Only a third of people regularly check food hygiene ratings at restaurants and takeaways, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
New research also shows just six per cent actively consider the scores on the doors, instead prioritising type of food, location, service and price.
But with an estimated 4.3 million meals expected to be eaten out in Northern Ireland over this festive period, the FSA is warning consumers to check a restaurant's hygiene rating before booking this Christmas.
Mark O'Neill, a senior adviser with the FSA in Northern Ireland, said: "We are now urging people to make the most of this new transparency by looking for these ratings and choosing restaurants which score three or above this Christmas.
"That way we can all play a part in improving food hygiene standards in Northern Ireland."
New laws which came into force last month mean businesses are now required to display FSA hygiene stickers.
Scores will range from five, which means the food hygiene standards are very good, down to zero where urgent improvement is necessary. Mr O'Neill added that around 90 per cent of businesses should now be displaying hygiene ratings.