Emerging concepts are winning guests with broader menus and brighter dining rooms.
Eschewing meat-and-potato meals and dark, moody interiors, the new iterations of steakhouses have been tailored to appeal to a younger, hipper demographic. Light and airy, modern and open, with whimsical touches in their design, these restaurants offer their fair share of steak, as well as dishes to suit other preferences and palates.
Three years ago Black Angus Steakhouse brought on then 36-year-old Amanda Rosenbloom as its vice president of menu innovation and purchasing and under her direction, the 56-year-old Southern California chain has transformed into a more modern iteration.
“My approach to food is to take something recognizable and extend beyond that expectation just a little bit, to give it a more modern twist. I’m starting from a perspective of what I would like to eat,” she says.
Rosenbloom particularly wanted to appeal to more women—whether they were catching up with friends, going on a date, or feeding their families—as well as a younger clientele.
As a result, Black Angus’s menu now features smaller, 6-ounce steaks, a variety of chicken and seafood dishes, sandwiches, and loads of seasonal vegetables and local products. The options can also accommodate different diets, including gluten-free, keto, and dairy-free, Rosenbloom says, and are more customizable than in the past. “We wanted to make sure these offerings were not just an afterthought, and women in particular respond to that,” she adds.
During the pandemic, Black Angus rolled out date-night packages, which rotate monthly and have featured barbecue, steak, and even margaritas. Starting at $80, the off-premises meals come with appetizers, entrées, sides, desserts, and cocktails.
In contrast to Black Angus’s half century in business, fellow SoCal concept Bull & Butterfly just opened in September 2020.
From the beginning, it was designed as a much more casual steakhouse. “The consumer has changed. People are in more casual attire and are much more relaxed,” says owner Alan Jackson. But even more than that, he built it for his local demographic, again, especially women, “who want a lighter take—in decór and in food,” he adds.
And while steak is at the cornerstone of the menu, dishes also include salads, swordfish, and roast chicken. Even the steaks, which are cooked over fire rather than fried in butter, are on the lighter side. Bull & Butterfly also offers smaller cuts of meat, like an 8-ounce ribeye cap.
And where more established steakhouses build check averages stealthily by selling items a la carte, Bull & Butterfly entrées are bundled with sides.
“We wanted to make sure you got a [full] meal when you ordered a steak and didn’t feel the need to order more things,” Jackson says. Incorporating chef-driven, seasonally sourced dishes also leads to a more nuanced menu—one that appeals to a broader consumer base. “We’re trying to be very intentional and trying to eliminate the veto vote,” he adds.
In late 2019, Marcus Palmer opened Smythe & Dove Steak, and from the get-go it broke the steakhouse mold. Located in Andover, Massachusetts, Smythe & Dove operates out of a large barn that seats 240 at full capacity. The first floor houses the bar and casual seating while the upstairs is slightly more formal, but still open to the music and energy from the floor below.
Just as Palmer overhauled the typical steakhouse ambiance, he also took aim at the menu. In addition to smaller steak portions, Smythe & Dove serves a broad selection of appetizers and shareable sides, as well as vegetarian and fish options like cedar plank salmon.
Across its nearly three dozen locations, Black Angus is refreshing its interiors to be more in line with the times. It selected lighter hues for the dining rooms and opened up the floorplans to create a more social atmosphere. Plus, the bar area has expanded to cater to guests seeking a more relaxed dinner.
The chain also changed the plateware to move away from white ovals to darker colors to make the food really pop, Rosenbloom says. Booths have remained as a subtle homage to the traditional steakhouse.
Jackson and his wife Heidi also wanted to cultivate a fresh feel at Bull & Butterfly. The staff don jeans and leather aprons, and the music is upbeat. The space is devoid of carpets, ceilings, and paneling and instead features soft colors like pinks, greens, and gentle golds. One side of the dining room even opens to an extensive outdoor patio. In short, Jackson believes it is the antithesis of the default steakhouse design.
Nevertheless there are nods to the steakhouses of yore. The booths are lined with leather—though it’s salmon pink—and the menu includes a blooming mushroom, which Jackson calls a cheeky version of Outback Steakhouse’s beloved Bloomin’ Onion.
Smythe & Dove also sports a steakhouse throwback element, namely wine lockers at the entrance and a temperature-controlled glass wine room, which doubles as a private dining room.
But even with these flourishes, the restaurant was designed in a way that celebrates its unique environment (in a New England barn) while adding hints of modernity, making it a casual yet vibrant environment for all.