate if he was allowed, stinky cheese and all.

                                    2. Children's menu
                                      Early-bird special
                                      Amazing, amazeballs
                                      Gastro-pub (no objection to the concept but it sounds like a gut parasite)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Tex-Mex is not even Tex-Mex in most of the country. Try it in Texas or even Oklahoma, but nowhere else.

                                        1. "Come to our Tuesday night Trivia Challenge"

                                          1. "It has 5 stars on yelp"

                                            All credibility immediately disappears, and I know to never listen to said person again.

                                              1. re: tcamp

                                                That's actually enough of a warning sign that I'd probably just leave the party.

                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                  MGZ reply made me laugh out loud.

                                                  Costumed wait staff? I think I would be tempted to swing by for a drink to check that out.

                                                    1. re: tcamp

                                                      OMG, my son would love that place. (he is 8yo)

                                                      1. re: tcamp

                                                        Is that the kind of place where your "Serving Wench" introduces herself to you?

                                                  1. re: tcamp

                                                    I recall having dinner at an otherwise OK restaurant in Scotland, where they made the serving staff wear tartan trousers. In itself, that would be bad enough, but there were a total of four different tartans - back & front on each leg. Looked ludicrous.


                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                        I actually bought their first album. *hanging head in embarrassment*

                                                          1. re: macsak

                                                            Bay city rollers....don't ask me how I know :/

                                                            ...and tcamp, no need to hang your head in shame, unless you are still sportin' that mullet! Lol.

                                                            1. re: tcamp

                                                              And, whaddyaknow, it's S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!

                                                              I hope all you fine folks went somewhere AMAZING for dinner. ;)

                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                In my area, when the term "authentic" is used about a Chinese restaurant, it's a very positive sign. When it's applied to an Italian restaurant it generally means that they serve pizza and pasta and not much of anything else. You know, just like in NY. Sigh. This ex-Brooklynite would kill for anything truly resembling NY Italian food. And not just another #$$%#@!!! pizza.

                                                              2. I can't believe all these negative reviews! Must be other jealous restaurant owners trying to ruin their reputation...

                                                                1. I have a peeve about restaurant names that include words such as Factory, Corral, Barn, Stockyard, etc. I know, I know, there are surely exceptions. Such as the cool bar I went to called The Salt Mine (it was in a salt mine).

                                                                  1. "We take most of it home"

                                                                    "The portions are SO HUGE"

                                                                    "They have so many choices"

                                                                    "Salad Bar"

                                                                    "Plenty of parking"

                                                                    "Alfredo, Tuscan, Chipotle, Florentine, Southwestern"

                                                                    "The BEST margaritas, they are sooo STRONG"

                                                                    "jello shooters"

                                                                    "We went to the one in......"

                                                                    1. "We don't take reservations" means an hour long wait in a crowded vestibule

                                                                      This is weird, but every Thai restaurant I've ever been to with Bangkok in the restaurant name, is terrible.

                                                                        1. All You Can Eat. I think I'll be eating very little there, actually.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: pine time

                                                                            I absolutely adore the phrase "all you care to eat". It's like they are warning me off!

                                                                          2. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain.... This usually means it's the obvious choice and featured in back packer guidebooks.

                                                                            Real US Italian food/pizza...... Mmmmh.

                                                                            Its owned by XXXX TV chef...... IMO food quality inversely proportional to TV exposure.

                                                                            Its really great value AND so authentic.... This is usually in the context that non-local food must be cheap to be real, or subjectively immigrants like cheap food and would still eat in dives if they had more money.

                                                                            It does a great traditional Sunday lunch......Originally for UK pubs but seems to apply anywhere - its a short cut menu for the kitchen on a day when chefs don't work.

                                                                            All day Sunday brunch..... I like brunch but I also like proper lunch, all day brunches are also usually about making it easy for the kitchen at the weekend.

                                                                            Its really authentic tapas...and you can book a table..... you don't book tapas its bar crawl food. If you need to book and be seated it will be overpriced.

                                                                            Its a buffet and you can eat as much as you like.... no explanation required.

                                                                            1. "It's in the Entertainment Book".................

                                                                              "My mother in law LOVES this place"..............

                                                                              "The tilapia is to DIE for"......................

                                                                              "Ask about their Early Bird Specials"............


                                                                              9 Replies
                                                                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                  The existence of tilapia on the menu would be enough to keep me away. (yes, I am a total snob)

                                                                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                                                                    I feel the same way about tilapia. To me it means "we buy cheap stuff"

                                                                                    1. re: DGresh

                                                                                      "Tilapia - You know, it's kinda like fish."

                                                                                      Brought to you by the fine people who make Michelob Ultra.

                                                                                  2. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                    "Their Vodka sauce is amazing"...........
                                                                                    yeah that's another

                                                                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                      I think that means that the Tilapia died before they prepared the dish.

                                                                                    2. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                      "Hospitaliano" is a perfect descriptor for the cuisine at MIL's retirement home.

                                                                                      1. re: tcamp

                                                                                        Sadly, that sounds like a step up from the food at my father's place.

                                                                                    3. When somebody posts a review that they love the place, go there all the time & when you see where they're from, they live in a state that's a 3 hour airplane flight away.

                                                                                          1. They have the best xxx and I don't even like xxx.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. Signs warning "no shirt, no shoes, no service," unless I'm on a dock

                                                                                              Someone sleeping at the bar

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: tcamp

                                                                                                My previous dentist had a sign that said

                                                                                                NO SHOES, NO TEETH, NO SERVICE.

                                                                                              2. They have the best caesar salad - not too garlicky and NO ANCHOVIES!

                                                                                                1. If I avoided reading about certain restaurants because of a few buzzwords I would probably end up eating home or at the same-ol-same-ol places. I look past the buzz words to the message people are trying to convey.

                                                                                                  1. And they serve everything over pasta!

                                                                                                    1. "...and when you're there, you really ARE family!"

                                                                                                      1. My father will pay the mariachis their tip if they stop playing. It's certainly a win-win.