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.

244 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.

lewis
lewis

Times have changed: Years ago when I actually worked in a restaurant we felt fortunate if we got a full 10% tip.

CharlesBabineaux
CharlesBabineaux

If I ever open my own restaurant, I'm going make it abundantly clear (in the form of signs) that my servers and cooks are paid generously (meaning anywhere from 15 to 30 dollars an hour depending on experience).  I'm also going to make it abundantly clear that tips are not expected or encouraged.  That means no tip jars or credit card slips with tipping lines on them.

KarlaKatz
KarlaKatz

There are very rare times when I tip less than 18-20%. And, even when paying for my meal with a credit card, I always, always pay the tip in hard cash.  My decades-ago stint as a waitress during college helps remind me of what crap is served to the server by diners; I try to alleviate some of that, with just a bit more tipping than the average 15%.

marco1173
marco1173

I'll probably get some flak for saying this, but the practice of tipping should be eliminated. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not a cheapskate, I tip. I have worked my share of jobs where tipping is expected too and I know how hard many servers work. But the reason I came to believe tipping is so abhorrent is because it allows employers to essentally pad or subsidize their profits at customer's expense, while paying their workers hunger wages and no benefits. In the past, some of the benefits of earning tips lied in the fact that a server didn't have to report tips as income, therefore avoiding income taxes on those earnings. But that's also not fair to the rest of the taxpayers. Now, the IRS closed that loophole and in teamwork with employers they began to force waiters to report tips on all sales, sometimes as much as 20%, whether they actually earned them or not, and the only ones benefitting are still only the government and the employer. When we start realizing that the very people that depend on tipping are who benefit the least from it, it becomes clear that the only way to force change is by not tipping altogether.

politicalbandit
politicalbandit

As it pertains to Deserts and Tipping, I say Bravo as loud as anyone can on the Internet!!!!

keithg
keithg

Tipping is the most abhorent social custom in the world, as practiced in the US, where somehow tipping is expected, regardless of service. Pay your employees, raise your prices and do away with tipping. My responsibility to support your employees' wages should come from what you are charging to sell your product, not from any generousity (or guilt) on my part. I'm a poor tipper, I do it out of guilt and I don't apologize for it.

MichaelCosta
MichaelCosta

First and foremost, I want to say, that if you refill my drinks, and get me my food hot (time is irrelevant since you cannot control the kitchen as a waiter) and are not intrusive to my meal, you will always get 20% or more for a tip.

That being said, on the desert thing. I think Applebee's 1.00 mini brownie and small scoop of vanilla is desert perfection.

metallhd
metallhd

By far and away the worst food trend is the trend of manufacturers putting less in the package, or making smaller items, or by making the package smaller for the same price.  The trend is towards fooling the consumer into getting what they thought was the same old deal when it's anything but.  Go ahead, look down at charcuterie from your ivory tower, but if you want a real world problem here it is.  They're all starting to do it and it sucks!

RachaelHarven
RachaelHarven

I agree 1000% (which means I will tell 10 people as if it's my own idea) 


The dessert option is off the mark entirely.  I like to make dessert plates myself, and have some training so trust me.  A dessert should be the first thing you serve at a long meal.  They take the least amount of time to prepare, and when you are hungry a tiny frivolous dessert plate truly opens up the senses, and afterward you might even be so turned on to the idea of actual food you are a danger to the community.  Start at the halo and end at the iron.  That's how to eat rich white people food.

get$aved
get$aved

I have no problem tipping for table service at restaurants....15%...20%, or more - depending on the service.  What I do have a problem with is the tipping jars that have magically appeared over the years at all these drive-thru and carry-out places.  When I drive thru a coffee place, or take-out pizza place - what EXACTLY am I supposed to be tipping for?  I have to agree that tipping has grown into a monster scam at places other than restaurants with actual table service.  SURVEY:  Where is the craziest place you have seen a tip jar???? (and what did you do??)

gbd8251
gbd8251

I agree with all, with the exception og tipping. Tipping is based on the quality of service. My norm is 20%.  However it goes down if the service is not there.  While most who wait tables are very good at their job, there are a few who are not. A mandatory tip is a slap in the face to those who work hard to provide quality service.  

MattWoodruff
MattWoodruff

Food critics! Jesus Christ! Your self-imposed importance is absolutely ridiculous. You're mooches as far as I'm concerned. Running around getting free meals and having wait staff and kitchen crews a like grovel at your every whim and cough just so you will write a good review. Your egos are unbelievable. And assuredly undeserved, as this article details in epic form. There are a few problems here. Rock slime? Ok. So what are mushrooms? Dirt Slime? Lichen, sir, when cooked correctly (boiled with a little baking soda to remove its natural tang), tastes like black trumpet mushrooms. And if Mr. Ozersky was worth his salt as a food critic he would know this. Whats wrong with exploring new ingredients? Pro-Am charcuterie? I'm sorry but I thought chefs were pros. Admittedly, some are better than others, but I have never eaten actual in house charcuterie that was bad. I've definitely had commercially produced charcuterie that was atrocious and was claimed to be made in-house. Perhaps that's what Mr. Ozersky is thinking of. Again if he were a food critic worth his salt, he would be able to tell the difference. Fake smoke? The smoking gun? The smoking gun creates ACTUAL smoke. Heat + fuel = smoke and fire. I dont know what magical land this guy comes from where it does not. Post modern desserts? If you aren't hungry for it tell the server to cancel dessert. Don't be gluttonous and then complain about it. Again, if this guy was a food critic worth his salt, he would have been able to sense that there was piss in his cheerios this morning before he ate them. I agree with his views on tipping though.

PhilPoeschl
PhilPoeschl

Now that I have re-read this guys article, I see that he proposes to eliminate "optional tipping".   WRONG!!!!  If we force everyone to tip than I say dump the tip all together and let the restaurant pay market based wages.  The purpose of the tip is to provide incentive to the server to work hard with little management oversight. And by the way, market based wages may be higher or lower than what servers make today, but most likely about the same.  Be careful what you wish for.

PhilPoeschl
PhilPoeschl

I cannot believe how stupid the comments are here. The reason we have tipping is so there is an incentive to receive good service. We could get rid of tipping but then servers would quit working, thus driving up the wages until they hit market rate, whatever that would be.  Raising servers wages would drive up resturants costs, thereby driving up the costs of the meals, but probably no more than what we pay today if the tips are factored in.  The real issue would be, would we get as good of service.  The tip is an incentive to receive good service.  I suppose the prospect of being fired by the manager is an incentive to provide good service too but would require a manager be on the server to know it is happening.  Some posters here seem to think meals would not increase in price if tipping went away. How do you suppose a resturant is supposed to make up the new added costs to pay more than 2.13 per hour.

Goliath
Goliath

Sorry, but I have to comment on the Australia and countries where you don't tip comments below.  Australia really is the only country I have been to where tipping isn't part of their lifestyle.  I was there for over two months, traveling from Port Douglas, in the northeast, to Melbourne, in the far south. I never ever  encountered a bad server or waiter.  They were very nice considerate people.  I was very lucky I guess.  I hope other countries that practice this would be the same. 

jkcd2011
jkcd2011

Required to pay a 15% tip?  No way!!  If you give me good service (make sure my drink glass is never empty) then I will tip and if the server is friendly I will tip.  I will tip way more than 15% for good service but sometimes these servers do nothing for me.  If you ignore me, then I will leave nothing.  You get what you deserve.  A tip is for good service not just because I am supposed to leave one. 

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

I can't stop chuckling since I read your article. Besides the information, it was just so damn funny I'm sending it to everybody I know will appreciate it (big eaters). Your next post will hopefully be: Liquens and Not (so) Easy, No Fat - Rock Slime Advocate Dietary Association (or End of The Road (as we know it)). In my part of he world it's a beautiful Sunday morning and I'm gonna do my best to keep  it that way, Pretty soon the Kids and Grandkids'll be here for Grandma's Super Tasty Chicken Roast (sure smells good!).  

MichaelHughes
MichaelHughes

Most people don't realize that restaurants are allowed to pay wait-staff less than minimum wage BECAUSE 'tips' exist.  However, remember when it was customary to tip 10%, then it went to 15% in the late 90's and NOW it's 22%?  Who comes up with these numbers?  I always tip a minimum of $3, if by myself.  But really....22% for my family's meal?    That's $8, usually.  With just 3 customer's an hour tipping like that, they make more than I do....and I have 2 degrees.