The Well-Done Steak Problem

Most chefs learn pretty quickly that the customer’s idea of what tastes best is different their idea of what makes a good meal. More than any other food item, chefs are astonished by the amount of restaurant patrons that request that their steak be cooked well-done (i.e. steak cooked at over 160 degrees Fahrenheit with no pink on the inside, containing effectively no juiciness).

Given the flavorings and taste that is lost while cooking a well-done steak, many chefs will think back upon their culinary school experience and try to channel the inner wisdom of the Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke, who once said: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Online chef forums discuss methods for trying to pull a fast one on customers that order their steaks fully cooked—ranging from deception efforts to prepare a steak by dimming the restaurant’s lighting so that a little pink in the middle of the steak can sneak in, to honoring the customer’s request but deliberately using the lowest-quality steak on hand for the well-done steak customer, as though that customer’s $40 doesn’t entitle him to the same care as the customer paying $40 who makes an order that delights the chef. These schemes are reinforced culturally by the amount of social ridicule that attaches to those who have a preference for fully-cooked meat.

Every professional in any occupation faces this dilemma—a customer who has a preference that cuts against either prior training or the professional’s understanding of what the customer *should* want.

How should client-focused professionals focus on solving these types of problems?

First, make a determination whether information asymmetry exists. Does the professional have information that would affect the customer’s viewpoint if shared? In the case of a customer ordering their steak well-done, probably not.

Second, determine whether the request affects style (i.e. personal preference) or substance (i.e. morals, laws, harm). If the former, it is the fruit of arrogance to substitute your own preference for that of the paying customer. You should set your own ego aside, and heed the request—they pay and eat the food, not you. In matters that affect the latter, your own personal judgment should intercede in spite of the opinions of others.

This framework for resolving most disputes about the preparation of a work product. If the client’s request is stylistic, immediately it (that’s the hallmark of being a strong professional). If it imputes something greater than style, duty calls for your supersession.