Decoding a Restaurant’s First Impressions

How to tell if a restaurant is just not that into you—or if you'll live happily ever after.

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First impressions aren't just for blind dates and job interviews. The moment you set foot in a new restaurant, the most immediate details that jump out can tell you how you’re going to be treated for the night, if there’s any chance of building a long-term relationship with the place, and if you’re going to go home satisfied—now that we think about it, it’s almost exactly like a date, actually.

You know that line about how we’re all only using 10% of our brains? We suspect that other 90% is what kicks in the first time you enter a new place to eat, combing the scene for important details without you ever being fully conscious of it.

If you learn how to look closely, your first 30 seconds in a restaurant offer a minefield of clues. Every aspect of a restaurant is a reflection of someone's personality, whether it's the chef, the manager, or the bartender's mom. Even if they hired a hotshot design firm to make sure the room looks like every other spot in Williamsburg, that still tells you two important things: That they couldn't be bothered to put any personal effort into the decor, and they think looking like everyone else is desirable (they're wrong there: it's been shown that repetition at mealtime can result in weight gain, as your brain basically checks out while you eat).

There’s also a budding field of menu and dining-room design psychology that’s out to game you, the innocent eater: using the color yellow because it encourages a serotonin boost; placing the big-money items in the upper right corner of the menu because that’s where readers look first; playing classical music to justify higher prices. Just like you don’t want a partner who uses reverse psychology to make you do the dishes, you don’t want to stay with a restaurant that’s trying to outsmart you before you even sit down.

Here, we’ve deciphered 10 seemingly small details that might go unnoticed on your first date with a restaurant, and what they mean for your chances at happiness together.

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