Lists

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

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.

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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Katharine Shilcutt