This is Not Your Father’s Steakhouse

Mar 24, 2016

Old Homestead. The Palm. Gene & Georgetti. Lawry’s. These iconic steakhouses are still going strong, and they’re still the place to get a big steak, a side of creamed spinach, and a double dose of whiskey and dark wood paneling.


But they’re no longer the definition of what a steakhouse is. Over the last decade—and particularly during the last two to three years—the steakhouse paradigm has undergone a seismic shift. Dad’s manly steak joint has become a more inclusive model designed to appeal to women, and younger, more food-savvy patrons (particularly Millennials).


Take Edge Steak & Bar, in Miami. The vibe and menu are not only distinctive and casual, they also represent the flavor, excitement and climate of that unique Latin-accented city. It’s a hot spot, in other words, with a scene-bar and rooftop terrace, and a diverse bill of fare that includes items like churrasco steak with chimichurri sauce, and local fish like Key West pink shrimp ceviche, stone crab, and basil-crusted corvina. This “steak lite” approach attracts young locals and with-it tourists with smaller cuts of protein, and more appetizers and sides to provide that all-important social experience of sharing. And don’t forget the coconut-foam specialty cocktails, creative mocktails and bar bites menu.


Or Aspen Kitchen, in Colorado, with its promise of hearty, rustic American food and expansive outdoor patio; no darkened booths here, what with three walls of windows overlooking the slopes. But make no mistake: There is a serious steak program here, anchored by a glass-enclosed aging room lined with pink salt bricks, for 30- and 44-day dry-aged ribeyes and New York steaks. But there’s also a full menu of Shares, Appetizers and Mains touting choices like chickpea fries with fennel pollen, kale salad and monkfish osso buco.


Meanwhile, many old-line steakhouses like Smith & Wollensky’s and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle have introduced smaller, more casual prototypes (Wollensky’s Grill and Del Frisco’s Grille) aimed at wooing younger diners with taproom/grill ambience and more reasonable prices. The new steakhouse format appeals to a new generation by featuring a more casual vibe and a menu showcasing shareables, fun appetizers, and smaller, more affordable steaks and protein dishes, as well as lighter items such as seafood and salads.


From our explorations of recently opened steakhouses around the country, we’re seeing a lot of the following signifiers:


1. The ambiance is lively, casual, bright and high-energy, often with an exhibition kitchen

2. The décor is more open, with more emphasis on the bar (and perhaps even the option of dining at the bar or in the bar era)

3. The steak program may tout on-premise butchering, an aging room, or other representations of quality

4. Sourcing is important and transparent; beef may be a premium type such as Angus or Wagyu, or sustainable (grass-fed, natural, local, ranch-raised, etc.), and this goes for non-beef ingredients as well

5. The menu includes lots of appetizers, salads, shareables, and small plates; some of these may be very whimsical (cue lobster corndogs and deviled eggs)

6. Protein portion sizes are relatively small compared with those of old-line steakhouses, but so are the tariffs

7. There may be a la carte sides but there are also starches and veggies on the plates to skew costs in a more affordable direction

8. There are beef cuts you may not associate with traditional steakhouses—or even recognize—like skirt steak, sirloin tip, bavette or shoulder clod

9. Flavor is emphasized through techniques such as rubs, smoking, sauces, and garnishes/sides, rather than straightforward grilling

10. Signature cooking techniques are emphasized, such as salt-brick, planked, sous vide, applewood-grilled, butter-basted or sear-roasted (for example, a steak might be cooked on a grill or in a black-iron pan, then transferred to an oven for finish)

11. Beef-based comfort foods like meatloaf, meatballs, and Stroganoff provide options to steaks, as well as good utilization of trim, off-cuts, and other products

12. Braised meats such as pork shank, slow-cooked brisket and lamb tagine evince kitchen craftsmanship and allow for the use of non-primal cuts

13. Items like roast or fried chicken, pasta, and plenty of fresh seafood address the veto vote that might accompany a more traditional beef-based menu

14. The service isn’t intimidating; it’s aprons rather than tuxes, friendly rather than standoffish, involved rather than detached

15. There’s a robust craft cocktail program, highlighting signature house imbibes and a large selection of specialty spirits, as well as craft beer and interesting wines by the glass


At Synergy, we’re predicting that steakhouses will continue to become more all-inclusive while at the same time differentiating around the steak/beef specialty. Menus will be more diverse—more appetizers, different kinds of proteins, braised items, etc.—but steaks will become more specialized as to type and cooking method. Separate steak and grill menu sections will highlight particular types of meat, such as grass-fed, as well as signature cooking methods, such as broiled and butter-basted or cooked over a specific type of wood. The cooking method, in other words, will be key to the steak part of the equation, but the overall concept will be more like a chef-driven restaurant.


It should be an interesting ride.