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Hell’s Kitchen: How to Tell You Shouldn’t Be Eating There

March 03, 2021
Whether your dining habits tend more toward swanky restaurants or hole-in-the-wall, hidden-gem dives, the chances are that you’ve had at least one bad restaurant experience. Not all bad experiences are sanitary, although a CDC study, conducted on people who had experienced symptoms typical of foodborne illness (vomiting or diarrhea), showed that about 25 percent of those surveyed believed their illness was caused by a restaurant meal.

As more restaurants tend toward the trend of building visible kitchens where food is prepared in full view of diners, if you can’t see the kitchen, you can still get a lot of valuable insight into how sanitary the conditions are where your food is being prepped by looking all around you. Here are some tips to help you avoid a wasted evening out (or worse, a sick night in afterward!).

It Starts Before You Arrive

When you’re planning an evening out, especially when it’s a special treat and not a quick weeknight family dinner on the way home from your last child’s lesson or practice, it’s worth checking out where you’re going ahead of time. With so many dining review sites available such as Yelp, it’s easy to weed out potentially bad experiences before they happen. Keep in mind, though, that just because a restaurant has a bad Yelp review (especially if you’ve heard good things about it), doesn't mean you’ll have a bad experience yourself. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied customer will tell nine to 15 people, on average, about their experience, and a happy customer, even one who has had their issue resolved, will tell only between four and six.

First Impressions Are Probably Right

According to Howard Cannon, CEO of Restaurant Expert Witness, your first insight into the kitchen starts with the parking lot or outdoor space around a restaurant. According to an interview with SafeBee.com, he notes that diners should be observant of the space around the dining establishment for their first impressions. Overflowing garbage bins, filth or litter around the outdoor space, or an exterior in disarray may be an indication that the kitchen is in the same level of disrepair and that your food may not be prepared in the safest possible way. “More often than not,” he states, “If those spaces are filthy, the place where your food is being prepped is filthy, too.”