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This Is What Celebrity Chefs Look for at Restaurants

We caught up with some of the culinary world's top chefs to find out what they like to see on a menu—and the red flags that make them run for the hills.

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First impressions are everything

“When I walk into a restaurant, am I greeted in a timely, professional yet warm manner?” asks former Food Network Iron Chef Cat Cora, of Cat Cora’s Kitchen & Taproom in airports across the United States. “First impressions are crucial.” If etiquette excites you as much as it excites this celeb chef, you’ll want to read our guide to perfect table manners.

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Ask questions before you sit

Being inquisitive is your best defense against a bad meal, says Cora. “Is the waitstaff on point, professional, and knowledgeable about the food and beverage menus?” If they don’t know their menu inside and out before you sit, good luck getting them to pay close attention to your order, allergies, and special requests. Restaurants with informed waitstaff and servers are more likely to get celebrity chefs sitting at their tables and tipping big when they’re not working.

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Appealing lighting transforms the experience

Maybe the restaurant in question is known for their light, bright, and airy take on modern fare, or maybe they’re known as the most romantic candlelit dinner joint in town, but either way, well-thought-out lighting is a major draw for celebrity chefs like Cat Cora. “Is the decor and lighting attractive and updated?” she asks. “It should add to a comforting energy that I’ll find appealing when I’m sitting to eat.”

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Clean bathrooms very often equal clean kitchens

Chef Seth Levine—contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen: Season 5” and current executive chef at Penthouse808 Asian Pacific Bistro—says cleanliness is king. “Appearance and cleanliness are very important,” he says. In some cities, you can look up health-based letter grades from the local board of health. “With very few exceptions I wouldn’t eat in any restaurant without an A,” he says.

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Celeb chefs look at online reviews, too

“The first thing I do when eating in an unfamiliar place is to check the online reviews,” Levine explains. “I take them all with a grain of salt, no pun intended, but I look out for the same positive or negative reviews. Consistent reviews of the same thing probably have some truth to them.”

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Size matters

“Is the menu a huge encyclopedia of top ten lists, or is it small and carefully curated, featuring only the best, freshest, local ingredients?” asks Rocco DiSpirito, celebrity chef and author of Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious. “A large crowd-pleaser menu, that has everything from tacos to sushi to spaghetti carbonara is probably going to disappoint on execution.”

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Beware of cookie-cutter establishments

“Does the restaurant have a personality or does it feel like it was inspired by a Disney theme?” wonders DiSpirito when he walks into a new eatery. “When a great chef or restaurateur creates a concept, they imbue it with their taste, their vibe, their ideas, and you should be able to feel it immediately. There should be visual or sensory cues like art and music that tell a story.” Check out these super unique restaurant locations across America.

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Personal space is the best flavor in town

Chef Rocco obviously loves a clean, well-appointed eatery, but also suggests that a restaurant’s ambiance has a lot to do with whether or not expert diners such as himself will sit for a meal. “A restaurant is a crowded, noisy room by design. A restaurant can make you feel like you are a fly on the wall or part of the party.”