Going out to eat can be a great pick-me-up or treat, and there’s no doubt that it’s a more attractive option than spending an hour or so in the kitchen cooking up a meal.
It gives you the chance to explore new options or just stick with your favorite stand-by dish that always leaves you satisfied.
But these days, with the world of cuisine and dining out so heavily inundated by restaurants varying in size, type, and quality, pinning down a good time and place to eat out may leave you feeling more anxious than relaxed.
You may have heard horror stories from diners or restaurant staff – this is a large part of why we suggest first checking out online reviews before you commit to a location! Any previous visitors will let you know if there was a huge red flag or issue that hasn’t been resolved.
Pull up a general Google search of restaurant nightmares and you’ll find previous restaurant staff willingly giving up bad habits and unhealthy practices that are, sadly, recognized as almost normal these days.
Sketchy practices include menus that never get wiped down (ever), food getting handled without gloves, and nutritional information possibly being incorrect. A few places even admit that the bathroom is almost definitely a reflection of the kitchen – if it’s disgusting, chances are the back of the house isn’t in great condition either.
While a lot of these issues can be spotted with simple reconnaissance – pay attention to your surroundings and reports from previous diners! – some things may be harder to suss out.
For example, is the food you’re being served actually fresh?
Here are a few tips on best and worst times to order fresh food in a restaurant:
An hour before closing – not a great time.
Why not? Depending on the place, you’re on a sliding scale of ingredient quality. Things that need to be fresh have now made it to the end of the day, and while they’ve hopefully been delivered earlier that morning and stored at the correct temperature, they may still be reaching the end of their shelf life.
What’s the worst-case scenario with heading to a restaurant so late?
If the staff is annoyed, which they often can be so close to closing time, they may not be putting the dishes together in the best practice. For example, you could be getting leftovers from previous meals. Or maybe they’re feeling a bit spiteful and not handling your food correctly.
Either way, we suggest avoiding this time to dine as it’s cutting it a bit close as far as food and service quality.
During lunch and dinner
While there’s a good chance they’ve stocked up on resources for the lunch and dinner rush, there are other reasons why you want to avoid a restaurant at this time.
There’s a reason they call it the “rush.” Restaurants will be inundated with customers at this time, and while servers are usually great at multitasking, there’s a good chance you’ll get sub-par service just because they’re juggling so much.
Seating will also be scarce, meaning that you might have a wait time when you arrive. If you’re someone who enjoys dining outside, there may also be limited options there as well.
Before or after lunch or dinner
This is a great time to stop in for a meal if you can work your schedule around it. The service will be much quicker, rooms should be relatively open, you have your choice of seating – plus, all of the food has been freshly prepped just prior to lunch, ensuring you’re getting the freshest ingredients.
Whether the restaurant is open for lunch early or for breakfast, right at the beginning of the day is the ideal time to come in for a meal. Everything has been prepped and cleaned by now and they’re at their best.
Generally the staff will have great attitudes as it’s the start of their shift, so you’ll receive good service as well as the freshest ingredients.
If you’ve walked by this restaurant before and notice that its always busy, chances are the food is also always fresh. It means they’re moving through ingredients quickly. They also most likely have a following of regular customers if they’re busy. Try to schedule a visit just before or after a rush to avoid delayed service and limited seating.
Many towns make Health Inspection Reports available to the public. Here they’ll list not only what went wrong – mold, temperatures not being maintained, out of date goods – but they’ll also tell you which restaurants scored highest and most consistently.
If you have the time to take a glance at these reports, we suggest you do so. You might find out that the restaurant you’ve been eyeing for a while has top scores! Or you might find out that a favorite calm spot is calm for a disturbing reason.
Wherever and whenever you decide to go, keep in mind that your attitude toward the staff and how polite you are will go a long way when it comes to good service. Use your instincts and take a few seconds out of enjoying your evening to really look at your surroundings.