Can't You Smell That Smell? The 5 Worst Ambiance-Killers in a Restaurant

Categories: Top Five

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Photo by Vic Acid
Diners shouldn't have to bus their own tables before sitting down.
Sometimes, you just have a feeling from the street that a restaurant isn't for you: forced valet cordoning off an otherwise-empty lot, or perhaps a surfeit of BMWs parked outside when you only have $10 in your wallet for a meal.

Often, however, it's not until you set foot inside the restaurant -- and it's very nearly too late -- that you realize you're going to be miserable for every single minute of your meal. I'm an advocate of turning on your heel and hitting the road instead of subjecting yourself to a meal in these places, but sometimes you have no choice other than grinning and bearing it.

These are the five biggest deal-breakers in a restaurant's ambiance, the things that -- apart from food and service -- will ruin a meal. And these are things which I encounter on a regular basis working my way through the city. Restaurants, take heed; these ambiance-killers are all easily fixed, and I'm not naming names...today.

5. Unbussed tables

Whether you're in the weeds or have an empty house, there is no excuse for dirty tables greeting customers as they walk in. It sends up red flags at once: If you don't care about cleaning your client-facing surfaces, do you care about cleaning the parts diners don't see? If your service can't be bothered to bus tables, can it be bothered to wait on customers? If your employees don't care about working in a dirty restaurant, will they care about the food that's being served? Hire an extra busser. Bus those tables yourself. But whatever you do, do not ever force a customer to bus their own table before they can even sit down to eat.

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Photo by Brandon Weight
Lovely.
4. Dirty bathrooms

See pretty much all of the previous entry, re: unbussed tables. Your bathrooms are often a direct reflection of the cleanliness of the rest of the restaurant. And yes, I know that customers can often be filthy beasts and leave hideous messes in restrooms; I've had to clean feces off two separate bathroom stalls myself. It doesn't matter -- keep your bathrooms clean. And for Charmin's sake, make sure it's at least stocked with toilet paper, soap and paper towels.


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30 comments
ArchieLeach
ArchieLeach

Berryhill on Montrose.  I couldn't hear my date who was practically screaming into my ear. 

Maripoza67
Maripoza67

#3 is the one reason I RAN from the Cedar Creek Cafe in The Heights. The stereo was so loud I don't think I ever heard a full conversation from my dinner partner.  I thought sitting outside would help but those speakers are cranked up to ear-split there, too. Have not gone back. 

CraigHlavaty
CraigHlavaty

I can't believe no one here said "poor people". 

MadMac
MadMac

My Mrs. and I approach most restaurants (unless highly recommended) with a one strike rule. We've turned back at the hostess stand, the table, and after ordering/paying for beverages. Life's too short for worrying about food poisoning because I can smell the funky dishwasher from where I'm sitting.  

Terrykd1
Terrykd1

You forgot to mention the three C's that are just as bad:

1.  Cell phones2.  Cigarettes3.  Children aged thirteen and under

The City Council should pass an ordinance that either bans the three C's from restaurants or requires them to set aside a special, out-of-the way, section for people afflicted with the three C's  

trisch
trisch

A corollary to #1 is overuse of horrible-smelling cleaning products.  Pinesol fresh is just an advertising gimmick.  I don't want to eat my sandwich in a restaurant that smells like a vat of solvents.

Houstess
Houstess

#1 is also the #1 reason why I never put my purse on the floor of a restaurant, or its restrooms.

joel_luks
joel_luks

"Your bathrooms are often a direct reflection of the cleanliness of the rest of the restaurant" - YES. If anything I can see is dirty, imagine what I can't. 

guest
guest

How about horrible service?  Like I experienced at tutto panne this past Sunday

Guest
Guest

#s 6-10: Children.

Mangoisyum
Mangoisyum

I experienced number 3 yesterday at the greenbriar location of freebirds! That and the heartburn are two reasons why I won't be back

Brent Jatko
Brent Jatko

Orange cones are snobby. Just because they mark spaces for fancy cars, doesn't mean the food is as great as the cars. Inaccessible joints for people with disabilities is a very big mood-killer, as well.  

Kelli
Kelli

I'd also like to add that they please make sure to rinse off all the soap before using the dishes, I can't tell you how often it starts with just my drink and I can never get the taste out for the duration of the meal.

mollusk
mollusk

Three of these are related to cleanliness - as well they should.  I've found that the best indicator of how well a place keeps its kitchen is the condition of the restrooms.  It's too bad nobody came up as a full on Maaaaaaarvin Zindler successor. 

Ray
Ray

78 degrees should be the standard all over town. That is cool enough. Fat people just need to understand that they are going to sweat because they are fat and not because the a/c needs to be lowered.

Fear2stop
Fear2stop

Seeing people walk around barefoot in an Olive Garden is a complete buzzkill. Esp. if you work there.

Rexster314
Rexster314

and a post script to #2. When you walk in and all of a sudden you have icicles forming on your mustache from the a/c that's cranked down to 32 degrees. We've started walking out of the places because we didn't bring our down lined jackets. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

In Houston, at least, the cigarette issue is a moot point (unless you're hanging out at the Marquis II, that is...). And I love the restaurants like Cream Burger and A Moveable Feast that simply won't take your order or serve you if you're using a cell phone.

Andrea
Andrea

I never think to rant about this when near the computer, so thanks for reminding me.

INSTALL A DAMN HOOK on the bathroom door so women have a place to hang their purses!!! You can get a very utilitarian hook for a couple of bucks. It won't break your budget.

In the absence of a purse hook, I will hang my purse on the door knob, as will every other bag-wielder who uses the facilities. Soon, you will have to replace the knob or install extra locks or latches or hooks because all of those heavy purses have pulled the knob out of kilter. So, $2 for a cheap couple of hooks, or much more to get extra latches and door knobs and such?

[Dirty bathrooms are the #1 reason I won't go to some restaurants. I sometimes avoid using the bathroom at a restaurant I really like, because I don't want to know if it is bad ...]

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

My Hispanic friends won't set their purses on the floor because of the superstition that the devil will steal your money out of your purse if you do. That's good enough reason for me...

TQro
TQro

Purses don't belong on any floor.  Not the floor of your car, not any carpeted floor, no floor at all.  Gross. 

mollusk
mollusk

I take orange cones to mean that parking is not available, or perhaps the place is closed...in any event, I only allow a valet to drive my car in the rarest of circumstances.

Scott Bodenheimer
Scott Bodenheimer

Skinnybitch Ray - get yourself a sweater you bony girly girl.

Jeff
Jeff

If the room is 78 degrees, fine, but you better set it lower than that in a busy restaurant or that 78 will rapidly become 88.

Corey
Corey

78 degrees is fine for Texans used to 100 degree weather, that would be a sweltering summer day for a northerner.   75 at bare minimum, and not 105 by the damn windows please?

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Add lots of people and some wine, and that 78 degrees will soon feel like Burning Man.

Guest
Guest

78 degrees should be the standard in your butt.

Corey
Corey

Olive garden and their lack of real garlic is a royal buzz kill period... Garlic powder is fine in a dry rub, is not fine for Italian food..

Corey
Corey

Talking on your cell phone while dealing with people face to face is so gauche... Get off the phone when dealing with people in the flesh, people have no manners...

Houstess
Houstess

Just another reason to like Anvil:  sturdy purse hangers under the bar.

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