There was a time in America when people would celebrate all big events and momentous occasions at a steakhouse. A steakhouse was the place to go for a special night out. It looks like Americans aren’t flocking to giant slabs of meat to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, and promotions anymore.
The steakhouse with all of its mythology is disappearing, and we want to know why.
The disappearance of the steakhouse isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2008, both Ponderosa and Bonanza were about to close their doors. Small chains weren’t doing much better.
Of course, everyone remembers the day that Outback Steakhouse closed dozens of restaurants in 2017. Did your local Outback close down? Do you miss it?
Rising Beef Prices
Rising beef prices are partially to blame. Beef prices have been rising steadily since the early 2000s. This is mostly because of drought conditions.
Farmers and beef producers were trying to keep up with the high demand. It’s basic supply and demand economics. Beef kept getting more and more expensive.
The End Of An Institution
In 2012, Business Insider broke the news that a famous Wall Street restaurant, Ben Benson’s Steak House, would be closing its doors for good.
In 2017, the New York Post talked to steakhouse owners across the country who all talked about beef prices rising by about twenty percent.
Consumers Think They’re Too Pricey
So, all those rising beef prices are leading to rising menu prices. Steakhouses have to charge more for a steak because they have to pay more for a steak.
Middle-class people looking for a fancy night out just weren’t willing to shell out the cash. They left negative reviews online, which dissuaded others from jumping on the steakhouse train.
We’re Becoming Better Home Cooks
Thanks to Food Network, the internet, and some handy dandy gadgets, people can make a better steak at home than they can get in a restaurant.
Immersion circulators are pretty affordable, and Jamie Oliver is teaching us how to grill. In the Amazon age, everything comes right to our door. Why would we ever go outside?
A Lot Of Steak Isn’t Great
A big problem with chain steakhouses is a lack of quality beef. Those rising prices are leading steakhouses to cut corners. Why pay for a subpar cut of meat when you can go to the grocery store and get better quality for less?
Sorry Longhorn, that beef is just not going to cut it.
We’re Not So Quick To Indulge
Despite our increased access to life’s pleasures, we’re not as indulgent as we used to be. It is a more measured time and people aren’t so quick to gorge themselves on meat and alcohol to celebrate a big event.
Food writer Josh Ozersky said it best, “steakhouses are closer in spirit to strip clubs or spas, places to which people repair for rites of costly self-indulgence. … Both the steakhouse and the strip club seem to offer the most primal of pleasures, but the actual exchange is cynical, unsatisfying, and almost prohibitively expensive.”
Americans Are More Health Conscious
Thanks to Fitbits and calorie trackers, people are becoming more health conscious than ever.
While in the past, you could eat a steak without even thinking about how many calories it would cost you, now you know those extra eight hundred calories (not including sides) are going to push you over the edge.
Millennials Are Going Elsewhere
While Millennials do have money to spend on food (despite all that junk about avocado toast being the reason they can’t afford to own a house), they aren’t gravitating to steakhouses.
It looks like they prefer speed and convenience over a long, drawn out, sit down meal. They like food chains with pick up and delivery options. Food service industry analyst Bonnie Riggs says the only casual dining enterprises that are growing are those that allow customers to eat off-premise.
They’re Carefully Disguised
Some steakhouses are still around, they’re just disguised as other kinds of restaurants. Restaurants need to change to meet the needs of the communities around them. A lot of steakhouses have been rebranding to appeal to Millennials and new customers.
You can still go out for a steak, but there will be more than steak on the menu.
Red Meat Has A Bad Rap
Attitudes towards red meat have changed over time. Although beef is full of iron, it’s also full of saturated fat, cholesterol, and something called L-carnitine, all of which is linked to heart disease. Basically, if you want a healthy heart, you can still eat meat, just not so much meat.
The reputation of red meat isn’t doing much for the steakhouse’s image.
It’s Not Just The Steak That’s A Problem
Men’s Health did some digging into how difficult it can be to eat healthy in a steakhouse. When Men’s Health turns against steak, you know things aren’t going to go well.
Even if you skip the steak, all of the potatoes, mac and cheese, and even vegetables (yes, those are covered in butter) are high in fat and calories.
Kobe Beef Left A Bad Taste
People want to be able to trust the restaurants they frequent, and when the truth came out about the Kobe beef scandal, people were not impressed.
For those of you not in the know, in 2012 a bunch of American steakhouses advertised that they had Kobe beef on their menu. Kobe beef is a premium cut of Japanese beef that is expertly raised for perfect marbling.
That’s Not Kobe
Restaurants charged high prices for this high-quality meat, but there was a catch. The whole thing was a scam. Journalists found out that there was no actual Kobe beef being sold anywhere in the US.
Restaurants were selling regular beef that wasn’t up to the strict standards set for Kobe Beef.
People Lost Confidence
The steakhouse industry tried to fix their mistake. By 2014, there were nine restaurants in America that were authorized to sell real Kobe beef— but nine restaurants isn’t a lot of restaurants, and by that time, the people had lost faith.
There were even some Michelin starred restaurants that were caught up in the scandal. I think I’ll make my steak myself so I know what I’m getting, thank you very much.
There’s More Concern With Animal Welfare
More people are concerned about environmental issues today. The beef industry has taken a huge toll on our environment. Even if someone isn’t vegetarian or vegan, eating ethically sourced meat might be very important to them.
Chain restaurants aren’t known for selling ethically sourced meat.
A Bloomin’ Heart Attack
If you’re going to Outback, you’re going to want to get a Bloomin’ Onion, right? I mean, those things are delicious. But did you know that a single Bloomin’ Onion contains nearly 2000 calories?
That’s the amount you should be eating in a day. Let’s just say that Outback is not on the health train.
They’re Not Insta-Worthy
If you’ve been to a restaurant lately, I bet you’ve seen someone pull out their phone and take a picture of their food.
Food has to be Instagram worthy, or else it’s not worth our money. A lot of the time, steak just doesn’t look good. The decor in most chain steakhouses is outdated, and it just doesn’t seem fancy anymore. Sushi is way more photogenic.
Quality Over Quantity
People used to be impressed with a large steak at a reasonable price point. After all, you were getting a lot of food. Today, people aren’t as keen on the all-you-can-eat buffets. They want good food more than they want a lot of food.
A steak can be delicious, but only if it’s done right.
The Decline Of The American Middle Class
However you feel about politics, we can all agree that we’re living in a country that’s more divided than ever. We’re not only divided by ideology — we’re divided by income as well.
The chain steakhouse was a staple for the American middle-class family, but now, many families are either too poor to spend money on steak at a chain restaurant, or too wealthy to put up with anything less than the best quality. The market just doesn’t exist anymore.