Last Update: Jul 1st, 2023
Restaurant buzzwords

How To Read a Restaurant Menu

When I read that McDonald's was moving to serving only Free Range eggs, I had to laugh out loud. Considering that there's no such thing as free-range chickens in reality, and even if there was, there aren't enough free range eggs on the market to support all of McDonald's restaurants. If you remember the big chicken wings fiasco; when McDonald's was serving wings, the price of wings for the rest of us soared because McDonalds was buying up 1/2 of the inventory in the country. (Note that there IS such a thing as chicken wings).

There might be free range chickens, but there's no verification or requirement that something called a free-range egg actually come from a free-range chicken. How would you manage free-range chickens? How would you get them back into the coop? Would you ring a bell and expect all of them to come running in? And how would you collect the eggs; you're going to have chickens laying eggs all over the farm?

Understanding how to read a menu and food packaging will save you a lot of money and help you to learn if a restaurant is trying to serve you a good product at a fair price, or trying to trick you into overspending on ordinary ingredients.

One thing to understand is that the menu itself is the final word.

If the menu doesn't say "USDA Prime" or "Dry Aged', then it probably isn't, no matter what you've heard or what the Restaurant's website says. They didn't forget to put it on the menu.

If it doesnt say it on the menu; they're not obligated to serve it to you. A restaurant can have a case displaying Dry Aged beef and then serve you supermarket beef if the menu doesn't specifically say it's Dry Aged.

Angus Beef

Put 10 people in a room, feed them Angus and Hereford beef (basically the only 2 kinds of "regular" beef), and 5 will like the Angus better and 5 will like the Hereford.

The marketing skills of the Certified Angus Beef Association has beaten "Angus" into American brains, but in blind taste tests there's no clear choice in terms of preference. If you ask ranchers, they'll tell you that Angus brings them more money because Angus marketing is better.


Artisan is a word that simply means "made by a craftsman", that is, someone with skill. Hopefully, all restaurant food is made by people skilled in the field.

Award Winning

There doesn't appear to have to be any validity to the claim of "Award Winning". Since most awards are contrived through a wink and a nod from conscious less publications, all awards should be viewed with suspicion.

Black Angus


Black Angus beef is supposedly better than red Angus, but you'll find no consensus among experts that this is the case. More marketing. In order for beef to be called "Black Angus", it has to be a 51% breed. So it might be half better.

What's interesting is that Black Angus cattle don't take well to warm climates, so you don't want "local" black angus beef, if you're into the local farm thing. You don't wear black on a hot day, right?


The latest trick is the "Proprietary Blend" of ground beef. This is so they don't have to tell you what they're actually selling you. Mixing cheaper meats; maybe 5% of the stuff that you want? You buy Chuck or Round to get a specific taste. A blend is a crapshoot. Paying extra for a blend is stupid. It's worth less.


"Cage-Free" is a scam. There is no check done by any regulatory body to verify if eggs are cage free. There is also no penalty for saying eggs are cage-free even if they are just regular eggs.

Certified Angus Beef

CAB is a marketing concept where a 3rd party (not the USDA) selects and certifies beef to a specific set of criteria. What's interesting is that one thing that they don't certify is that the beef is from the Angus Breed; they only require that the animal has a black hide.

The big push of CAB is that it's the high end of supermarket quality. Supermarkets sell choice beef. They sell "low choice" and "high choice"; if you know how to select your meat you can always find high choice beef at the supermarket.

My take on CAB is that I EXPECT to get better than supermarket quality meat in a restaurant, and I'm ALREADY paying more for that expectation. I shouldn't have to pay EVEN MORE because you're guaranteeing that it's what I expect in the first place.


Chipotle is the name of a restaurant. It also refers to a lousy tasting ingredient that is inexplicably finding it's way into more and more dishes. A Chipotle pepper is a smoked, dried, reconstituted jalapeno pepper. Jalapenos are cheap peppers made famous by TGI Friday's Tostada Nachos. In ancient times, peppers were smoked to preserve them. We don't need to do that anymore. Chipotle the restaurant: Good. Chipotle the pepper: Bad.


Craft doesn't mean anything as a standalone word. It "supposedly" has a meaning in terms of beer production; but products like Blue Moon, produced by MillerCoors, claimed to be a craft beer until they were challenged. Magic Hat is no longer a craft beer because they bought another brewery. It's all really kind of silly.

Of course "Craft" beer isn't necessarily good. It just means that it's made in smaller quantities.

Outside of beer, Craft doesn't really have a specific meaning.

Free Range

There is no regulatory verification for the term Free Range. In other words, labeling is allowed and there is no penalty for producers claiming that their product is Free Range even if its not. Producers have to write a letter stating that their birds have "access" outside a closed space.


Fresh sounds good, but don't you expect all food served in a restaurant to be fresh? Just because they say the food is fresh doesn't mean that it is.

Grass Fed

Like Free Range, this labeling term is not regulated or verified. So any product can be labeled grass fed. There is no requirement that a menu item labeled grass-fed to actually be grass fed beef, as there is no regulation or process of verification in place for it. While some products that you buy in a supermarket may have 3rd party verification

USDA utilizes informal working definitions for animal care labeling claims such as "free range" and "grass fed." These terms currently have no regulatory definition.USDA-FSIS pre-approves product labels based on producer testimonials only.The agency does not check on-farm compliance with meat and poultry claims.USDA-AMS neither pre- approves nor verifies label claims for shell eggs .Thus, compliance with labeling claims is not verified, with the exception of claims associated with third-party certification programs. It is likely consumers grossly over-estimate the animal welfare significance of these claims.

Farm to Table

Supposedly this implies the use of local farms and that food is "fresher", but there is no regulatory body enforcing anything in particular. A restaurant could claim farm to table without being any different than other restaurants.

Hand Crafted

You've all heard the term "Hand Crafted" cocktails. They charge an extra $2 for this. Of course all mixed drinks are hand crafted; and they always have been. Except for stuff that comes out of those frozen drink machines.

Hormone Free

From the FDA:

Since all plants and animals produce hormones, a "hormone-free" labeling is not allowed.

In some cases, the FDA may approve labeling such as "No supplemental Hormones added", but those hormone-free burgers you've been eating are completely bogus, as all beef contains hormones.

Humanely or Responsibly Raised

This term is completely emotional and has no meaning to any regulatory agency. Any product can be claimed to be humanely raised.


The newest trick that all of the kiddie PR people are pushing on their restaurant "clients" is Local ingredients. It's kind of silly, because only about 5% of the population cares about such things, and in most cases it's not beneficial from a health or quality perspective. Additionally, local ingredients are probably not the best ingredients, so it implies that the food may not be competitive. Local beef is from where? Mexico? Utah? Southern Cal? There is no local seafood. In the middle of the desert, "Local" is a meaningless term since most stuff comes from CA anyway.

There is no hard criteria for calling something local; 400 miles has been mentioned.

Vegas 400miles

Would you consider a purveyor in Tijuana or Sacramento local? Next time you're in a restaurant that claims to use local ingredients, ask them what they use. You'll be surprised what they'll say.


Natural is another new-fangled trick word, which *most* people think means one thing or another. Here's something that you might find interesting, from the FDA:

This policy provides that the term may be applied only to products that contain no artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients or chemical preservatives, and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed. Minimally processed products that do not contain these types of ingredients, such as fresh meat and poultry, will AUTOMATICALLY QUALIFY for the use of the term "natural" on product labeling

So, my fine, foolish friends, all chicken and beef is "natural" by definition, rendering the term 'Natural Beef' completely meaningless.

NY Strip

Living in NY for the first half of my life, I never saw a "NY Strip" on a menu or in a supermarket. Why? Because there's no such thing. A NY Strip is a short loin; the part of a porterhouse steak that's not the filet mignon.

"NY Strip" is just to trick touristy types into thinking that they're getting something good. The short loin is a cheap cut of meat that is sold as a prime cut.


Organic, unlike many other terms, is actually a meaningful term. There are guidelines for selling organic products; producers must meet the guidelines and are subject to conformance inspections.

Recent studies have not concluded that there are any health or nutritional benefits to organic food.


The term Prime, by itself, it utterly meaningless. There is no difference between a Prime Ribeye Steak and a Ribeye Steak. Restaurants can call anything they want Prime. There is no legal definition.

The term USDA Prime is the only Prime designation that implies higher Quality, and the menu must specify the beef you are ordering is USDA Prime. A common trick is to advertise USDA Prime (or some other premium brand) but only 1 item on the menu is USDA Prime. Morton's, for example, talks about USDA Prime in their "About" section, but their menus only say Prime without USDA designation. It's possible that NONE of the beef they sell is USDA Prime, based on their menu. More likely, SOME of the beef they sell is USDA Prime, but they're not guaranteeing it.

Prime when applied to Chopped meat, even USDA Prime, is also largely meaningless. Grinding beef "undoes" the marbling, and fat is added, which is why greasy hamburgers taste so good. The grinding process mixes the fat and meat together, so the marbling of the original beef is inconsequential. The fat % of the beef determines how lean it is and the specific cut (Ground Round, Ground Chuck, etc) will determine the taste. Blends will have a different taste; "secret" blends are completely indeterminable (and may taste different every time you order it).

A restaurant could buy beef at Walmart, call it Prime Beef and sell it at USDA Prime prices without consequence.

Sushi or Sashimi Grade

Sushi Grade is a made up term that is totally unregulated. You could buy any tuna and call it Sushi Grade without consequences.


Sustainable is a term referring to the emphasis on ecology in producing foods, but there is no regulation regarding the claim. So you don't know anything about the food from the word.

Wagyu Beef


"Wagyu" litereally means Japanese Cow. American Wagyu beef is from cross breeds which may or may not be very good quality beef. The problem is that you can't tell if you're getting high quality Wagyu or not. The term itself doesn't guarantee anything in particular.

An interesting quote from a well-known beef authority:

Do not die without having tasted great Wagyu. That said, I do not recommend buying Wagyu hamburger which is essentially pre chewed meat, and which might have non-Wagyu fat in the blend.

If I'm ordering a $100 steak, I'm going to ask to see it before they cook it. If they refuse, I'll order something else.


Wild is a term than most often refers to fish; it implies that the product is not from a farm or fishery. A recent report found that 2/3 of the retail fish labeled as "Wild Salmon" wasn't actually wild.

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The multi-billion dollar health food industry has done a great job of brainwashing people.

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