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Fake butter at restaurants

Went to a steakhouse last night with family for dinner. It's a fairly large nationwide chain, but they have pretty decent food. I ordered a baked potato with butter as a side. After receiving my food, I tasted the potato and realized that the whipped "butter" was not actual butter, but a butter flavored spread. I love butter, and I can recognize the difference between the real stuff and a fake. Honestly, I think this is probably the first time I've ever gotten a baked potato with the fake stuff on it. It annoys me enough when something is advertised as crab, when it's actually "krab," but now am I going to have start asking if I'm getting real butter or "butter spread?" Is this something more and more restaurants are starting to do? Am I going to have to start carrying a stick of butter in my purse? :)

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  1. having been in many commercial kitchens, what you experienced is quit common nowadays, especially considering the rise in the cost of butter....however, the practice of using whipped butter has been a staple standard operating procedure for many years....it simply melts easier .

    My suggestion is to simply ask for the *real butter* on the side. For the record, there is a product made for the restaurant industry that is known as a butter blend. I find it is a good substitute for the real thing. One example is James Farm Buttery Blend.


    17 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      fourunder, margarine and fake food are never acceptable.

      1. re: sandylc

        margarine.....how about if you like buffalo wings

            1. re: fourunder

              I use butter, and they taste better for it.

              1. re: fourunder

                Curious where you got that information, fourunder. It's my understanding that the first appearance of a printed recipe for Buffalo wings was in a 1981 New York Times article by Craig Claiborne. That recipe calls for butter.

                1. re: JoanN

                  The original Anchor Bar recipe calls for margarine. It's been modified by many over the years to include butter. I've seen shows featuring the place and they clearly indicate margarine is proper for their recipe.


                  1. re: fourunder

                    Curious who “they” is. Even the Belissimo’s, the original owners of the restaurant, disagree on the circumstances of the first serving of the wings. Take a look at this article by Calvin Trillin from 1980 http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1980... (this, by the way, is what inspired the Craig Claiborne article). No mention of either butter or margarine. And none of the Belissimo’s ever published a recipe. Maybe Teressa used margarine; maybe she used butter; maybe she used neither and just put hot sauce on the wings. No one knows for sure.

                2. re: fourunder

                  Oh! Well, many old or even current recipes call for shortening or margarine - I can guarantee you that you can use butter instead and get better results!

            2. re: sandylc

              The advice should be that if you are unwilling to compromise on ingredients then avoid large national chains. A "butter substitute is never acceptable" attitude is lost on a corporation that is seeking to shave pennies off a serving (multiplied by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of servings).

              1. re: ferret

                You are pointing out the greater problem!!

                1. re: ferret

                  Absolutely right.

                  Which is why we do not eat out, because you can never tell when margarine's been added to baked/cooked goods, or what's been microwaved, or God knows what else . . .

                2. re: fourunder

                  I have no problem with whipped butter, as long as it's actually butter. I suspect the stuff I had was a butter blend, because initially, it did taste like butter, but then there was the margarine aftertaste. Sure, use it if you feel you must, but call it "butter topping" or "butter spread" and I'll know not to order it.

                  1. re: gmm

                    If i recall, the buttery blend from James Farms is 40% real butter and 60% margarine.

                3. It may well be something "fairly large nationwide chain's" are doing - and I'd be pretty surprised that they all haven't been doing it.

                  1. When I order lobster or a baked potato or anything else requiring butter in a restaurant, I say something like "I don't mean to be obnoxious, but please make it real butter, because I don't like the substitutes." Only once has this been a problem, when it turns out they literally had no real butter. Never been back :P

                    1. Along the same lines, I despise "whipped topping" like this
                      Seems like many joints use this on their desserts and specialty coffees.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: porker

                        There may be an underlying reason why this product is used...besides the fact it holds it structure better.....I believe non-dairy products like this are Kosher Parve....is that the correct phrase?

                        1. re: fourunder

                          Theres plenty reasons why its used - shelf life (frozen), non-dairy, and cost. I just don't like it advertised as whipped cream. Not only that, but many servers simply assume its cream and describe it as such. We once had a bartender pull it out of the fridge and describe it as the "best quality whipped cream there is". He was surprised when we pointed out it wasn't cream.

                        2. re: porker

                          but people who are lactose intolerant are thrilled that such a product exists :)
                          We just want the menu to state the truth.

                          1. re: porker

                            Deer God. It's HFCS, oil, an emulsifier & gum.


                            1. re: AsperGirl

                              Dear Lord. All I'm saying is don't call it whipped cream. Maybe call it whipped topping, or cream whip, maybe wheam crip, whatever, but don't call it whipped cream for crissakes.....
                              You order a crabcake only to find its made with surimi, you ask the waiter whats up, its imitation crab. The waiter says "Dear God. Its fish and stuff. Pollack, sugar, sorbitol, tapioca starch, egg whites, soybean oil, natural and artificial flavorings, caramel, paprika, and annatto extract."

                          2. I had a similar situation and went back to speak with the Chef. He defended his use of a butter substitute by claiming it was "a good product". I told him that I didn't come here for a "product": I came here for food.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Sommelier

                              Do you go back and complain when the kitchen uses vegetable oil instead of olive oil in preparing your meal as well?

                            2. FWIW, I worked for a large, national steak chain a few years ago, and they use a butter/margarine blend, both because it's cheaper and it spreads easier, and I suspect is slower to spoil on the line. But you should always ask if a place uses real butter and if not, they can usually get you real butter on the side in foil packets, that's what we did when customers requested it (who thought/knew to do so). FYI that blend is also on your steak, they're finished with it when they come off the grill - ask for no juice/sauce if you don't want it on your steak.

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                We pretty much stopped going to chains many years ago. There are so many independent restaurants run by real people who do a much better job and deserve our business - a win/win in my book.

                                1. re: sandylc

                                  Oh totally, but sometimes you don't have a choice.

                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                      You always have a choice. Even if you're an invited guest there are responsible choices that can be made. I got suckered into a meal at TGIFridays (not by choice) and I had them prepare an entree-size portion of steamed vegetables (I'm not a vegetarian by any measure, I'm just suspicious of proteins from these places) and it was pretty darn good. I'm generally not a big broccoli fan but the stuff they served was cooked perfectly.

                                      1. re: ferret

                                        The real problem here is that so many people think that TGIF's food is so delicious! I do remember many years ago that I loved Friday's - late 70s, I think. I was probably less discriminating then, but they also probably used fresher/more real food.

                                        I foolishly tried them a few years ago, feeling nostalgic about good times there long ago. OMG, it was inedible! We couldn't believe that people willingly eat that stuff!!!!!!

                                        1. re: sandylc

                                          They were nearly full when I went (including a party of about 30 that arrived while I was there). I allow myself an occasional crappy meal, most often when traveling through the Newark Airport with its dominant Chili's presence. The sad thing is that even their cocktails suck.

                                          1. re: ferret

                                            I was recently on a shopping trip with Mrs Porker in Burlington VT. I decided to sit at the bar in the mall's Applebees to wait for the wife. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT, the place was full. I don't mean full like busy-full, but line-out-the-door-30-minute-wait-full. There was a single stool available at the bar which I snagged. Applebees for crissakes? And Burlington has some good food....I think it has a lot to do with advertising.
                                            Sad is all.

                                            1. re: porker

                                              Sad is the two-story Olive Garden in Times Square - always busy, the Red Lobster just down the street and the Applebee's around the corner from there. Really? One of the great food cities, with more than decent hot dogs and falafel pizza everywhere (just using those as examples because they are dirt cheap, so it can't be a cost issue) and people long for chain restaurant food?

                                              1. re: ferret

                                                the tourists chowing all-u-can-eat breadstix at olive garden in times square are the same ones who eat at mcdonald's when they are in paris. they like the familiar. being away from home is exotic enough for them.

                                                1. re: ferret

                                                  I think it's less a longing for chain restaurant food and more a fear of the unfamiliar. Perhaps it is your first trip to New York. Times Square is pretty overwhelming, what with all the flashing lights and the loud noises and the thick crowds. And good lord, everything's so expensive! I can forgive the risk-averse choosing something they know they'll probably be at least okay with. (This also explains why Mamma Mia is still playing.)

                                                  Meanwhile, my neighbors on the Lower East Side haven't stopped bitching about the Subway that opened down here a while back, and don't get them started on the impending invasion of a Papa John's.

                                  1. "Went to a steakhouse last night with family for dinner. It's a fairly large nationwide chain"

                                    this is where ya lost me. nationwide chains need unit to unit consistency and watch every penny on every item. if it's a moderate priced place, they will do whatever it takes to cut costs.

                                    living in boston, we simply don't have the real estate available for large chains to be cluttering the landscape, so i can't remember the last time i ate in one. if that was my meal option, i'd expect to be disappointed. are there really no independent operators where you live? small business owners you could support, instead of tossing money at a faceless corporate entity?

                                    the number of replies from those having had fake butter and fake whipped cream and goodness what else just makes me sad.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      The number of replies does not bother me. Its big business sad state of affairs which saddens me, I remember a spoof a few years back on a cookie company boardroom. This one guy gets an epiphany and says something like "I've got an idea: why don't we use fresh wholesome ingredients, no preservatives, bake our cookies in small batches, and deliver them fresh?!". He's laughed out of the boardroom and kisses his career goodbye.
                                      You're right, big corporations feel the pressure to pinch every possible penny and will do whatever it takes to cut costs.
                                      Why use relatively expensive butter when you can get away with this other stuff.
                                      Cane sugar? Old fashioned and expensive - use HFCS instead.
                                      Stock eggs? Naw, they can spoil, plus their volume takes up too much space in the walk-in. This stuff out of a carton lasts a lot longer and is more space efficient - It can save the corporation $1,563,235.89/yr in direct costs and $2,738,665.32/yr in in-direct costs. Bottom line is a .3% increase in our Class A shares by changing from fresh eggs to Egzz-Fresh.

                                      1. re: porker

                                        it doesn't bother you that a wide swath of america thinks this is what food "is"?

                                        i have worked in fine-dining restaurants all my adult life. yes, i am spoiled and perhaps my expectations too high. but that crap is not food. it comes from a lab.

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          Based on replies to this thread, no it doesn't bother me. Put this way however, "a wide swath of america thinks this is what food "is"? " well yeah, thats sad. Along the same lines as so many people thinking Applebees/Olive Garden/Red Lobster is the pinnacle of American/Italian/seafood cuisine.

                                          1. re: porker

                                            the more people who succumb to the swan song of all-u-can-eat-breadstix, means that many fewer people are supporting independent operators, making it harder for them to stay in business. it's the malling of america and a big reason i would not re-locate elsewhere.

                                            in most cases they have only themselves to blame when faced with fake butter and "whipped topping."

                                    2. I always ask for a dish of cold 'pats' of butter on ice on the side. If the waiter comes back with anything other than 'cold pats of butter on ice' I send it back and leave. Any descent restaurant that can't serve actual butter pats on ice doesn't deserve my patronage.....or yours.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                        didn't restaurants stop serving pats of butter on ice, like, in the 60's? around the time tomato juice came off the appetizer menus?

                                        jeebus, i have had a 20-year career in fine dining and never worked in a place that served butter that way. how can you spread it when it's ice cold?

                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          Can't tell if you are being sarcastic or serious with this cold pats of butter on ice thing. Nothing I hate more than cold hard butter. I'll take the foil wrapped packs of butter and warm them up in my hands just so it's spreadable. What do you gain by having ice cold butter?

                                          1. re: Rick

                                            The reason the butter comes in little 'pats' is because when it gets to your table it will soften quickly. Usually the customer takes a few 'pats' off the ice and places them on the side of their bread plate. (Which in 'fine dining' restaurants are always at room temperature at least) and within a minute or so the butter is soft enough to spread. The 'pats' are only about 1/4" thick. The restaurant industry figured this out decades ago. And yes there are restaurants all over the world which serve butter this way with the bread course. BTW in most decent restaurants 'pats' of very cold butter are used to 'finish' many sauces. You ought know that having worked in kitchens for twenty years.

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              So why the need for pats of butter on ice if the end goal is to get the butter soft enough to spread? Why not just pats of butter on a plate sans ice?

                                              1. re: Rick

                                                Because most commercial kitchens are HOT and unless the butter is kept in a walk-in then rushed to the pass just before the server takes the dish the butter will melt. Ever seen an entré sit on the pass for five-ten minutes? The main reason butter substitutes were created was to prevent what restaurants are calling butter from melting by the time the customer gets his 'pats' not to mention the cost saving. Also when sauces are mounted with cold butter line cooks never have to measure out cold butter. The sauce may need four pats or whatever and with 'pats' the quantity is always precise. Whipped butter is popular because the customer is buying part butter and part air.

                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                  For someone who doesn't eat in restaurants you seem to have quite the feel for how restaurants "all over the world operate." I eat out plenty (couple of times a week) and this would be a strong exception to how butter is normally served these days.

                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                    Because I have actually dined at restaurants "all over the world". You are right. I do not eat in any restaurants anymore. I've lived for extended periods in many countries....mostly around the Med. I love how so may people have a 'romantic' image of 'the perfect Tuscan restaurant' for instance. It's all a fantasy folks. The restaurant staff in virtually every restaurant in the world are NOT J. Pepin's cousins. They are plain ordinary people who ride to work on the bus just like you and go to work in EXTREMELY hot fly blown cramped kitchens who just want to 'get the day in'. When they get pi888ed off they will but anything on the plate.

                                              2. re: Puffin3

                                                Actually, in my experience "fine dining" restaurants don't serve butter pats at all, they tend to serve small dishes or bowls of butter, or several good-sized chunks on a small plate, lightly chilled but not hard-refrigerated. Butter pats to me are a mark of diners and other mass-market eateries.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    I've eaten in some pretty high end restaurants that serve small 'pats' of real butter (unwrapped) in a glass/silver bowl with crushed ice underneath accompanying the bread.
                                                    I'm curious to have you describe what "good sized chunks" look like. Are the "chunks" random pieces cut from a cold brick of butter? Are they all uniform in size?

                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                      By "pats" I was referring to the little prefab food service industry squares sandwiched between paper and cardboard.

                                                      Certainly there's nothing wrong with small pats of good quality butter per se. I've also been served larger pieces (squares or discs cut from a block) that I referred to as "good sized chunks."

                                            2. It should be illegal to call something butter when it isn't. I recently ate at a restaurant that served "garlic butter" which in fact contained no butter. Would it be ok to serve a dish called "Grilled Salmon" and then serve Tilapia which is dyed pink?