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Why are steakhouses so popular? [moved from Boston board]

what is it with this city's fascination with steak houses? I just don't get it. Isn't it the most easily replicated type of dinner at home, especially since you can buy the same cuts of meat from a lot of the restaurants themselves. I just don't get it.

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  1. I'm constantly amazed that visiting business clients often prefer dining at a steakhouse that probably has an outlet in their home city, rather than seeking out some local specialty. We are not yet a nation of Chowhounds, I'm afraid.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      it's the upscale version of eating mcdonald's while visiting paris. it's familiar.

      fleming's is also opening a 2nd location on the waterfront, btw.

      1. re: MC Slim JB

        I wouldn't assume that every visitor here comes from a place with an upscale steakhouse chain. I've business traveled to plenty of places where the only things around are a Bennigans on the road outside the hotel. For many people this may be their chance to live larger than the Olive Garden. I Agree that it's not adventurous, but convincing a group with whom you work and barely socialize to venture out can be more trouble than the path of least resistance.

      2. I think that for some people, it's more for the change of scenery; in other words, the "going out for steak with friends" part of it is more important than the steak itself, since yes, it would be easy enough to cook the same meal at home. I just wish there were more mid- and low-end steakhouses that had good cuts of meat. I can't justify spending $50 on a steak, no matter how good it is (unless someone else picks up the tab, of course).

        And I totally agree with MC about the lack of adventure on business trips. I guess for some, familiarity is more important. I went on a business trip to San Diego awhile back and it seemed that so many people were hitting the chains (both hi- and low-end) for meals, while I kept sneaking out to Coronado, La Jolla, and Point Loma to find the local joints.

        3 Replies
        1. re: hiddenboston

          I think too for traveling business folks it's consistency. For ex: Flemings in Boston is going to be the same quality as Flemings in Colorado as Flemings in Florida and a menu bound to please the entire group too (not too far out there). You can trust it - must be why chains are doing so well - mid range and high end. Amazed at the up and coming higher end chains - loving em.

          1. re: lexpatti

            I see nothing to love about the homogenization of the restaurant world and the way they're really starting to choke the life out of everything that's independent, unique and soulful about this industry.

            1. re: mao

              but there's still an advantage when you're in a hurry. You don't need to find out if xyz is good when you already know that you like Flemings or Bonefish Grill - personally I agree with you I love independant restaraunts but it takes hit or miss and time/$$$ to find the gems we love.

        2. It is not specific to Boston, most major metropolitan areas in the US suffer from this affliction.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gabatta

            Well, it's not exactly a new thing. Hotel food was once similarly common across nations, even internationally.

            The bulk of business dining is purposefully conventional and not geared towards chowing. That's been that way for many many decades.

          2. I think there are a variety of factors. First guess is that people like steak but are afraid of ruining a good piece of meat, afterall not everyone reads CH or watches Alton Brown or for that matter can cook. Second, nostalgia. Good food prepared in novel ways is not for everyone. Going to a steakhouse might be a comfortable, no surprises kind of place for them. Last, steak houses tend to be middle of the road, with exception of not serving a lot of vegetarian/vegan entrees the steak house usually has something for everyone. It makes it an easy venue when going out with a group.

            1 Reply
            1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

              so true, how many so called friends do we have that call them selves "grill masters" do you want to grab the bbq tools and tell them to go sit down? :-) I can't tell you how dissappointing it is to have someone take a beautiful cut of meat and then ruin it by way of cooking. For all those that at least admit it, go out for a good steak.

            2. I challenge the contention that a good steakhouse meal is easily replicated. Something like 95% of the USDA prime beef in America goes to restaurants and never makes it to the retail market, and where it does, hardly anyone buys it (Savenor's in Beacon Hill sells some, but it's almost as expensive as actually going to Fleming's or Ruth's Chris).

              Add to that the fact that most steak places dry age (Capital Grille, Peter Luger, Morton's) or at least wet age (Ruth's Chris, Flemings) their meat. Do you have an aging cellar in your house?

              And, finally, the ones that make the best steak have 1200 degree broilers which home grills or ovens can't really hope to replicate.

              I don't disagree that the places are overpriced and over the top, but it's certainly not as if they offer nothing. I usually enjoy them a lot when someone else is paying. And then there are those places that aren't chains....the day Peter Luger shutters it's doors the world will be that much darker!

              2 Replies
              1. re: tamerlanenj

                most steakhouses finish the steaks with something like rendered beef fat or butter after grilling. not many home cooks have containers of rendered beef fat, now do they? ;)

                there is something fairly primal about a big slab of beef on a plate that appeals to some folks too. factor in americans' propensity for large portions and steakhouses are a no-brainer.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Add on the fact that Prime cuts are really not available in most small localities (cities, villages etc) and you see the value of finding a great meal with great basics to enjoy that special night out. Further, steakhouses focus on the main item on the dish and do not "fuss" with it and the diner gets a simple concentrated usually well presented dish and has the pleasue of relaxing (without the spouse having to work that evening in his/her own kitchen).

              2. I like steakhouses because if the steak is over cooked they bear the burden of replacing it. At home I do.

                1. I love a great steak house and a love even more a great steak of my grill.

                  When I travel by myself, I truly enjoy going to a great steakhouse, going to the bar with a good book, relax have a leisurely p'house and read my book. It is just great comfort to sit there for 20-30 minutes, slowly carve the steak and enjoy.

                  I am also VERY lucky to have three butchers that have great steaks. I can choose from some great Omaha beef, a grocer with its own dry-ager and a butcher that carries prime beef. Each brings something a little different from the other. I love a great rib or p'house and the other jfoods are partial to fillets.

                  A must-have is an instant read thermometer. As another poster stated, at home you ruin it you are at risk and I try to minimize that occurance. I feel the beef when I think its getting close and then stick the instant in the side. 135 degrees and that puppy leaves the grill.

                  Some good taters and a fresh salad and Sundays night is a perfect meal.

                  1. In Dallas, we've got more high end steakhouses than a show dog could jump over. Aside from all of the obvious reasons mentioned, other factors are the total indulgence and conspicuous consumption aspects.

                    There is an absolute tier of society here that loves the idea of over indulging in high end steakhouses. Big steaks, big drinks and big portions brings in the masses.

                    Also, there are a lot of men who want to impress their dates with the "I can buy and sell this place" attitude and love to be fawned over by a solictious wait staff knowing full well that the bill is going to be big and subsequently their tip.

                    1. "I just don't get it."

                      It's called a "fad." ;) Give it a few years and there'll probably be only 25% of them left to get anyway. :)

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: MikeG

                        A "Fad"?

                        How long has Luger's been here? How about the Palm, Mortons, etc? It's not a hula hoop. I went to Mortons in Chi in 1978 and 30 years later they are everywhere. The Palm and many other NYC Steak Places in the early 80's, yup they're still around. So I would not put a Steak House and the Pet Rock in the same breath.

                        I would bet that 30 years from now we are speaking of many restos that are "hot" now after the clause, "Gee I wonder what ever happened to blah?" You can;t say likewise about a steakhouse. Fad, I really do not think so.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Since I started, I'll chime in. Lugars/Palm/ orginal Mortons, Sparks, original smith and wolly's etc. all have soemthing unique in their atmosphere (Lugars will never be relicated!). A lot of the new places are so cookie cutter, so you're not getting the unique atmosphere (IMO). Then if the steaks can be copied at home (i guess this assumes you have a good butcher nearby, which I am fortunate to have), you can open as many bottles of not overly marked up wine that you want. I am of the camp that I would rather use the premium $$$ meals at a erstaurant that has a fab chef that is doing something unique with flavors that I cannot even come close to replicating at home. If $$$ is not an issue, I would certainly indulge in both.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Absolutely a fad, like the absurd overuse of truffles, foie gras, and other historically luxury foods that even the richest used to eat only once in a while themselves. To paraphrase JP Morgan, when potato chips start coming out with "truffle flavor" - you know the world has gone insane.

                            The places you mention will be (I hope) among the 25% that remain. There is certainly a place for steakhouses - I love a good one - but at this point, it's just turned into another way to make money by giving people what they think they want because they think it's cool, trendy or fashionable. Most of the nouveau steakhouses are quite mediocre in most ways. It really doesn't take much skill or effort to turn out a passable steak and sides with enormous profit margins, anymore than it takes skill to take someone else's original, creative idea, hand it over to a conglomerate and have them pump out assembly line's worth of "faux" gourmet food for the bulk of the those who buy it to make themselves feels (or prove to others), that they too share in the caché that, at the moment, is all the rage.

                            (Sorry, I don't mean to be "snarky," but I'm in a rather blunt mood tonight.)

                            1. re: MikeG

                              Not snarky at all, no biggie.

                              Maybe we have a "jump on the bandwagon" vs. a "fad". A fad comes and goes like a burglar in the night. If 25% remain it's not a fad but Darwinian Theory in action (on many fronts given the genesis iof the meal). Pet Rocks came and went and went completely, steakhouse have been around for generations.

                              But a great steakhouse is a greatsteak house and a mediocre copycat is, well, what it is.

                              But it is not a fad at all

                              1. re: jfood

                                I think we just have a difference of semantics. I consider the "explosion" of foie gras and other stuff like that to be a fad too. Not the food itself, but what is IMO the excessive use of it. Same deal for steakhouses. No biggie here either...

                                1. re: MikeG

                                  Got it. Maybe we are both speaking of the "gotta have" attitude on the demand side leading to an over supply of crappy supply siders only to have the dust settle in the end and the darwinian winners survive for those of us who have enjoyed for a lifetime. :-))

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    "only to have the dust settle in the end and the darwinian winners survive for those of us who have enjoyed for a lifetime. :-)) "

                                    Exactly. I guess I'm a little touchy on this subject because while I could care less whether foie gras is "commercialized" into meaninglessness since I don't like the stuff anyway, I sometimes worry that the good steakhouses will end up trying to pander to the "masses" so much that I won't like *them* anymore - and I definitely do like a nice slab of porterhouse now and then. ;)

                                    (Nothing like a little psychobabble on a Sunday morning, is there? rofl)

                                    1. re: MikeG

                                      $50 porterhouses will never be considered pandering to the masses. fear not.

                              2. re: MikeG

                                I'm pretty sure at some point during JP Morgan's lifetime (1837-1913), potato chips were a luxury dish and could as well have 'truffle flavor':

                                1. re: welle

                                  By the mid-19th century, potatoes were already mostly poor-people food, IIRC, so hardly a luxury unless they were prepared lathered with cream and whatnot, presumably including truffles, too, but the likes of Morgan weren't indulging in this stuff quite as often as people these days seem to think... JP Morgan wasn't wasting much time or money showing off for his peers - he was too busy running the country's finances. LOL (Not that I have any great love for the man or anything, robber barons not being my favorite class of people. ;) )

                                  1. re: MikeG

                                    Maybe potatoes were lower-class food, but potato chips around the time of their invention in mid-19th century were certainly posh:

                          2. I've always thought it was the testosterone factor. At least in NY, it is. It's 'manly', American, tasty, but at the same time not too distracting, so you still stay focused on the business conversation. It is sort of like that scene in 'American Psycho' where they brag about their name cards - very simple, but bold and reeking of money and power.

                            Besides, most people on expense accounts don't look for the best value or best food, but for the most outrageously overpriced meal that you would never pay yourself, and steakhouse is perfect for that.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: welle

                              Well well welle.

                              Jfood disagrees with such a broad brush statement. Sounds like its out of a B-rate movie. When traveling we do not sit back and think, "Hey let's go to a man-resto and pay stupid prices for lousy food. And no biggie because it's on the expense account so it does not matter." Oy and double oy.

                              It's really just a matter of choice. Many of us like a good steak and many place really make good steaks. Just like foie gras, black cod, lobster and hamburgers. When I travel and eat by myself I have the choice of any resto I want, and about 25% I choose a great steak place. Why? I like great steak. And I normally order onion rings or half-half onion rings and french fries.

                              So its not all about the "power" in a resto, whatever that means. It's about a good cut of meat, cooked well and enjoyed.

                              BTW - even those of us who spend large T/L budgets have to justify all the dollars we spend. There is no such thing as a free lunch or a free porterhouse and to state that we are irresponsible in our fiduciary duties to our shareholders is not quite right. I think thats from the same B-movie.

                              1. re: jfood

                                sorry, I didn't mean it to sound like you said 'B-rate movie', and I didn't mean the biz travellers with their per diems. I just meant that steakhouses are neutral (unless you are a veggan or a PETA member) and non-brainer for a business lunch/dinner. And steaks are really hard to screw up besides proper cooking. That's why there are so many of them in midtown Manhattan. They also usually have very bad acoustics (i.e. bad for sound) and darkish - perfect for business discussions. steakhouses are always associated with power lunches.

                                1. re: welle


                                  You are right. Screwing up a steak (assuming you start with a good piece of beef)relates to temp and time and compared to many of the dishes we smile about are waaaaay less complicated (throw some S&P on it and Jfood is satisfied). That being said the number of steaks that have been screwed up totally outnumber the "sculpted" food dishes that have been screwed up.

                                  I once had a manager tell me the only steak the chef on duty could prepare well at a high end steak house was a boneless sirloin, not filet, not PH. That's a horrible statement for a steak house where the prices ranged up to $52 for a steak entree. Could you imagine a manager telling you that in a "sculpted" food resto. OMG.

                            2. I love steakhouses without apology. I like the atmosphere, the bars, the service, the butter, the indulgence of it all. For me it's part nostalgia, part indulgence, part warmth and I really enjoy it with a group. But I prefer to eat out rather than at home the vast majority of the time.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                Not that I advocate it, but it seems clear why steakhouse chains do well in cities. Basically, expensive steakhouses thrive on expense-account business. And for many businesses, they are an easy choice.

                                (1) An expensive steakhouse conveys a sense of non-faddish, old-school luxury. By extension, that's a sense many businesspeople want to evoke for their clients.

                                (2) At a good steakhouse, there's a lower chance of alienating extremely picky eaters who shy away from unfamiliar ingredients. Business dinners often involve people who have no idea of what their fellow diners' eating habits are, so steakhouses offer a good place where no one has to be embarrassed (either the restaurant chooser or the picky person). The food becomes more of a backdrop to the business at hand rather than the main event. Safe, reliable, familiar.

                                (3) When business dinners happen in a city you're not familiar with, reliable steakhouse chains can be a good, safe choice. You may not get a transformative meal, but you're probably not going to get a disaster.

                                (4) And, as others have pointed out, the company's picking up the tab. And the company is more than willing to overpay slightly to make sure the business meeting/dinner goes without a hitch.

                                1. re: wittlejosh

                                  I like your analysis. I recently hosted a business dinner at a local seafood restaurant, which is one of the best restaurants in the city, only to find out that two of my eight guests didn't like seafood. Luckily they ordered steak and found it very much to their liking. It reminded my why we usually default to the best steakhouse in town.

                              2. I love steak houses, steak, and meat in general. I enjoy the stmosphere, the food, and the service at the top end steak houses.

                                I know I can get the same prime cuts of beef from my butcher, and cook it myself(although my broiler, or grill does not reach temperatures of over 1000-degrees as many steakhouses broilers do), in my opinion as someone who is the only one that cooks in my household, it it sometimes a desire to have someone else cooks for you, and be the one who gets to relax, & to drink and eat well.

                                1. Several years ago, I read an article about the rise of steakhouses (of all price ranges) and decline of pasta houses, and it was tied to the low-carb Atkins diet craze/fad.