How To Order Well-Done Steak Without Breaking Your Server's Heart

The late Anthony Bourdain shared a few harsh truths about well-done steak orders in his revelatory 2000 book, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly." Namely, that many chefs will save less than choice cuts for these types of requests, based on the assumption that those who order their steak "incinerated" aren't discerning enough to tell the difference.

Chefs aren't the only restaurant staff with strong opinions on well-done orders. Servers don't like them much either. Why? Because steaks prepared this way take longer to prepare and thus slow down the flow of service. Not only that, but people who order well-done steak are so rarely happy with the result, they tip less.

Despite what the chefs or waiters may think privately, every diner deserves to have their food prepared to their own preferences, whatever they may be. However, given that a well-done steak request is probably not going to be greeted enthusiastically by restaurant staff, a little tact when ordering goes a long way. In fact, it will not only guarantee you don't break your server's heart, it will ensure you actually end up with something appetizing and enjoyable to eat. So step one when dining out should be chatting with your server about why you like your steak cooked the way you do, and what your expectations are for the finished product.

Why chatting with servers about well-done orders is a smart move

You're not obligated to have this conversation with servers, of course. Nor is it necessary to apologize for liking steak well done. But since this preference isn't always given a lot of respect in the restaurant industry, it's worth the effort to politely remind the person taking your order that a well-done designation doesn't reflect a lack of discernment. There's a reason you like your steak cooked this way. Some diners, for example, simply can't stomach the color or texture of a steak that isn't cooked through.

Having a conversation with your server will not only make this reasoning clear, but it will humanize you as a customer, and give restaurant staff more information to work with as they try to make your dining experience a positive one. It's an undeniable fact that a well-done steak simply won't have as much juiciness or flavor as one cooked to a medium level of doneness — much less medium rare — and there's nothing the kitchen can do to change that. What good servers will do, however, is talk about the dishes on the menu that might be best suited to your tastes and preferences. They might even recommend another steak cut or alternative option (like a chicken dish) that's also cooked well-done but offers better flavor. 

Order a thicker steak for optimal results

Yes, rather than bring you a steak that you might not like — the server will try to find the best available option for your palate. This benefits the restaurant, of course, in that they have a happier and more satisfied customer. It also benefits you, as you're going to be served better food by more caring staff. 

It bears mentioning, though, that it is possible to get an impressive well-done steak. Sure, some steaks are better served cooked rare, but the fattiest, most marbled cuts do just fine. If you're dining at a steakhouse or a restaurant with a good steak selection, your server should be able to recommend a ribeye, t-bone, or porterhouse that will stand up to the extended cooking time, and taste very good indeed. Just be sure to follow the proper etiquette for cutting said steak to avoid an additional faux pas. 

But first you have to start a conversation. What's the best way to do this? Be honest about your preferences, explain them, and ask your server to make recommendations on what to order. It's that easy.