One sign that restaurants are approaching some sort of normalcy is the return of a good, old-fashioned controversy surrounding a dining room’s dress code. And that’s what Steak 48 provided this week when social media lit up about the steakhouse’s new, very detailed dress code that includes restrictions on wearing corsets, baseball caps for women, bandanas, and more than a dozen more rules. Beyond clothing, Steak 48 has also stipulated a $100 per person minimum and an 18 percent automatic tip for parties of five or more people at its Chicago and Philadelphia locations.
Steak 48’s reason for the $100 minimum is “to ensure that each guest enjoys the total experience of food, service, and atmosphere.” Meanwhile, new dress codes were implemented at all Steak 48 restaurants, but the Chicago and Philadelphia outlets were the most detailed. Other Steak 48 locations include Charlotte and Houston; the company also runs Steak 44 in Phoenix. The dress code became a trending topic this week on Twitter.
Social media debate honed in on over whether the dress code was really an anti-Black dogwhistle, a practice that has plagued restaurants and bars for years. Most recently, now-shuttered bar/restaurant Bottled Blonde went under the microscope four years ago for its policies in River North. Earlier this week, NBA legend Dominique Wilkins tweeted about alleged racist practices at a French restaurant in suburban Atlanta.
The Steak 48 discussion didn’t just center on racism. Several of the restaurant’s regulars tell Eater Chicago that they feel as if management was betraying their loyalty by imposing arbitrary restrictions. The $100 minimum felt especially vexing for diners venturing from their homes to visit restaurants — some for the first time — as COVID-19 positivity rates drop and vaccines continue to be more widely available. A few diners weren’t put off by the restrictions, however, saying that some customers may find the rules helpful after a long pandemic year of not dining out in public.
Steak 48 opened its Chicago location in 2017, where it serves wet-aged steaks that range from $46 to $74 a la carte. The cheapest bottle of wine is $89. The $100 restriction is similar to prepaying for a meal, something popularized by Tock, the reservation portal co-founded by Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas. The system, introduced in 2014, was developed as a way to eliminate costly no-shows, but some customers raised concerns about having to pay for their meals upfront. In many ways, the discussion from five years ago mirrors the online chatter surrounding Steak 48’s policy.
Conversations circling on private service worker groups on Facebook indicate that some industry members feel they would benefit from the policy, as minimum gratuity would make working during a pandemic sustainable. Many restaurant employees feel overworked with additional responsibilities; staffing shortages are prevalent in the industry. Better pay would help soothe those frustrations, but some are skeptical that Steak 48’s $100-minimum mandate would benefit its service workers. “So if Steak 48 is going to charge $100 per person, then does this mean they will be raising wages the employees too?” one Twitter user wrote.
Steak 48 submitted a statement to Eater — the same one it sent out to multiple media outlets. The response ignored several questions about the public’s response to the dress code and if ownership was worried about any implications of racism. Read the full statement below.
We continue to uphold the same standard business casual dress code policy for dinner service across all our fine-dining properties to ensure the best experience for all our guests. Like many restaurants in our industry, we’ve had to make some updates to our policies, like the $100 per person minimum in effort to support our staff and restaurant’s operations, and provide the ability to be successful as a steakhouse designed for the full sit-down experience. Our standard 18 percent minimum gratuity also helps ensure our staff is supported, especially as our community continues to reemerge after a challenging year.
- Steak 48 Dress Code [Steak 48]
- Restaurant Dress Codes Frequently Target Black Customers. It’s Past Time for Them to Go. [Eater]
- Chicago Bar Slammed For Allegedly Racist Dress Code [Eater Chicago]
- A Buckhead Restaurant Comes Under Fire For Its Arbitrarily Enforced Dress Code [Eater Atlanta]
- Introducing Nick Kokonas’s Ticketing System, Tock [Eater]
- Would you pay for your dinner before you’ve eaten it? [The Guardian]
- Per Se to Join Restaurants Charging in Advance [New York Times]