Dining out is one of life's great pleasures. Restaurants are wonderful places to try new dishes and expand your gastronomical horizons, but there are certain times that you might want to avoid eating out.
INSIDER consulted with chefs and food experts to figure out when you should skip eating at a restaurant.
Some days, going home and cooking a full meal after work can seem like an impossible task. Going out to eat can feel like a tempting option.
Chef Kristina Miksyte of Doma Kitchen in Marina Del Rey, California told INSIDER that one of the top times to avoid a restaurant is during the dinner rush. This period is a little different for each restaurant depending on location and scale, but most places get crowded between 17:00 and 20:00.
During the dinner rush, servers and staff can become overwhelmed and the dining room itself can feel crowded. Instead, Miksyte recommended arriving between 16:00 and 17:00 to take advantage of a calmer dining atmosphere.
"The staff has just arrived and are more relaxed and not as rushed as during the dinner rush. As the team has already prepped for dinner, they can make more accommodations and time out to chat with our diners to give them a great dining experience," she said.
Valentine's Day is almost synonymous with a fancy dinner in a romantic restaurant, and plenty of families want to celebrate Mother's Day with a nice meal out. However, opting to dine out on these holidays can be a major headache. Tables at trendy restaurants can be hard to come by and reservations can dry up months in advance. The restaurant often employs set menus to reduce the complications of catering to a full house, and prices can be inflated.
Firoz Thanawalla, chef and owner of Chef's Satchel, told INSIDER that dining out on special days like Valentine's Day or Mother's Day can mean dealing with crowded restaurants and intense pressure to make the experience special.
"Such days are just nothing but madness in the kitchen, which needs to pump out plate after plate, sometimes without any attention to detail. It isn't always the cook's fault. The amount of pressure that it creates is not worth being on the other side as a guest," said Thanawalla.
Clemente Heredia, owner and restaurateur of Calo Kitchen & Tequila in El Segundo, California, told INSIDER that Valentine's Day can be an especially unpleasant time to eat out. Instead, she suggested picking a different day to celebrate the holiday.
"It's one of those days of the year where expectations are so high, even for the guests. Kitchens and restaurants get swamped. One of the biggest tips I can give is to celebrate Valentine's Day the whole week - not just on the 14th. This way you can enjoy dinner at your own pace and not feel rushed," said Heredia.
Proper hygiene is important in any kitchen, but it's especially crucial that restaurants maintain a high level of sanitation and cleanliness to prevent the spread of foodborne illness or animal infestations. In some cases, you might be able to get a sense of the restaurant's hygiene standards by taking a look at their public restrooms.
"It is always said that the cleanliness of the restaurant is reflected by how clean the restroom is. While on a road trip, I decided to stop at a restaurant for a quick bite. Not only was the restroom not clean, but I could clearly see the kitchen and it was not the best view. I walked right out and swore never to visit that restaurant again," said Thanawalla.
A clean floor, fully-stocked paper products, and well-maintained fixtures can be indicative of a staff that takes cleanliness seriously. In the case of a grimy bathroom, the opposite might be true.
"If the public-facing bathroom is dirty, how committed is the operator to assuring that the less-public food-preparation area is clean and safe?" Ronald Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief at Nation's Restaurant News, told USA Today.
The holidays can be a busy time for many restaurants. Some establishments close for a number of days or weeks over the festive period to give their staff a break or retool their menus for the new year. Booking a table at a restaurant as soon as it opens back up after a holiday break might mean you're eating food that's been left in storage for a while.
"Restaurants can see the pre-holiday period as an opportunity to put some food away in their freezers to use once the restaurant is open for business again. Always pack a meal from home to avoid eating out on such days; you'd rather be eating a day-old homemade turkey sandwich than week-old frozen Bolognese sauce," Thanawalla recommended.
Though all restaurants must conform to strict food preparation and storage laws, you might want to skip dining out right after the holidays if the thought of frozen ingredients makes your stomach turn.
Food and restaurant columnist Luisa Ruocco told INSIDER that diners might want to avoid eating at restaurants with massive menus. Though variety is nice, having more dishes on the menu means that a restaurant needs to have lots of different ingredients on hand to keep those options available.
"Anywhere that has a really broad choice of food rings alarm bells as to how fresh the food is. For example, a restaurant will not buy fresh meat every morning if the chances of someone ordering a steak are one in fifty. Compare that to a steak restaurant that only offers five different cuts of meat, where the chances are one in five," Ruocco said.
In some cases, restaurants with huge menus might be keeping ingredients or even entire meals edible by freezing and reheating them. Though this is usually perfectly acceptable by food safety standards, it can result in a less than stellar dish.
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