The 5 Worst New Food Trends

If you encounter any of these at a restaurant, you might wish you stayed home

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Bad food trends take two forms. Some are flashes in the cast-iron pan; others have exhibited a little too much staying power. Going forward into 2013, and surveying the nation’s culinary landscape, these are the ones I’d like to see stopped in their tracks. I doubt any of them will end anytime soon, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Rock slime as food. We haven’t seen much of this, I’ll grant you; mostly it’s appeared in a few avant-garde restaurants. Let’s hope, for the love of God, it stays there. Born out of the intrepid, terroir-crazed cauldron of the new Scandinavian cuisine, where nearly anything on or under the ground is considered fair game for foragers, the use of lichens, moss and other primal organisms functions, I believe, largely as shock value. If lichens taste like anything, it is something bad; that’s why the stuff is more often the dinner of snails and bark lice than of people. It’s not as revolting as the equally ostentatious bug-eating movement, but I believe it’s more obnoxious for being more high-minded.

(MORE: Why 2012 Was a Terrible Year for Restaurants)

Pro-am charcuterie. Here’s the thing about salumi, charcuterie and all the other forms of cured meats that we have come to know and love: they were always the province of experts. And there’s a reason they were the province of experts: they are hard to do well. Now every other restaurant has its own in-house cured-meat program, and the results are often nasty: leathery hams, moldy sausages, and industrial-strength lardo, just for starters. The country’s great salumi artisans, like Salumeria Biellese in New York City, Salumi in Seattle, Boccalone in San Francisco and Olympic Provisions in Portland have years of experience behind them, big facilities, impeccable hygiene and, most important, a sense of what the stuff is supposed to be like. (Read Boccalone’s “Salumi Manifesto” if you want to be inspired.) Most beginners don’t aspire to any ideal, any more than do their customers. Google “bad salumi.” You won’t find a single negative review anywhere on the Internet. That’s bizarre and says something about how uncritically the stuff is eaten these days. Leave it to the pros!

(MORE: Have We Become Too Obsessed with “Energy?”)

Fake smoke. A recent trend has been the use, or rather overuse, of artificial smoke as a flavoring agent or even as a theatrical effect. Often it comes from acrid camphor pans or, worse still, from a postmodern instrument called the Smoking Gun. It would be great if chefs could get real smoke flavor from these expedients, but they can’t. Creating actual smoke flavor means burning actual wood, which requires the kind of dirty, dangerous equipment that few restaurant kitchens can handle. So various technologies have come into play involving the placement of a wood chip next to an electrical element – basically the same method used by pot vaporizers, which have sometimes been drafted for it. I realize this may seem like a peevish quibble, but it bothers me nonetheless, because it is frequently used in conjunction with equally unnatural modes of cooking like sous vide. You take a piece of pork or duck, cook it for 10 hours in a tepid bath and then try to impose a sham smoke flavor at the last minute with another equally ludicrous tool. This is one trend that contains its own punishment, though: the smoke these things produce tastes like a blend of old cigarette butts and stripper perfume.

Postmodern desserts. As David Kamp observed in The Food Snob’s Dictionary, pastry chefs are “the most perverse of food-snob subcultures,” and boy, was he right. Who in their right mind wants to eat an enormous meal, replete with bread, wine or liquor, meat, pasta, vegetables, the inevitable charcuterie and God knows what else, and then have to face a $14 plate of tiny mountains, swooping smears and little heaps of powder. What am I supposed to do with this? I’m not hungry at this point. It adds empty calories and a not-insignificant sum to the bill. And really, the only satisfaction derived from it by anyone at all is the chef who called it into being (and who never actually eats it). If I could have one wish come true for 2013, it would be dessert reform. A single scoop of sherbet is all any human being wants or needs at the conclusion of a big meal. It’s time to take a step back from our gastronomical excesses. And this is the place we ought to start.

(MORE: What You Need to Know About Sugar)

Optional tipping. Remember the scene in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Pink announces he doesn’t believe in tipping? Well, there are a lot of Mr. Pinks out there. More than you think. And when you consider how much diners spend on some of the items mentioned above, their cheaping out on the staff is one of the grossest acts of impudence in modern society. I don’t know what monster first conceived of the laws by which restaurateurs are allowed to pay sweatshop wages to their employees on the assumption that guests will do the right thing and make up the difference, but until the laws are repealed, we need to pay the people who serve us. I believe there should be a fixed percentage, a rock-bottom minimum of 15% that every diner has to pay. If we don’t want to pay it, we are all welcome to eat cold cuts at home.

226 comments
armiva
armiva

Tipping has gotten way out of hand. I always had thought it was 15%, and now suddenly servers have made it 20%. Soon 25% will be considered to be "expected". I tip 15% , and that's it - unless the service is really superior, then I work higher from there. Interesting to see the same tired, worn-out comment that if you can't afford to tip 20%+, then you should eat at home. If all those people stayed away, then your restaurant would not even be in business for you to be working at. If anything, I don't think servers *want* a decent fair minimum wage paid to them. If a restaurant raised its prices somewhat and paid servers $10-12/hr, that's way less than what they get for tips anyway. If you work in a busy restaurant, and assuming you work just four tables in an hour, each averaging a $50 meal, then you  are expecting $10 tip from each table, which makes you salary about $45/hr, which is way more than I earned started out with TWO degrees!  It escalates of course if the bill is higher, which it easily can be if it is more than two people ordering dinner and drinks even in a restaurant like Red Lobster. I still don't get why we have to pay as a %age either, you make the same effort to bring me my $30 lobster meal vs the guy eating his $7.99 sandwich or burger, but I am expected to give you $6 to walk to my table as opposed to his $1.60. Get real.

Ocsicnarf
Ocsicnarf

Yes,there are some weird trend. R+D is not always successful or even sensible, but tipping should not be compulsory but a way to thank for a good service.

MattHHorn
MattHHorn

As I read this article I  kept thinking to myself.. "I bet the author eats a lot of fast food. As clearly the modernist approach to food is well beyond his comprehension... then I got to the bottom and saw he authored:

 The Hamburger: A History, and, Colonel Sanders and the American Dream,

Lol.. I didnt exprect to be so right!

The author should stick to QSR musings and let Nathan Myhrvold handle the grownup food stories.

KathleenMIsabell
KathleenMIsabell

I agree with everything except the bit about Fake Smoke.  There are some good quality smoke-in-a-bottle products that do well for those of us who don't like to float pounds of bacon in our beans.  I have passed off blackeyed peas to longtime aficionados who didn't know the difference.  I think the bottled smoke products might fly well in homemade BBQ sauce but not perhaps directly on meat when cooking in the oven and pretending it was cooked outside.  No.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Since I was a child, I have traveled across America, Canada, and Great Britain.  

I am 25 years old now, and have NEVER heard of any eating establishment with an "optional tipping" policy.  In fact, until I read this article, I had no idea such ridiculous policies were in existence.  As the author correctly notes, waiters/waitresses are paid sweatshop wage (under $3/hr.), and are expected to make up the rest in tips.

Furthermore, as long as I've dined at restaurants, I've always viewed tipping as an act of courtesy to the one serving me.  The better the service, the higher the tip.  However, unless I'm with a large party and/or the service is literally flawless, I never tip more than 10% of the bill.  The only person I know who over-thinks his 'tipping' is my best friend, who will sternly eyeball the receipt in the utmost seriousness of thought.  

Thanks for the informative article, TIME Magazine.

bctobin
bctobin

One of the worst food trends is anything "truffled."  Unless we're talking about using real white or black truffles, the stuff that restaurants are pouring on fries and other foods is just a laboratory chemical that is supposed to give the taste of the real thing.  I once had an otherwise good restaurant serve a "truffled" ice cream.  Pure garbage. 

justkres
justkres

If you don't tip at a restaurant where tipping is expected, you are just c-h-e-a-p.  You aren't fooling anyone by claiming that you have some moral aversion to supporting the tipping system - you are already supporting it by eating some place other than the likes of McDonalds. 

Funkybuds
Funkybuds

Tipping in a sit down restaurant is fine.  You have to look at it this way: you're going to pay that extra money in the end anyways, so why wouldn't you want to have control over it?  Don't you want your server to have incentive to take care of you?  In an era of shoddy service, spoiled youth, and employer inability to properly discipline and terminate employees, it's refreshing to be in control of your server's quality of work.  Take away tipping and your bill is going to go up plus you'll have to deal with attitude.


That being said, where tipping culture has crossed the line is that there seems to be a tip cup next to every register in America these days.  Tips are requested in all kinds of fast food-type places now.  They are at takeout counters.  This is a problem.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

Here's an idea about tipping: The price for every menu item would INCLUDE a 20% tip for the server. This would obviously mean that the cost of each item would go up. But psychologically, if people are told that they don't have to tip, they feel like they're not spending so much. It's the same idea as saying a price is "out-the-door". It's a "final" price. Every server in the country would want to work in a restaurant like that. The competition would be so high, that only the best and brightest servers would be chosen for the coveted server position. 

And for those who say "Well if they're already getting a good tip then they have no incentive to give good service. The bad servers will make just as much as the good ones!" If management is doing its job, then the bad servers will not be there very long. It is part of a manager's job to make sure that their staff is working at the level that they are expected to. 

tylercarter
tylercarter

If servers don't make at least the normal minimum wage with tips and their "sweatshop wages" combined, then they get the normal minimum wage.  Check out the Dept. of Labor's website.

Filo
Filo

The world laughs at you

Nowhere else tipping is customary but in the US

"friendly service, good service" etc should be assumed, not come because of the incentive of tipping

Work ethc? BS. This country and its people are only about cash. If only they had the good taste and an idea on HOW to SPEND all the cash they intend to make...tragic

bradaread
bradaread

Completely disagree with the comment about tipping.  We are letting the restaurants off the hook for wages BECAUSE we tip.  If we didn't, then servers would refuse to work for less than minimum wage and the restaurants would have to fork over reasonable remuneration.  All that is happening now, is that we are perpetuating the problem and empowering restaurant owners to keep the status quo.  Ridiculous that I need to add 15% to MY bill because restuarants don't pay fair wages.

Filo
Filo

@mrbomb13 

wow you are indeed an extensive traveller

WHY should I pay the difference between what the restaurant is willing to pay the employee and what an acceptable wage is? KNOW that I do pay 20% just not to come across as cheap, good or bad service. BUT I hate it. A friend of mine left Europe for NYC, found a job (no papers, as a tourist!) in a NYC establishment an ended up making North of 5500 dollars a month. Enough above minimum wage?

How about miners, construction workers, resident doctors etc? Do they get tipped?

Skeptacular
Skeptacular

@mrbomb13 OK, I won't act like your boss here, but how did you arrive at 10%? Surely all forms of manners require a bit of research, how did you arrive at yours

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@mrbomb13 You should be tipping 20%, not 10%. 10% is an insult and comes off as cheap. It's a cheap tip.

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

@Funkybuds I tip the person who prepares my takeout 10% since I tend to go to the same restaurants. I want someone to go to the trouble to make certain that the order is correct. And they are incredibly grateful.

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

@tylercarter How does that work? How does the server prove that he or she didn't make minimum wage? How long does it take to get that check?

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@tylercarter I find that a vast majority of people would find it very difficult to live independently on $7.25/hr.

Dr.Spaceman
Dr.Spaceman

@Filo You are in fact incorrect. Tipping customs are exatctly the same in Canada as they are in the US. Tipping is customary in Mexico and other parts of South America. It is common in European and Asian countries, though the customs are different. This is all easily verified with a one second google search. ...but by all means, continue making generalized, misinformed, and anonymous statements about worldwide customs and the work ethic, taste, and motivations of people whom you've never met. Genius!


kenyonn8
kenyonn8

@bradaread Anybody who doesn't tip is a bum..plain and simple.  This is not debatable, and it's disgusting that people think it is.  If you don't want to tip, stay home.  That is the end of the discussion, no need to reply.  Again, if you are in the United States, and you don't want to tip the waitstaff, STAY HOME.  If you need to be a jerk, do it in the privacy of your own home. 

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@bradaread But it doesn't work that way, and it won't until new laws are passed. Restaurants will never fork over more money for labor if they don't have to. All they would probably do is convert their establishments into buffets or something, I don't know. While I agree that it is unfair that servers are paid so little so that they rely almost solely on tips, it is the state we're in at the moment. 20% is a standard tip (not 10 or 15), and servers deserve it for the hard work they do (at least most servers do). Tips make up about 97% of a server's total income and those tips are needed for survival. So until such time that new laws are passed when servers are paid a living wage, tip your 20% like everyone else does. And if it's not something you can afford or feel comfortable spending, then there are certainly other dining options out there for you.

ConorFinlay
ConorFinlay

@Filo @mrbomb13 So true, I work in NYC for a summer and got up to 700 dollars a night for serving drinks. 10 years later, after a PhD and in my own career I don't make this in a week. It's outrageous, In Europe tipping ONLY happens in restaurants, no where else, usually 10% and even then it's only for good service. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@Skeptacular @mrbomb13 

I arrived at that figure by following my parents' example, who learned from their parents (that is not an overgeneralization - I've been to more than enough family meals at restaurants).  They would tip 10%-12% if it was just us family, and upwards of 15% for larger gatherings.  If it was just one of them, 10% was the norm.

fulelkjdf
fulelkjdf

@mrbomb13@Funkybuds

Please understand that at any mid- to high-end restaurant (these terms can be quibbled, but you know what I mean) THE RESTAURANT expects you to tip 18-20% for good service. That is today's standard, and I believe it reflects a growing professionalism in the craft of hospitality. Complain that things have changed all you like: this is what is expected of you and it is good manners to respect this or eat at a lesser establishment. To do otherwise is to be openly rude.

The restaurant and its employees are too polite to tell you this or to put it on their menus, but that is their expectation and you need to understand that. If you disagree you are wise to eat elsewhere (some place with lesser service) as you are insulting a hardworking hospitality professional and the restaurant you supposedly appreciate.

Snarking that you have been tipping 10% since I've been potty-trained only makes you look foolish. You have just labelled yourself as a Nightmare Guest: a self-entitled fuddy-duddy who has not bothered to learn restaurant etiquette as it is practiced today. Congratulations.

(I'll spare you the explanation of how most servers bring home much less of that cash - not to mention what they pay at the end of the year in taxes on those tips - because if you don't know about all this stuff, you really shouldn't be eating at restaurants.)

ehreval
ehreval

@mercyandgrand @mrbomb13 Nonsense. For the vast majority of my life, the standard has been 10%, less for bad service and more for excellent service. This recent push to make it 20% is pure bs. If you want to get paid more, you're on the wrong career path. Some jobs just don't -- and won't -- pay well, because practically anybody can do them. There's a huge supply of potential labor, and a fixed amount of demand. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@mercyandgrand @mrbomb13 

While I certainly appreciate your recommendation  I view a '20% standard' to be a bit high (unless, of course, you receive flawless service that greatly enhances the dining experience).

Remember, a tip is a way of saying, "thank you."  To me, 10% is thanks enough.  What's very rude and in most cases unjustified is leaving no tip at all.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@SusanLowe Checks in most restaurants are issued bi-weekly, like any other job. The computer automatically keeps track of credit card tips (most people pay with a credit/debit card), and the server is responsible for entering any cash tips. For the most part, servers make well over minimum wage from credit card tips alone.

tylercarter
tylercarter

@mercyandgrand I never stated otherwise.  The author of the article makes it seem that restaurant owners were allowed to pay their employees under the standard minimum wage if patrons didn't tip enough to make up the difference.  As far as the national minimum wage, well, that's a whole different argument.  

Filo
Filo

AS for the anonymous statement of people I have not met, every European I know thinks this tipping think makes no sense, even those (like me) who consistently tip 20% and above.

As for the statement about the driving values of this country, they are MINE, and anonymous as much as this forum is. I also don't think that American people have as good a chance in spending money n nice and tasteful money as Europeans do , though they earn far more than them, on average. You see this as Genius? I don't think I deserve your sarcasm, this is common sense.  Or should you propose another google search? 

Filo
Filo

@Dr.Spaceman @Filo  

'common in european and asian countries' does not mean EXPECTED as here

Unless you are one of those wonderful characters filling 530 PM dining tables in St Germain in Paris and demanding eggs and bacon for breakfast at a standing snac bar in Rome at 8AM (or ordering California rolls in Kyoto) THEN its expected that yo will tip 20%, they love YOU American tourist, youre obnoxious and loud and ignorant but generous after all...

 And making assumptions about  my travels and knowledge of worldwide costumes is as misinformed on your behalf as incoorect not including Canada in my statement (oh that SO different from the US-are you serious? a google search? get a life-or a round the world proper ticket)

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@Barkingkitty @mrbomb13 @Skeptacular 

Actually, I learned best from those very teachers.

Admittedly, I was a poorly behaved child, and was spanked/slapped across the face on a regular basis.  Had I not received corporal punishment, I would not have been as successful as I am today.

To define what I mean by "success," I graduated magna cum laude from college, and just received my MBA.  Additionally, I have a wide range of friends, a great girlfriend, and other hobbies/interests.  The notion that spanking in some way harms a child was simply not true.  If anything, it straightened me out the most.

Also, regarding the Church's position on birth control, it's perfectly in line with Church doctrine.  Birth control degrades the sexual aspect of Christian marriage, and largely stops the procreation of life - which is central to the Church.  

So, while it may make you happy to have moved on, just remember who's watching us  above (and who we will to answer to in the end).

Barkingkitty
Barkingkitty

@mrbomb13 @Skeptacular  Happily, I learned to move beyond my parents' example of spanking their children, and forgoing birth control because the church advocated it, and various other lessons that were right to be left behind with those times.  Sounds as if you, mrbomb13, could due with some new teachers. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@fulelkjdf @mrbomb13 @Funkybuds 

Okay, the "18-20%" threshold is for larger parties (i.e. more than 5 people).  That indication is typically given at the bottom of most menus (regardless of higher- / lower-end).  In those instances (which happen semi-frequently), I'm more than happy to pay that rate.

Also, I'm not complaining that things have changed.  As stated further above, I believe what is rude is when no tip is left at all.  However, for a 15% tip (which I give on occasion), I do expect exemplary quality service.  If holding the service of the waitstaff to a higher standard upsets you, that's unfortunate.

Furthermore, I recommend that you consult a dictionary before using a word like "snarking."  I don't think you know what it means.

Additionally, before further exhibiting your rapier wit with "self-entitled fuddy-duddy" remarks, please consider the following.  At a restaurant, I am your paying customer.  As such, I am in fact entitled to a quality meal and quality service.  No where in that equation is your server entitled to anything.  If he wants an above-average tip, he has to earn it.  That's the way the Real World works.  The entitlement mentality of "20% tip right off the bat" is wrong-headed, as that places the expectation on me - The Paying Customer - to 'cough up.'  Maybe that works in Candyland, but not on Planet Earth.

If that makes me the Nightmare Guest, than so be it.  But, much like the harder teachers you had in school, my tip (though disagreeable) will be a much more honest assessment of your abilities than some 'push-over' who gives an 'easy A.'  

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@ehreval @mercyandgrand @mrbomb1310% was the norm a long time ago. It is no longer the norm. There is no "recent push to make it 20%". That is bs. I started serving 9 years ago, and 20% has been the customary tip that I receive a vast majority of the time. I'm not asking to get paid more, either. As long as people are tipping me the way they have been, then I'd say I'm pretty comfortable in my job. And if you think just anybody can be a server, I suggest you give it a shot. Let us all know how that works out.

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

@mrbomb13 @mercyandgrand Do you people understand that the federal minimum wage for servers is $2.17? A very few states have increased that but you people who think that 10% is sufficient need to start going through the drive-thru at Wendy's. Those workers are paid more than the person who makes ten trips to your table.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@mrbomb13 Yes, a tip is a "thank you", but in truth, a tip is payment for service. It is payment for having someone wait on you. When I give great service, and someone leaves me only a 10% tip, it makes me angry for having put so much effort into it. I start asking myself what I did wrong to receive such a tip. It's a shock sometimes, b/c I was expecting twice that amount. If I only made 10% tips on every table, I would have gotten a different job many years ago. A vast majority of people tip 18-20%, and that is why I stay. It's what keeps me coming back to work every day. And once in awhile (usually a few times a week) someone gives me a 30 or 40% tip. These are the people that make me smile and make me love my job and give me faith that there are nice, decent, generous people out there who truly appreciate what I'm doing. I can't thank them enough.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@Funkybuds And you've never been a server. All I can say is that in the six years I have been serving, a vast majority (I'd say 80%) of tips I receive are 20%.

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

@Funkybuds @mercyandgrand @mrbomb13 It's 15% for service that is good but not great and it 20% for really good service and 25% for spectacular service.

Since I grew up the child of a single mom who was a waitress, I always tip at least 20%. Some kid's Christmas depends on it.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@Funkybuds From someone who has worked in the industry for six years, talking to someone who does NOT, I think I'd say that I know what I'm talking about. 

RobynBarcomb
RobynBarcomb

@mercyandgrand @SusanLowe Ok... so servers are making over $8 an hour. But most servers are not lucky enough to be working 40 hours a week. A typical shift is only 4-5 hours. So there is a flaw in the reasoning here. And not all of us work in NYC or in fine dining establishments!

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

@mercyandgrand @SusanLowe Thanks for the info. My mom worked in the day when all of her tips were cash and most were coins. When she came home every night, she would count and roll it at the kitchen table. She did okay for a woman with a 10th grade education and a hearing disability but she paid for her own health insurance and never got a sick day or any vacation time.

mercyandgrand
mercyandgrand

@tylercarter @mercyandgrand I see what you mean. But most, if not all, servers make more than minimum wage in tips (provided they are being honest when reporting cash tips - credit card tips are automatically tracked). It's really tough work though haha.  (most) Servers deserve their 20% (not 15%).