I can get a bit picky about where I eat out. I often find myself staring at the walls, looking for compliance certificates. Being in the food industry for as long as I have, I know exactly what is going on in the kitchens. It’s not always bad, most restaurants will comply with regulations. The paperwork is usually up to date, because the health inspector can walk in at any time. Well, once a year anyway.
The things you should be concerned about, is whether a staff member actually takes off their apron before going into the bathroom (this is often overlooked and a big source of cross-contamination) and whether he or she washes their hands effectively before returning into the kitchen. What’s your first thought when you see a chef walking out of the kitchen? You immediately think by yourself, the kitchen is clean, or not. Or you think, I’m looking forward to eating my food, or not. Most of the times you cannot see the inside of the kitchen. But you can imagine what you would see by looking at the common areas. The bathrooms, the tables, and the floors. General housekeeping. Well, that can make or break my decision about whether to eat at a restaurant.
Then you sit with the food aspect. Is basic food handling adhered to? Is food kept at the correct temperature? Are they using the correct thawing procedures? Is the dishwasher washing and rinsing at the correct temperature. Cause if not, you will have a couple of unseen unwanted bacteria on your plate. I picked up the habit to wipe my cutlery with my napkin before eating, just in case. . .
I must say, most executive chefs I have worked with, have got these basics under control. The majority of good restaurants have their preferred suppliers that are trustworthy. But you can never be too cautious of raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. And don’t be afraid to send back food that is not cooked properly, or does not taste the way it is supposed to. It is your right as a consumer.
Cleanliness was drilled into me while working on the cruise ships. After dinner service, around 11pm, you start with USPH cleaning (United States Public Health Service). Where you literally kneel and clean the restaurant chairs with a toothpick (no jokes!) Cleaning of your service station will take approx. 1 hour. When the Maitre’d is happy with your area, you can check out. This will be around midnight. The chefs will still be busy in the kitchen by that time, sanitizing every inch of the galley. But be rest assured, they will follow you to the crew bar in the early morning hours.
Be careful of your take-aways. High-risk foods that have been left at a danger zone temperature (between 5 °C and 60 °C), should be discarded after 4 hours.
Just by a quick glance at the front of house area, you will know whether the kitchen is up to standard or not. Then you can make the informed decision by asking for a table, or walking away . . .