Either the world is getting more ridiculous, or diners are getting more stupid.
While researching steakhouses, we’ve started to encounter a new restaurant trend. Servers are being forced to question — in the nicest way possible — whether diners know what they’re ordering. Here’s a sample of the typical conversation, which we’ve endured at least three times.
Eater: I’ll take that rib-eye.
Server: Great! And how would you like that cooked?
Eater: Medium rare, please.
Server: Great! And just so you know, our medium rare rib-eye is cooked brown on the outside and pink and warm inside. Is that all right?
Call us oversensitive, but that last bit is kind of insulting. After all, aren’t steakhouses where people know their meat? Before haute barnyard restaurants listed the provenance of every pulse or protein, steakhouses were where we could flaunt our foodie trivia. It was an endless geekfests of highly specific information: wet versus dry aging, Angus versus Hereford, corn versus grass fed, Kobe versus Wagyu, Porterhouse versus rib-eye. In carnivore-heaven steakhouses, it seems that anyone taking up real estate should know the basic difference between rare and well done.
But in these days of coffee cup warnings and restaurant menu advisories (like the seductive one at upscale Palomino that whispers “thoroughly cooking meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs reduces the risk of foodborne illness”), there is no such thing as common knowledge. In a litigious society full of customers who send dishes back, restaurants have to assume you’re an idiot.
We really can’t blame the steakhouses, where basic food costs are high. Misunderstandings — resolved by a diner sending back an unservable meal — will definitely eat the restaurant’s profits. Worse, if a temporarily insane diner orders a well done, $92 Wagyu rib-eye at BLT Steak, only to come to his senses when gray slab arrives, then that restaurant might record a loss. Given rising overhead, and the growing pressure to offer elite, branded meats like Kobe and Wagyu (which are pricy even wholesale), restaurants are wise to be explicit about diner expectations. Double-checking at the table also re-affirms the pact between kitchen and diner, which ventures that when you order a dish, you’ll pay for it.
But while tiny subscripts on coffee cups or menus are chagrin-ing, they’re not at all personal. A waiter looking in your eye and suggesting (in a butch, trivia-centric steakhouse, no less) that that you might not know what you’re talking about is another thing entirely — it’s emasculating. It bugs me, and (last I checked) I’m a girl.
Plus, challenging the customer’s order inspires one of those niggling, “What if” temptations. What if (in the interest of testing a service challenge) I nodded my way through the Q and A and then ordered my steak well-done, anyway? Then when it arrives, I refuse it. I’m imagining suits, lawyers, affidavits, security cam footage. It’s so tempting … if only I could choke down that well-done steak at the end of the night.