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Yesterday, I was happily slurping away at my noodle and bok choy soup, when suddenly I felt it: sand rasping against my molars. I pushed the bowl away and swished my mouth out with a few tall glasses of water, but I was haunted by phantom gravel for the rest of the day.
Yes, there are far more pressing issues in the world than a little bit of foreign matter in my food, but we've all got our issues. When a restaurant can't take the time to properly rinse its greens, I can't help but wonder what else they're skimping on. I have an intense and visceral reaction to the feeling of grit in my food and if I do happen to return to a restaurant where that happened, I find myself bracing before each bite. It's mostly easier for me not to return.
Was I too easily aggrieved? I turned to Twitter to ask people what might cause them to cross a restaurant off their list. The answers came in fast and furious from food writers, chefs, servers, and diners alike.
"A restaurant's pretty incompetent if it can't keep the basic sanitary requirements for personal hygiene in the public restroom," says Roy Costa, a registered sanitarian and founder of Environ Health Associates, Inc."
Here are a few of the most frequently mentioned or just plain nasty restaurant turnoffs:
1. Dirty Restaurant: Customers want clean. Make sure your entire restaurant is clean. Check your nooks and crannies, and don't forget to look up. Dirty, dusty ceiling fans tells customers you are only superficial cleaning. Along with a clean restaurant, keep the restrooms clean. On a side note... make sure your staff is clean. Customers want the staff to look clean, and tell them not to stick their notepads, or towels in the back of their pants, no one wants anything served by a person who is hanging around their butt.
2. Hairy Situations: Hair found in anything food related is a big turnoff. If the hair is curly, apparently it's even worse. Now keep in mind, the frequency of errant hair might be the "go-to" method of getting free meal... but for those of us that do not look for a deal...it is a real turn off. Two recent Tweets see m to back this story up
@loganpass: "Curly hair in my omelet. The restaurant has since been overhauled, but I feel like it's cursed."
@QueenCityCookie: "Hair always a bad sign"
3. Beastly Bathrooms: Dirty restrooms are the worst. If the business doesn't clean where you are looking, imagine what it looks like where you can't see. Many customers will "cut" restaurants from their lists if the bathrooms are bad...and other people equate a dirty restroom to a dirty kitchen. Remember, keep it clean.
"Clean bathrooms might be the most important marketing job in your restaurant. Consumers consistently site dirty bathrooms as the primary reason for not returning to restaurants."
- Ed Zimmerman The Food Connector
4. Sour Dish room: Stinky dish room or kitchen floor mats, or Sad-Mats can ruin a restaurants reputation. The smell from these mats can make its way to the floor, and turn-off patrons. Often, mopping the floors is not enough. Make sure your mats are occasionally cleaned, and that your drains are clean as well. The food and service may be good, but if customers are surrounded by a fowl smell, they may not come back.
5. Over or Under seasoning: Chefs may think they know what's best, but remember, the customer is always right. Under seasoning combined with an arrogant lack of good salt or pepper on the table is a popular problem. Also, over-salting tells the customer that the palate of the chef might not be spot on...if you can't nail salt... perhaps you shouldn't be cooking. While you might want to be in control, allowing your clients season to taste may give them a feeling of being in control, and keep them coming back.
6. Soggy Pasta: Wet, gummy, over or under-cooked pasta is also a big concern. If you're cooking it every day... customers think you should be able to get this one right.
7. Service With a Shrug: Make sure your dining experience is worth paying for. From parking, to the hostess stand and bar, make sure the experience is worth paying for...or even try to make it memorable. Many restaurants focus on the kitchen and wait staff, but if other parts of the operation are not working, it tarnishes the whole package. Make sure all the parts are working optimally. The effort to make -it-so will pay-off in the long run.
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