As the high season for restaurant openings returns this fall, there will be a whirlwind of unfamiliar dining options hungry for business. Pork belly and meatballs will fly, but keep alert and you can avoid the most tragic meals. Here's when to back away.
© Lucy Schaeffer
Exciting at home, not in a restaurant.
1. There’s more than one cocktail ending in “-tini.” If you reach for the cocktail list and a fruit, candy or emotion is fused with that suffix in place of a gin or vodka martini, then things are looking bleak. The appletini is a serious offender, but plumtinis and passiontinis are also indicative of cocktail abuse.
2. The server tells you to “save room for dessert.” There are several red-flag phrases that misguided servers repeat. “Are you still enjoying that?” feels a bit presumptuous if there’s still food on the plate, no? Being told that “everything is so good” without asking, or as menus are put down, is also off-putting.
3. Molten chocolate cake. Or chocolate lava cake. Or liquid chocolate cake. Unless you’re at a restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who created the ubiquitous chocolate surprise, this now identity-free dessert undermines a restaurant’s culinary focus. Apathetic Italian, Asian, American and every other kind of restaurants serve it because oozing chocolate sells. If a small restaurant can’t handle a thoughtful pastry program, awesome gelato or ice cream and a few cookies are enough.
4. There’s a chill in the air, but people are dressed to sweat. This isn’t always obvious, because you might be occupied with admiring people who aren’t wearing a lot of clothes, or who are swaying to music that makes you want to dance. Chances are that no one here came to dine—and even the chef knows that. If you’re concerned with food, look around to see if anyone is eating. We didn’t think so.
5. You’ve been ushered in off the street. It’s unlikely that one restaurant on a touristy strip will be any different from the others just because an animated host told you how great it is. A similar phenomenon occurs with online deals: Ryan Sutton, a Bloomberg critic and the blogger behind The Bad Deal, compared buying these deals to ordering products from infomercials. If someone who you don’t know, whose opinions you aren’t familiar with, and who has a 100-percent bias is trying to convince you to eat at a particular restaurant, you might want to do a little more research before committing to a meal.