Secret restaurant reviewer reveals the top dos and don'ts of eating out

These useful snippets will help you spot a dud dining experience before your server has even brought out the menu

Nobody wants to waste money on a bad meal, so how do you avoid the duds?
Nobody wants to waste money on a bad meal, so how do you avoid the duds?

A restaurant inspector has revealed their top tips for when dining out – from reading the menu online, to checking out the bread.

There are tiny details that can affect an otherwise enjoyable meal out, including the attentiveness of staff, regardless of how delicious your food was.

To avoid a dud dining experience, these are the habits an experience restaurant reviewer has recommended to spot somewhere really worth going back to, 2Chill reports.

They’ve shared their years of experience in a bid to help diners on the dos and don’ts of eating out.

Research your choice

Keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening locally.

Are any new restaurants creating a buzz? Then check them out.

If travelling somewhere new, look at what the guidebooks and online reviews have to say about restaurants in the area. A bit of research will mean your money is more likely to be well spent.

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Check out the menu online

Is it an epic, unchanging menu?

This tends to put me off – I prefer a shorter menu that changes regularly, as this can indicate a chef who is sourcing ingredients carefully, staying creative in the kitchen, and cooking everything from scratch.

In my experience you’re more likely to encounter bought-in dishes on longer menus that never change.

Check the welcome and service

General view of an exhibition stand featuring a kitchen and Italian food


2021 Edward Berthelot/Getty)

When you enter the restaurant, are you left waiting, unacknowledged, for ages or does someone greet you, even if it’s just to say, “I’ll be with you in a minute”?

Is your server friendly, and is the front of house team well organised?

Are staff there promptly when you need them? Is the pace of service too fast, too slow, or just right?

Consider your surroundings

Is the restaurant pleasant to be in?

What makes it pleasant – décor, spacing of tables, general buzz?

Does everyone seem to be having a good time?

Check out the ingredient choices

Are there seasonal ingredients on the menu?

This suggests attention is being paid to sourcing and that the menu evolves with the seasons.

Are suppliers name checked on the menu? Is there a focus on great local ingredients? Aside from speciality ingredients that have to come from further afield, I like to see a focus on low food miles.

This isn’t just good for the environment – it’s also often a sign of freshness and quality.

Ask questions

If the staff have been well drilled, they will have been given the opportunity to taste the dishes on the menu so they can talk knowledgeably about what’s in them and what they are like – so ask for their opinions and advice.

Ask for wine recommendations

A wine sommelier


Getty Images)

Is your waiter or sommelier knowledgeable and helpful?

Ideally you want them to be able to recommend wonderful wine pairings that will take your enjoyment of your meal to the next level.

How much can they tell you about their recommendation?

At a highly rated restaurant I once asked what the waiter would recommend to go with my meal, and he simply said, “Any of the whites.”

Expect something a bit more helpful than this!

Check out the bread

Does it look and taste bought in?

In many cases, unless very well sourced, this makes me suspect corner cutting in the kitchen – although I adjust my expectations depending on the type of restaurant I’m in.

My ideal bread is hand-made and served fresh from the oven – although it’s worth noting that bought in par-baked rolls will also often arrive warm.

Enjoy your meal

Don’t forget you’re here to enjoy yourself – so relax and indulge.

Notice how well the ingredients complement each other; are the flavours and seasoning well balanced?

Is there a pleasing, harmonious run of flavours or does it taste a bit flat? How about the textures – is there a pleasant mix of these? Is everything accurately cooked or is it under or over done? Is the meat juicy and tender? Is the fish firm, fresh and bone free?

Above all, do you like it? Are you having a good time? Whether the dishes are faithful versions of classics or creative new inventions, they need to be satisfying and memorable for the right reasons.

Leave room for dessert

I usually squeeze in dessert because this can reveal a lot about a restaurant.

As with the breads, you may encounter some corner cutting here in the form of bought-in desserts. Look for dishes that are clearly home-made and again, pay attention to the ingredients – seasonal choices can be another good sign.

Ask yourself questions

How did this experience compare with other restaurants you consider to be of a similar type and price bracket? Did you get value for money? What did you love or hate most about the experience?

Crucially, would you spend your money there again? Why/why not?

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