Eat This List: 7 deadly restaurant sins that keep customers from coming back
January 7th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
Share this on:

This is the third installment of "Eat This List" - a regularly recurring list of things chefs, farmers, writers and other food experts think you ought to know about.

Yesterday, I was happily slurping away at my noodle and bok choy soup, when suddenly I felt it: sand rasping against my molars. I pushed the bowl away and swished my mouth out with a few tall glasses of water, but I was haunted by phantom gravel for the rest of the day.

Yes, there are far more pressing issues in the world than a little bit of foreign matter in my food, but we've all got our issues. When a restaurant can't take the time to properly rinse its greens, I can't help but wonder what else they're skimping on. I have an intense and visceral reaction to the feeling of grit in my food and if I do happen to return to a restaurant where that happened, I find myself bracing before each bite. It's mostly easier for me not to return.

Was I too easily aggrieved? I turned to Twitter to ask people what might cause them to cross a restaurant off their list. The answers came in fast and furious from food writers, chefs, servers and diners alike.

Here are a few of the most frequently mentioned or just plain nasty restaurant turnoffs:

1. Butt out!

@ChefChrisCody: "A dirty restaurant: dirty ceiling fan, unkept restrooms, servers w/ any towels, notepads, or nething touching their butt."

Say what? The New Orleans chef clarified.

"You never see waitstaff hang towels or put things in their back pockets?...I have staged at some high end places where the chef wants you to hang your towels from your front or backside. Just watch.

2. Hairy situation

@loganpass: "Curly hair in my omelet. The restaurant has since been overhauled, but I feel like it's cursed."

@QueenCityCookie: "Hair always a bad sign"

The frequency of errant hair might be why planting it is a go-to trick of dirty-dealing diners looking to get their meals comped.

3. Beastly bathrooms

@JeeWPark: "A dirty restroom to me equals dirty kitchen."

@shilo101: "Dirty restrooms are the worst. if they don't keep it clean where customers CAN see, imagine what they can't. (Bourdain)"

@KatieBe_NC: "I have cut restaurants for dirty restrooms."

(And yet, that doesn't stop some people from going ahead and chowing down in a stall.)

4. He who smelt it...should get the heck out!

@ChristineMuhlke: "That dish-room smell (sad mats)."

@AmyTaraKoch: "Septic-like stench (paris), waitstaff eating/ choming gum, bugs in water, dirty cutlery/ napkin"

5. Halt the salt! Or, conversely, don't be stingy

@dollopfinefoods: "UNDER seasoning combined with arrogant lack of good salt & pepper on table"

@RLStrickland: "Over-salting. If you can't nail salt, I have a lot of trouble trusting your palate."

@CourtsBS: "SALT! Too much in everything & I won't be back"

@RDclark4: "Oversalted food is a sure fire turn coming back from that!"

@leeannewong: "#lackofsalt"

Chef Wong knows of what she speaks. Not only did she finish in the top four of her season of Top Chef - in her subsequent tenure as culinary producer of the show, she saw her fair share of cheftestants pack their knives and go home for the crime of insufficient seasoning.

6. Pasta that's a flop

@loves_zin: "Over cooked pasta"

@shirtlessjosh: "Wet pasta."

@local_kitchen: "Gummy pasta. And it happens so often. Al dente: it's not that hard, people."

7. Worst of all: service with a shrug

@fordgal15: "Slow service, cold food and dirty tables!"

@CozyHerbivore: "Service with attitude, a boring menu. So many great restaurants in Philly, why waste $$ on mediocre?"

@jenniferjnelson: "I won't go to restaurants in which management stands arms folded while staff, customers need things. Service starts at top."

@pinkleopardello: "Rotten service. If you don't like dealing with the public, maybe it's time to fulfil those dreams if becoming a tram driver"

@Unchainedfoodie: "Restaurant Turnoffs – nasty restrooms, no server eye contact, long unbussed tables."

@NYTFridge: "Biggest restaurant turnoff is inattentive, unprofessional or sloppy service. Guarantees I'll never return."

@bosiechampagne: "Turnoff: When you can tell that nobody working there cares about the food or the service...or even wants to be there."

@newriversbeau: "Turnoff número uno: lazy, disengaged service. Doesn't need to be 'perfect', but apathy is the biggest sin."

Your turn: what's on your personal menu of verboten restaurant behavior? Unburden yourself in the comments below and we'll share the biggest offenders in an upcoming feature.

Previously - Eat This List: Food resolutions for 2013

Got someone you want to hear from? Let us know in the comments and we'll try to track them down.

soundoff (903 Responses)
  1. Reinaldo

    5 million criminal fine and 1 year in year out doing the renovation of a contractor that is being
    treated properly, then it's important to have signed ahead of the person doing the same

    July 11, 2014 at 12:01 am |
  2. Ellie

    I have a couple irritations.
    1. Women dressed inappropriately. I have gone to restaurants not knowing too much about the place. When the waiter comes out in booty shorts and a low cut top with a wonderbra underneath...I get annoyed. Especially when children are present.

    2. Bathrooms. No toilet paper, soap from the dispenser caked on the wall underneath, no paper towels, ciggarette burns in the seat, sticky floors. That just shows me that the place isnt clean. I'm sorry but, in any place I worked I made sure that BR was clean cause honeslty, at some point I am going to have to use the bathroom. It concerns me that the waiters actually use these BR's and leave them that way. Gross.

    3. Rude managers. If they seem to be tyrants and talk down to their employees, I have an issue with that. Like, if they need disrection, thats one thing, but please correct them respectfully because if it wasnt for them, you would be broke.

    4. Waiters not smiling or making eye contact. I dont know, this is a pet peeve for me. Not just in restaurants, but stores, toll booths, department stores, etc.

    5. This one may be weird, but I dont like it if I see that there isnt a range of demographic in the employees. Are they all skinny blonde women in thier 20's? It may be a personal issue, but I notice that I see less and less middle aged and older people being hired. I'd rather have a polite respectful grandma as my waitress instead of a rude girl that has her cell phone going off in her pocket every few seconds.

    That being said, I'm not too picky. I can overlook a single hair in the food or even a bad dish. I know it happens from time to time. Most times if I order something else and like it, I keep coming back. but cleanliness and service is pretty important to me.

    March 4, 2014 at 11:17 am |
  3. Sam Lea

    Any restaurant employee putting fingers in glassware when bussing a table. Might as well stick their fingers in every customer's mouth.

    March 2, 2014 at 12:06 am |
  4. create bar code

    I must express some thanks to the writer just for bailing me out of this type of incident. Right after browsing through the the web and seeing methods that were not powerful, I figured my entire life was gone. Being alive minus the approaches to the problems you have sorted out as a result of your main article is a crucial case, and those that would have adversely affected my career if I had not come across the website. Your primary training and kindness in controlling all areas was vital. I'm not sure what I would've done if I had not come across such a stuff like this. I can also at this time look forward to my future. Thanks very much for your high quality and effective guide. I won't think twice to refer the sites to anybody who needs to have tips about this topic.

    February 24, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
  5. How to get pregnant

    Magnificent beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your site, how could I subscribe for a blog website? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear concept

    February 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm |
  6. Brenda

    Bad Coffee. How hard can it be to make a good cup of coffee. I enjoy going out for breakfast every once in awhile. Well in the town I live in, they make great breakfast but the coffee is horrible. Such a simple thing? I guess not. It really irritates me. I realize that not everyone likes strong coffee, but really? When they pour it, it looks like tea.

    February 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
  7. hi

    i hate when a women puts the order form in her bra it makes my boy friend look a her boobs.... like really!!!!!!!!!!!! that gets me so mad. also when guys try to turn you on by putting their dick right in front of the girls face like come on us girls aren't turned on the easy.

    February 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Vancouver private dining venues

    Vancouver Private Dining Venues has created this website for you to use as a simple tool to find the private room venue that best suits your needs. JUST CHOOSE YOUR VENUE, FILL IN THE FORM AND CLICK "SEND" ! Choose from the menus above to search by group size. Many of our members have multiple private rooms so please do remember to check the "View all rooms" page. If you prefer, you may also send an email to all of our members with your contact information and private dining needs by clicking the "contact us" button. Our members will respond to you promptly.

    January 21, 2014 at 2:25 am |
  9. TallBill

    A restaurant that normally had excellent food turned me off one evening when I had relatives from out of town. That evening, someone had left the back door open or something, and the place was so full of flies that we were literally swatting at them all during the meal!

    December 3, 2013 at 1:16 am |
  10. Samantha

    I don't understand how a restaurant could allow employees to have there child there while they work. I believe as a customer it takes up a table and also it is neglect full of the restaurant and parent for the child safety. Its been bothering me for weeks now and still wondering if child service should be called. The food was slow to come out and half of it was cold. the waiter were more distracted from having the 4 to 6 year old boy brown hair blue eyes there and was taking orders and letting him practice, than waiting on customers.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Ellie

      I would let it slide. Unless you see the owners abusing him, let them be. Its probably a case of a single parent who cannot afford a sitter. I'm not sure if you knew this but, waiters only make about 3 dollars an hour, Most of their wages come from tips. I just dont see it being such an issue as to call child services and wasting everyones time. They are not going to take the child away from the parents just for being there, but they may if they decided to leave him alone without a sitter. See what I'm saying? If it bothers you so much, than just go elsewhere. But, I do not believe they are doing anything wrong.

      March 4, 2014 at 11:00 am |
  11. Freddie Juengling

    you know. The style and design look great though!

    November 30, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  12. Medical Assistant

    Do u know a good, safe(from virus) blogging site that is easy..other than myspace,facebook, and twitter.|I am so happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that's at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best doc.|

    November 4, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  13. Assistant

    Somebody basically impart a hand to make essentially posts I would testify. This is the vastly in the beginning time I frequented your web call and to this point? I amazed with the research you completed to achieve this distinct post incredible. Magnificent task!|

    November 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  14. Servers responsibility

    4 out of 6 restaurants or food establishments are saving on labor by not only making the serving staff prep and serve your order but they are also responsible for cleaning the guest restroom. Not just the trash but the whole thing, from the toilets,sinks & mirrors to the sanitary napkin container.
    Gross! Handle my food and scrub the urine and bowels off of the toilets, not my thing!

    November 3, 2013 at 1:53 am |
  15. Mike M

    Being seated next to the wash room entrance.I had a dinner reservation for my wife and i at a restaurant, and the hostess tried to sit us next to the wash rooms.when i questioned her about it,her response was that since i phoned after the seating arrangement was made for the night,this was the next available seating .We left,and never came back.

    October 16, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • will

      Really? You think it's fairer for the restaurant to sit someone who booked well in advance next to the rest room, rather than yourself, who booked last minute? How selfish and entitled are you?

      November 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  16. Terry

    I haven't read the entire thread (it is far too long, but will read it at my leisure). My problem is with chefs/restaurants who treat vegetarians like the plague. It is a little known fact that many vegetarians gave up meat for legitimate health reasons and now cannot eat meat for digestive reasons. I, personally, would give anything for chicken. I can't eat it. I would rather go through child-birth. It would behoove the chefs of the world to remember "the purpose of eating is not to give employment to the cook". Any chef worth his/her title can present a vegetarian dish to match a roast suckling pig. If the chef can't, s/he isn't worth the title.

    October 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  17. daveandive

    I didn't read every single reply (impossible) but I think we are forgetting something. Those servers that refuse to write down the order, trying to look smart by memorizing the order. You can bet your a$$ they will get something wrong or will come back later on asking for clarification only to delay your order further. That is why I will never step on an Applebee's before. I rather pay a bit more at places where you get better service.

    What about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Friday's had to pay in NJ because they were selling watered down drinks or filling Vodka bottles with cheap brands.

    September 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  18. Jeanne Galloway

    Hi, the first letter was sent to my billing address, not my shipping address. I don't know if it is just me or other persons had this challenge but I just wished to let you guys know. It was definitely disappointing not getting the letter where I am right now!

    September 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  19. kaspersky key file

    Hi I really enjoyed reading your site . The information were really informative. Thank you very much

    September 19, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  20. Hamburger Jones

    CNN, you guys are getting spammed with auto-blog stuff. Delete quick before they can link back to you.

    September 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  21. Hamburger Jones

    I used to run a pizza hut, straight outta PCA, and I made sure everyone who worked there enjoyed it and got paid as well as a pizza hovel can pay. We strafed each other with fire extinguishers, constructed elaborate pizzas for ourselves, drank beer as we cleaned up, and thanked each other daily for the miracle of a happy workplace. Our bathrooms were spotless and the kitchen started each day that way even if we had to stay late to wash dishes, and our customers benefited from having cute happy waitresses taking their orders and from a kitchen that could have a pie in the oven thirty seconds after you ordered it("Gimme a ten-inch, sauce coming up. cheese! Hit me! and 26 pepperonis, one, two, three, and slam it in the oven."). We ate the other pizza place's lunch and drank their milkshake over and over despite their location and larger dining room. The Health Inspector came in for lunch over and over; what more do you need? And we discounted for cops so we always had one, and no one ever tried to hold us up.

    September 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  22. Whitney Giambattista

    Yep every guest is different but all should be treated treated the same, no opinions

    September 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  23. thoughtsofanangrylebanese

    Service Service Service! I can forgive a medium rare steak when i ordered for medium, i can forgive a latte that just have a bit of an extra foam in it, i might even forgive a hair "not that i wont complain, but still, might bring me back to the place", but a rude waiter & above all, incompetent management is something that no one can ever forgive!

    September 8, 2013 at 6:44 am |
  24. Dan H

    I Dont like people vacuuming where I am eating. Who knows what is in that dust that is being pushed out of that vaccuume cleaner.

    August 11, 2013 at 12:11 am |
  25. automobile code reader

    Thank you for your entire hard work on this website. Kim delights in doing investigation and it's easy to understand why. We learn all of the lively way you produce worthwhile strategies by means of your web site and even cause contribution from website visitors about this issue and my princess is always discovering a lot of things. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. Your doing a first class job.

    August 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  26. travel guide

    I simply wanted to write a brief message to thank you for all the amazing tricks you are sharing on this website. My extended internet search has now been recognized with wonderful facts to share with my relatives. I 'd express that many of us visitors are rather fortunate to exist in a very good website with so many wonderful individuals with helpful principles. I feel somewhat privileged to have come across the webpage and look forward to really more cool minutes reading here. Thanks once more for a lot of things.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  27. Electric Car

    hey there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical issues using this website, as I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I'm complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and could damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my email and can look out for a lot more of your respective interesting content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

    August 4, 2013 at 5:59 am |
  28. Interior design

    I carry on listening to the news bulletin lecture about receiving free online grant applications so I have been looking around for the best site to get one. Could you tell me please, where could i get some?

    August 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  29. fitness juicing muscle

    naturally like your web site however you have to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very bothersome to tell the truth however I¡¦ll certainly come again again.

    August 2, 2013 at 6:37 am |
  30. wedding you dream

    fantastic points altogether, you simply received a new reader. What may you recommend in regards to your put up that you simply made a few days ago? Any sure?

    July 31, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  31. Marcel Anselmi

    Free Coupons Groceries Denver Co

    July 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  32. Sharan Coursey

    There are definitely a variety of particulars like that to take into consideration. That may be a nice level to carry up. I supply the ideas above as normal inspiration however clearly there are questions just like the one you carry up the place a very powerful factor shall be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged round issues like that, however I'm positive that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Each girls and boys really feel the affect of only a second�s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

    July 23, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  33. Rex Rayne

    An impressive share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing a bit of evaluation on this. And he the truth is purchased me breakfast because I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! However yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If doable, as you develop into experience, would you thoughts updating your weblog with extra particulars? It's extremely useful for me. Large thumb up for this weblog put up!

    July 20, 2013 at 3:15 am |
  34. ME

    When I get food poisoning after a meal at an establishment, I make great efforts to never return to that establishment ever again.

    July 17, 2013 at 6:15 am |
  35. Josh

    I just came back from a Carnival cruise.

    All the food in the Main Dining Room was great. Well, except for the lasagna. It tasted like they boiled the noodles for 6+ hours. And yes, that is the memory that will stay with me the longest.

    July 16, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • will

      There should be no noodles in lasagne. It's just not part of the recipe

      November 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  36. Lakesha Elison

    Dude.. I'm not substantially into studying, but somehow I obtained to go through lots of report content with your internet web page. Its magnificent how attention-grabbing it really is for me to go to you pretty frequently.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  37. Dan

    I get really turned off watching the wait staff and/or busing staff use the same damp rag to clean table tops that they have just used to wipe table chair seats, especially in the summer when people have sweaty butts. Ewww. Imaging what leaks through their pants, especially if they are having gastric disturbances. In one restaurant, I watched the staff place a large amount of silverware on these chair seats. Yuk.

    June 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  38. big dea nutts

    employes rag in on each other.pull the knife out chief,the owner's on butt crack, I like my tea bag in my cup (not yours)

    May 11, 2013 at 12:04 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
| Part of

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,974 other followers