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Newsweek: Why Is "Housemade" Replacing "Homemade"?

Hey guys,

Andrew Romano from Newsweek here, hoping to harness the collective wisdom of the Chowhound community.

Basically, I'm wondering if you've noticed the recent proliferation of the word "housemade" (and house-cured, house-infused, etc.) on menus? I'm thinking of writing a short item on how and why (the neologistic) "housemade" is replacing (the grammatically correct) "homemade" at a certain type of restaurant, as if the latter has become meaningless through overuse but the former is somehow a true sign of au-courant, handcrafted authenticity.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject: What's the difference? What does "house" evoke? Why are chefs so eager to deploy the word? And why now?

Thanks so much,
Andrew
aromano@newsweek.com

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  1. I've always assumed that "homemade" means the food was made in someone's home and "housemade" means it was made in a restaurant. After all, people refer to the "front of the house" and the "back of the house," or you get something, "on the house, so it makes sense to me. Maybe others will have different thoughts.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Glencora

      I agree with Andrew here. I thought "homemade" got overused and lost its impact -- people rolled their eyes when they heard it -- and that therefore a term was needed that brought back the original meaning. "Housemade" sounds kind of silly, though.

    2. Homemade evokes images of Great Aunt Emma lovingly stirring a pot of soup. I think housemade tries to conjure up those same images, while being more technically correct. After all, not many people actually call a restaurant home, even if they refer to the front-of-house and back-of-house.

      4 Replies
      1. re: phofiend

        I think you guys are exactly right, in that a restaurant is technically more of a house than a home.

        BUT...

        Restaurants have been using "homemade" for a long time--as in, Babbo's Homemade Orecchiette with sweet sausage and rapini ($19). And not in a strict literal sense, because no one thinks Babbo is a home.

        So what I'm interested in is why "housemade" seems to be replacing "homemade," or at least gaining momentum, as the artisanal adjective of choice.

        Are restaurateurs suddenly deciding to become more linguistically exact? Or has "homemade" been devalued by places like Chevy's, which boast of their "homemade bleu cheese dressing," leading a certain kind of chef to rely on a fresher term ("housemade") to distinguish what he or she does and convey the DIY ethic that's so popular these days?

        Take Brooklyn's Dressler, for example. The menu includes Housemade Gnocchi with asparagus and morel ragout; a Harvest Moon cocktail with house-infused orange vodka, asperol, lemon and lime juice; a Cheddar Burger with brioche bun, tomato, onion, housemade pickles and fries; housemade Pecan Sticky Buns; and Fruit And Yogurt with housemade granola.

        That strikes me as a little intense--and as something we wouldn't have seen a few years back. Then again, I may be nuts :)

        1. re: aromano

          Your Dressler example does sound extreme but perhaps becausse it's taken out of context of the full menu. I DO like knowing, especially with pasta, when it was made in-house (oops!). And housemade is more correct than homemade. I think menus get really extreme (and we see it ALOT here in NoCal) when every item tells me the exact farm or ranch it comes from. TMI (too much info) And then again you MAY be nuts :)

          1. re: aromano

            I am with Glencora. I think "homemade" has been rendered silly by the fact that everyone knows that the product is not actually produced in the chef's home.
            However, "housemade" does imply that it is made "in-house", as in, IN the restaurant, by ITS very own cooks.
            Housemade sounds more technical and verifiable, while Homemade sounds phony... we know you just didn't make it in your apartment kitchen! There are grocery store pasta sauces with "homemade" written on the label... come on!

            1. re: aromano

              I'm copying over my initial post from the other thread and then will reply to this post.

              "I've not noticed it, but I do think of the word "homemade" as meaning, "made at home" - as in "someone's home".

              If one thinks of the expression "on the house", the concept of "housemade" makes sense to me." (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/619905

              )

              I do think that it there can be overkill to the point of pretension. If I'm at a very high end place, I pretty much expect that most, if not all, items will be made "in house".

          2. truth in menu. Starts it - then a need to let consumers know we aren't opening a bag and reheating something creates the housemade term. Had to laugh reading aromano post . Enough already - I'm not even interested anymore.....( with the description not aromano) I had a little note at the top of our menu- saying all our sauces, soups etc were made in house. Then I could infrequently bust out the housemade without seeming so very redundant.
            Its a shame we can't all assume they make the food at the restaurant.

            1. I moved this reply from the clone thread that was locked down.

              MMRuth is right; and I'd bet that most people here would feel the same way: Restaurants offering "homemade" are being dishonest or just asinine. Perhaps more Americans are returning to homecooking - and to homemade foods. Such people might be expressing irritation at restaurant claims of "homemade". A reasonable response by restauants would be to offer "house made" as opposed to "delivered by Sysco".

              11 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                It strikes me that homemade may be a broader, less place-specific, more widely applicable term at this point. Babbo's homemade orrechiette might be "homemade," but homemade could mean "made in the home of Mario Batali's mother," or at Raffeto's on Houston, or whatever. "Housemade," on the other hand, leaves no room for confusion: those parsnip chips you're munching were made here, in house. Housemade describes the place where something is made; homemade describes a method of making something (ostensibly by hand, in a domestic or intimate setting).

                That said, I wonder: are you excited when you see that something is "housemade"? Does it affect you differently than "homemade"?

                1. re: aromano

                  I don't want to hear either term. In part because I never eat where the food is NOT housemade.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I know what you mean, Sam, but there are restaurants that don't do all their own baking and I don't have a problem with that. And I think restaurants will differentiate between the pastas that are made inhouse and the others. But, yes, there's quite a difference between that and the Sysco truck at the back door.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      One of my favorite local restaurants makes their own bacon and pancetta, not something one would expect, even in most great restaurants. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use "housemade" to let diners know the origin of these items.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        One thing I've noticed is that "homemade" will more often refer to a dish, while "house-made" is more frequently used to refer to an ingredient. For example, "homemade macaroni and cheese" versus "house-made fettuccine in alfredo sauce."

                        I agree that house-made as a synonym for "made in-house" can be useful when used appropriately. If a menu in refers to house-made pizza, I worry. Even "house-made sauce" on the pizza is suspect - it implies that using something straight from a can was considered as a viable option. But when I see house-made sausage as a topping for the pizza, my ears perk up.

                        As to "homemade," I agree with other posters that the word has no meaning in a restaurant context. It's just puffery. Like the "reliable" in Bob's Reliable Used Cars. House-made, on the other hand, says to me that whatever it's referring to was made in-house.

                        Of course, if house-made gains sufficient cachet in the absence of an official definition, it may become as meaningless as homemade. When a chain restaurant starts promoting house-made hamburger buns that rolled off an assembly line on the other side of the country, you'll know this has happened.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Even the car dealers don't take the risk of leading us on. There are 1,230 Google entries for "Bob's Used cars" but none for "Bob's Reliable Used Cars".

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            And a search for "reliable used cars" just brings up Consumer Reports. What's the world coming to?

                            At least we still have plenty of "Honest John's Used Cars" and the like. Hyperbole is not dead.

                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Uhhh...Sam... some of us remember your accounts of binging at gas station food counters.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            Holy s&^t, you're completely right. My answer to aromano had to do with when I eat in restaurants! I'll eat out in DC a few times each trip and there only at places where it is all "house made". When I'm in the field somewhere, there is nothing but 100% house made. But, indeed, my hotel dining watching US TV and shopping the gas station for corn dogs and "burgers" and getting a bottle of JB on an LAX or SFO or Miami overnight - what can I say but "heaven"!

                        3. re: aromano

                          I was raised during those terrible years when marketers, sensing the profundity of their own bullshit, switched from calling processed & packaged products "homemade" to the barf-inducing "homestyle".

                          It is because of this paradigm that to my mind, the term "homemade" always evoked truth-- that this dish was made in someone's home. Contrast that to the "homestyle" which brings up all these terrible connotations of something being made in giant vats in a factory in order to approximate someone's home cooking, somewhere.

                          "House made" (two words) doesn't bother me in the slightest, since a restaurant is not a home-- it's a house-- in this case, a house of gastronomy, and so the phrase rings true. "Housemade" (one word) starts to set off my bullshit detector. In a big national chain restaurant, seeing "house made" will do it for me too.

                          I do have to agree however with the earlier posters who questioned the need to specify what is made in house, since it implies that the rest of the menu is not.

                          Mr Taster

                      2. I've never heard of the term. Occasionally I've seen something described as "made in-house".
                        "Housemade" sounds to me it was made in a (residential) house, thus violating all sorts of food safety regulations...

                        1. because change stimulates people. the eyes glance past homemade but housemade, being new and different catches our eye.

                          there is a classic study of changing lighting levels in a factory. a study surprisingly indicated that lowering the light levels slightly improved production. it was assumed it was a glare issue. at the end of some period of time though production was at the same level it was before the change. They changed the lighting level back, and again production levels increased, then over time dropped back to the original level.

                          keep things new and different, people pay attention.

                          1. Housemade alludes to a long established family (of the house of Essex) or an elite brand (from the house of Hermes). And of course attempts to increase the prestige of products or a restaurant.

                            As others have stated,'homemade' has little meaning. We on this board debate it ad nauseum with little conclusion and much frustration. The production and/or manufacture of food ranges so dramatically and the word elicits too many images that it has become useless as a adjective.

                            I find the word 'housemade' just as useless. A purse made by the House of Hermes was not constructed onsite - it was made elsewhere and retailed around the world. It is still genuine although not made in the store - it is housemade. Ramsey has a central kitchen delivering his food - most people assumed to be made on location of the restaurant in that they were eating.

                            I can hardly wait for the House of Batali ravioli to reach my freezer shelves . . . not.

                            1. Andrew, maybe you don't get out much, due to your slavish devotion to Newsweek ;). Here on the left coast (Oakland/ Berkeley SF) it's been housemade for nigh on three decades! I don't know if it's a legality issue (Maybe Melvin Belli sued a restaurant back in the day for claiming they had "homemade" food!) I've never seen "homemade" on a menu out here; even at greasy spoons, it's "housemade" sh*t on a shingle. Surprised it took so long for this trend to hit the NYC area. The other big thing on menus is to boldly blare the provenance of your pristeen ingredients: Full Belly Farm's pork chitterlins served with Capay Ranch mustard greens and Star Route Farm white grits. A scary trend and way too much reading when you're hungry. adam

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: adamshoe

                                Adamshoe, I totally agree that the term "housemade" wasn't invented yesterday--but I do suspect that usage has greatly *accelerated* nationwide over the past year or two, and that's what I'm interested in. Re: Northern California, you're definitely onto something. A San Francisco Menupages search for "homemade" turns up 192 results, versus 176 for "housemade" or "house-made": almost a 1:1 ratio. The ratio in NYC? 1,817 homemade to 244 housemade. The rest of the country is still playing catch-up--although sometimes it seems as if all 244 of those restaurants, which also tend to serve things like Berried Treasure Farms Dandelion Greens, are in my home borough of Brooklyn.

                                1. re: aromano

                                  Shocked! I AM SHOCKED that home beats house here in the Bay. Maybe I don't get out much either... Is "signature" a big thing in B'klyn, as in "our locally sourced, housemade, signature meatballs"? It's really messy to try to sign a meatball; I've tried;) adam

                              2. Maybe it's just me, but homemade also has a certain novice or unprofessional connotation (as in, this was made by a home cook not a professional chef). Consider - if someone told you "your cake looks homemade" or "your clothes look homemade", is that a compliment? For somethings homemade is preferable but for other things, especially when asking me to shell out the big bucks, I'd rather have the professional version than the "homemade".

                                House made or (my preference) made in-house, doesn't have the unprofessional connotation that homemade has.

                                Also, I've noticed that there is more "business" or "industry" language being used by lay-people in regards to restaurants (e.g. front/back of the house, price points, table turns, two-tops, "on offer", etc.). "In house" is a fairly standard term in many businesses, including mine (law), so it makes sense that it's being used by restaurants as restaurant-speak adopts more business-speak.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: akq

                                  akq, So you'd be OK if someone said your clothes looked "house made"? Maybe they meant "housemaid"... are you wearing a bonnet and an apron? ;) adam

                                  1. re: adamshoe

                                    As with many things, context is key. If I worked in custom clothing store and someone said that my clothes looked like they were made "in house" (which I prefer to "housemade"), it might be a compliment meaning that they look like they were specially made in the establishment, as opposed to purchased "off the rack". If they said my clothes looked "homemade", I think it would be an insult.

                                  2. re: akq

                                    A totally excellent point and something I've never thought of. You're right; if shelling out the $$$$ I don't want "homemade." I can do that at...home.

                                  3. I can't say that I've been aware of an increased usage of the term "housemade on local (PA) restaurant menus, but I would prefer it to "homemade." "For me, seeing the term "homemade" on a menu has always begged the question, "In whose home?" It's always had a false and misleading connotation. Maybe that's because to me, "home" implies a dwelling -- a place of residence -- so there were only two circumstances that could correctly describe a "homemade" menu item: (1) if the restaurant was, in fact, located in a person's home, or (2) if the item was made in someone's home and then served in the restaurant. I've seen menus in diners which state that their baked goods, for example, are "made on the premises," and that's always been easily understood and acceptable.

                                    "House made" seems awkward, but more acceptable than "homemade." Restaurant operations terminology includes "front of the house" and "back of the house," so maybe "house made" is an appropriate extension of that usage.

                                    1. I think that yes, "homemade" has lost its true meaning through overuse and now refers to more of a style, like more rustic-y and with the APPEARANCE of being crafted by hand, which is certainly not the case with things branded "homamade" these days. I think by housemade the restaurant is trying to stress that they dont mean homamade-as-a-style trying to market you into feeling all warm and cozy, but actually housemade, as in made in the house.

                                      1. I always thought it had something to do with truth in advertising laws?

                                        Barring that, at our restaurant we buy in most of our desserts due to lack of time/space, so when we find the time to make a dessert in house, sometimes it gets the "house made" label.

                                        1. When jfood sees homemade on a menu he moves the credibility meter to the left. What's next "Youve tried the rest, now try the best!" Now that he is beginning to see "housemade" he smiles at the chef's desire to show the dish was made right there, up close and personal to the customer.

                                          Twenty years ago, jfood was eating in a strip mall fish restaurant in Tulsa OK. Hey he can't make this stuff up. Fish, Tulsa, no close body of water, strip mall. He is afraid with every bite. The dessert menu is presented and there, staring Jfood, from Elizabeth NJ is a dessert "Famous NJ Cheesecake". Jfood had it and now called out the server, stating, "what the hell is NJ cheesecake?" Server leaves and an enormous specimen of a man dressed in white arrives, stands over jfood and asks who was having a problem. Jfood meekly raised his hand. Chef calmly stares into jfood's eyes and says. "My mom is from NJ and this is her recipe." Jfood smiles and states, "Line 'em up." One of the best cheesecakes jfood has ever tasted and complete truth in advertising.

                                          Why the chef evokes the personal connotation. It is the menu offering a hug to the customer. Homemade is just a full of crap description. Housemade is a calming statement that implicitly forms inclusion.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Has the terminology really changed, or is the increase not in the use of 'housemade' but in restaurants making things that they previously bought, and thus wanting to advertise it? How many restaurants were making pasta and sausage and curing and smoking their own meats 5 or 10 years ago vs now? With the nose-to-tail eating trend of the past few years, chefs are really getting into making their own charcuterie and want their guests to know that it is special and made by them.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: babette feasts

                                              I think you've put your finger on it, babs. When I think of where I've seen it lately, it's always on things that you wouldn't be surprised or upset to hear that a restaurant had bought from an outside vendor. And there are myriad variations on the theme of "house-", like house-baked rolls, house-cured pastrami, house-smoked salmon, etc. They are emphasizing that they have taken the extra care to produce these things in their own kitchen. And the quality difference generally is noticeable.

                                            2. I haven't really noticed housemade on menus, but I don't go out that much. What I have noticed are the notes on the bottom of the menus that state that the pastas or bread are prepared fresh daily at the restaurant. Or that the meat has been smoked/cured in house.Those sound better than housemade. That is a word that just doesn't sound right, to me, anyway. You can find a better way to let the diners know that it is made in house other than using a made up word.

                                              I eat at this neighborhood place that has the greatest pies, and a lot of folks are picky about whether or not the pie are made on the premises, so I asked if they were "homemade" meaning on-site. She smiled and said yes, but we don't make them here - we pick them up each morning. So I guess they are really homemade, and that explains why they run out by dinner time.

                                              1. It's my feeling that the term "house-made" is a bit of an internationally-inspired preference...ten years ago, when I was cooking at a restaurant in Germany, I noticed that the schnitzel was plated with "Hausgemachtem Kartoffelsalat" (house-made potato salad) - which was indeed made fresh by me whenever I was cooking...but on other nights, the chef would just open up a big container of store-bought, stir in a gloppy spoonful of commercial mayo, and call it a day. (My German friends would always snicker at the menu's description...) - but I do think that "Housemade" is a term used commonly in Germany and Italy - and restaurateurs here have commandeered it for its snob-appeal. It sounds more sophisticated and less like you're eating at Flo's Diner!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Morticia

                                                  " but I do think that "Housemade" is a term used commonly in Germany and Italy - and restaurateurs here have commandeered it for its snob-appeal. It sounds more sophisticated and less like you're eating at Flo's Diner!"

                                                  I tend to think of "house made" as a marketing ploy to appeal to the sophisticated foodie market. As Akq pointed out in a previous post, more and more lay people are comfortable with industry terms such as "front of house". This familiarity stems from the popularity of book such as Kitchen Confidential and the success of Food Network programming. Foodies like to feel they are in the know: "Oh this product was made in house", stated as if they are part of the industry. By invoking this term, the restaurant is appealing to the foodie market, consumers who feel they have a special status due to their to familiarity with industry terms, and who is savvy enough to recognize that a product made on the premises might be better quality than a Sysco product from a jar.

                                                  It always comes down to marketing. How does the restaurant want their product to be perceived? As far as I am concerned, the use of the term house-made is a marketing ploy to attract customers looking for a more elite experience, customers who would be willing to pay higher prices for what they perceive to be higher quality product. The restaurant is trying to justify higher prices by pointing out to the customer that "what you are eating is artisanal product, made on-premise by our master craftspeople, because you are worth more than Sysco product".

                                                  Now please, don't get me wrong. I am always happy to see the words house-made on a menu, although I agree with other posters that it makes me wonder about the items that are not house-made. I would rather take a chance on house-made products any day. I appreciate knowing the kitchen cares enough about their food to make it on the premises. But I won't kid myself; I am part of a marketing niche that these restaurants are targeting. It all comes down to marketing.

                                                  Home-made invokes a different marketing image: Home-made appeals to the "Aw-shucks, just like Mom used to make" nostalgic market that wants to return to the simple ways of the past, to a time when life was less complicated. The foodies see this term as being illogical, after all, the food was not made at home. The health inspectors see this term as fallacious, and against health codes, hence the emergence of the phrase "home-style". But as a marketing term, this phrase still holds a lot of punch for the general population, the ones that are not completely food-obsessed. I know plenty of people who continue to buy food from certain companies because it reminds them of home, or of their childhood (eg. Ex-pat Ontario folk who continue to buy donuts from Tim Hortons in their new place of residence because it reminds them of home, or people who continue to frequent the same bad greasy spoon diner because that is where they ate as a kid). Sometimes, people eat to remember and relive, and taste and quality have have to take second seat. Despite what CHers and foodies might think, this population is a legitimate marketing niche. Terms like homemade and homestyle try to appeal to this particular group, and can be a successful marketing ploy.

                                                  It all comes down to marketing.

                                                2. We're simply not allowed to say homemade on menus. Some do, but should the health inspector survey the menu, as they are supposed to, and sometimes, do, they'll make you change it. The health code is very literal. Homemade means it was made at someone's home and brought to the restaurant or market. This is not legal unless the home in question has a licensed, inspected commercial kitchen, which it may. That means a second kitchen used only for this purpose with floor drains and separate plumbing.

                                                  1. I see the term from time to time here in the Middle of Nowhere, Iowa. I find it kind of irritating, as I do a great many words that sound like they were made up by some kind of committee or focus group. ("Waitperson" is another one that makes me want to scream. Can't we just let "waiter" be gender-neutral? It doesn't have "-man" attached to it, after all.)

                                                    Seriously, with the large number of words already available in the English language, isn't it possible that an already existing word or phrase could get the point across without setting my teeth on edge? But maybe it's just me.

                                                    1. For me, "home made" has always been a lie, unless the home made item arrived in the hands of a friend who had created the item, be it food or an afghan. When printed on anything, be it a jar of pasta sauce in the supermarket or a box of fudge in a candy shop, I reached the point years ago where the term doesn't even register because I know it's an out right lie. I don't yet have that reaction to "house made" when on a restaurant's menu, but if I begin seeing it on products in a supermarket, it will go the way of "home made."

                                                      I do like language. I especially like language when it has clear meaning. But as someone once said (no doubt with a shrug), "Language is a living thing and changes all the time." I realize there is truth to that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't! For instance there was a time when only New Yorkers -- and a few who lived in New Jersey -- stood "on line" to buy a ticket or gain access to some place. The rest of us stood "in line," which makes far greater sense. Which isn't all that damaging; more like irksome, even if the phrase does evoke a mental picture of an official line painter running around painting them so people can stand on them. But that kind of confusion is an unlikely result of "house made," though I rather prefer seeing "We make our own," on a menu.

                                                      1. I haven't seen instances of house made replacing homemade. I have seen more house made choices in higher end restaurants. To an extent i like it because it sets it apart from the selections and helps me make a decision. For instance, I will opt for house made pasta over other dishes because I love house/home made pasta. The house curing trend is really a good one. IMHO, it is culinary tradition that I'd hate to see lost. In affordable to moderate establishments I have seen a marginal increase in house made as well. The bar down the street has several house made condiments which to me says they opted to come up with something on their own vs. buying some boring bulk restaurant product. I don't think the term can be overused, because house made products are most likely more costly and labor intensive.

                                                        1. Homemade means it's as American as apple pie.

                                                          1 Reply