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I've been wondering how restaurants are able to serve food so fast. How are they able to serve thick steaks in 20 - 30 minutes?

Here's the process that I know of:

  1. Bring the steak to room temperature (20 minutes)
  2. Pan sear it for around 2.5 minutes on each side
  3. Put it in the oven 15 minutes.
  4. Rest it for 10 minutes.

That's like 50 minutes.

Another question is how do they manage the steaks? Do they have several in freezer ready and when the stock goes down, they start to thaw the one that's frozen? Or they don't even have frozen steaks? How are they able to keep the steak for a long period of time without it going bad (let's say it's a slow week for the restaurant)? When I buy a steak and put it my freezer, it only last 3 days before it turns gray.

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Subtract the 20 minutes for bringing the steak to room temp and you have what? 30 minutes. So even if they do nothing else to speed things along -- and I'm sure they do -- all they need to do is know their volume and have that many steaks ready to go. –  Carey Gregory Jul 2 at 3:40
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I suspect restaurants often buy vacuum-packed meat. But managing your supplies and having sufficient turnover is certainly very important for quality (I have often read warnings against restaurants having too many things on offer). –  Relaxed Jul 2 at 7:48
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You can cook a perfect steak straight from the fridge, into a hot pan (just adjust cooking time slightly). No oven time required. And only 3 to 5 minutes resting. This assumes you have a responsible diet and therefore your steak is 100 to 200 g, and therefore only 15 to 20 mm thick –  TFD Jul 2 at 7:49
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You can also use the "reverse searing techinque", i.e. you first put it in the oven and only then you pan it, this reduces drastically servings time. To get an idea: weber.com/weber-nation/blog/grilled-steaks-the-reverse-sear –  Giovanni De Gaetano Jul 2 at 9:57
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The steaks (in a regular steakhouse with good turn over) will be stored for immediate usage closer to "room" temperature than what you will usually have at home; and they will cook it on a higher temperature grill or broiler than what you have at home (and will not go to the oven) –  Max Jul 2 at 14:16

3 Answers 3

When I worked the wheel at a local restaurant, we served 4oz medallions of filet mignon that went from fridge directly to grill. Only took about 5 minutes on each side, then the steak was plated and sent to the table. There was no "wait until room temp", oven or rest stage. The rest stage wasn't necessary because we weren't pre-slicing the steak before sending it out. By the time the steak leaves the grill and makes it to the table, it has hit a satisfactory rest period.

Larger cuts would require the oven, but those too, would not require waiting until room temperature nor the rest period.

Another question is how do they manage the steaks? Do they have several in freezer ready and when the stock goes down, they start to thaw the one that's frozen?

I can't speak for chain restaurants. The restaurant I worked in would order and prepare the fresh protein twice a week (Thursdays and Mondays). The protein was held in the walk-in cooler. When rush comes, the chef that works the wheel uses several 6" pans that separately contains all the proteins in a smaller fridge nearby.

Of course this is only my experience. Like I said, I can't speak for larger restaurants.

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My experience is similar to @Nick Williams. The restaurants I worked at had meat deliveries almost every morning and I was one who would break them down into final steaks/portions. I also worked the entire line - the meat was held in refrigeration (drawers) and went from there directly to the grill. If someone ordered a well done steak, the wait staff advised the customer that it would 'take a while,' or we'd butterfly it to speed it up (with customer ok). If we ran out of a particular cut, then we were out until the next day. Meat older than one day was tossed. –  Michael E. Jul 2 at 14:56

As far as I have experienced steaks are rarely brought to room temperature before cooking except for steaks cooked 'bleu' or 'blue'. You also have to consider that kitchen equipment deliver much more heat than your regular domestic stove. Furthermore the cooking equipment eg chargrills, stoves, flat grills, etc... are always on, hot and ready to cook. In addition, chefs are skilled and thus fast – in larger brigade, it is the more experienced chefs who operate the 'grill' section. Once the steak is cooked it has to be kept warm until the meals for the order the steak is part of are ready to go. Depending on how busy the kitchen is, the steak, particularly if cooked, rare to medium, will be taken away from the grill/stove/oven before a few minutes before it is fully cooked. It will finish cooking while resting. So skills, equipment and a good sense of timing all contribute to make cooking steaks in a restaurant kitchen much faster then in a domestic environment. As for 'managing' steaks that should be an other question.

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One could also cook the steak "low temp" or "sous vide" to the desired doneness, then chill. In this case a high heat sear on a grill or flat top would only take a minute per side, to brown or form crust...greatly decreasing the time it takes from order to plate.

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