Warning! 5 Signs a Restaurant Is Dirtier Than You Think

It’s dinner time, and you’re looking for a fine dining experience to liven up your night. Maybe you’re looking for amazing seafood, a local place with great wine, or just a delicious burgers and fries. No matter what kind of restaurant you love to eat at, there’s one certainty — you want great food and a nice atmosphere to accompany your meal. You should be aware, though, that outward appearances might not always reflect the cleanliness of the kitchen, cooks, and serving staff. Before you get too cozy at a new restaurant, watch for these five warning signs it might not be as clean as it should be.

1. The menus are not wiped down

Man pointing to an item on a restaurant menu

Man pointing to an item on a restaurant menu | iStock.com

If you grab the menu off the table and it’s already sticking to your fingers, this might mean they haven’t been wiped down in quite a while. And considering everyone looks at the menus, you could be touching the germs of hundreds of other patrons. Reader’s Digest says one team of scientists actually found menus harbor more bacteria than any other surface in restaurants. This means you could easily catch something from other restaurant goers, so make sure your menus are shiny and clean before ordering your food.

2. The buffet is always open

Source: iStock

Foods that sits out so long isn’t safe to eat | iStock.com

There are plenty of well-kept restaurants that serve buffets for brunch or special occasions and they’re great about disposing of old trays promptly. But if you’re going the all-you-can-eat route, the buffet may be lacking in the cleanliness department. When these dishes of food sit out so long, it’s unlikely they’re staying at the temperature necessary to prevent bacteria from growing. And the cheaper all-you-can-eat buffets are less likely to use quality ingredients. If they don’t care about the quality of the food, then their preparation may be lacking, too. Food Safety News explains the possibility of cross-contamination is high for those who eat at buffets as well. Unless the restaurant is extremely conscious of their safety practices, this could lead to foodborne illness.

3. The bathroom has not been cleaned

A clean bathroom sink with soap and towels

A clean bathroom sink with soap and towels | iStock.com

Even if you walk into a beautiful restaurant with gorgeous table settings and a crisp, clean atmosphere, the bathroom can easily reveal cleanliness issues. According to USA Today, nearly three out of 10 consumers say dirty restrooms are enough to keep them from returning to a restaurant. Though it sounds harsh, it makes sense. You don’t want to leave the bathroom with more germs than you brought in with you after washing up before eating. This is particularly true for those who have children.

4. The servers are sick


A sneezing server is a bad sign | iStock.com

The food may look great, but if your server is looking a little green or stifling a sneeze, it may be time to look elsewhere for a place to eat. Servers don’t typically get paid sick days, so it’s tempting to go to work even when they feel horrible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 12% of food workers still show up to their jobs when seriously ill. Needless to say, a sick server can easily pass their nasty bug to you and your friends.

5. The fruit tray is sitting out

A pineapple cocktail with fresh fruit and herbs

A pineapple cocktail with fresh fruit and herbs | iStock.com

Those fruity cocktails filled with lemon, lime, and orange wedges may look pretty, but if you notice the fruit is coming from an opened tray that’s seemingly been sitting out all day, it may be time to move along. Not only do open fruit trays attract fruit flies when not cleaned properly, but cut fruit can be a breeding ground for bacteria when not kept below a certain temperature.

If you notice small flies circling around the tray of fruit, it’s definitely a warning that proper care and cleaning is not taking place at your restaurant of choice. Studies show a significant number of harmful bacteria that can cause illness are found in restaurant fruit trays, says Cleveland Clinic. Just something to keep in mind the net time you order a gin and tonic.