Steak: What Consumers Know and Want

October 30, 2020


Steak is a food that can be described as tender, flavorful, juicy, and cooked to perfection; in fact, most consumers describe their ideal steak as just that: 

"A tender, flavorful, medium-rare steak that isn't overly salty."

"Tender, juicy, cooked perfectly and perfectly seasoned."

"Cooked to perfection."

Steaks are top of mind for consumers, in fact, 48% of consumers eat a steak on a weekly basis, according to research recently conducted by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. This research was conducted among 1,500 consumers and sought to understand more about consumer preferences when it comes to dining out for steak.  

The research determined how consumers define a quality steak, what factors are most important to them, and what cuts, cook, toppings, and more, consumers prefer most.

While many may think of a steak dining experience in terms of fine dining, when asked about preferred dining locations for steak, many consumers prefer a casual dining option as well. For the most part, consumers know what they want when they are ordering a steak at a restaurant. The majority also prefer to order a steak from a restaurant that specializes in steak rather than one that has a varied menu. Not surprising, regardless of the type of cuisine or restaurant, the steak itself is most important, especially when it comes to the price or taste of the steak.

Like many beef options, including burgers, consumers are particular when it comes to their preferences for steak. The ability to customize a steak is one of the most appealing things about it. In general, it’s no shock consumers are thinking most about the steak’s taste or flavor when dining out—much of steak’s preference comes from how it is cooked or prepared and the quality of the cut.

Consumers are familiar with popular steak cuts, namely the Top Sirloin, Ribeye, Filet Mignon, T-Bone / Porterhouse, and Strip Steak. On the other hand, only a third of consumers have heard of and eaten Cowboy or Hanger Steak.   

Regardless of cut, when asked to rank different factors associated with a steak’s quality, consumers ranked taste, tenderness, juiciness, and freshness as most important. In comparison, when asked unaidedly, consumers note freshness is far more important when talking about burgers. Why might that be? Well, most consumers likely expect their steak is already fresh and so it’s less of a focus for them.

Other aspects, like the cook, type of cut, and grade are also important. The cook refers to the importance of restaurants getting the cook right. After all, if consumers are ordering steak, they want it to be prepared to their preferred level of doneness. However, there is no unanimous decision on what level of doneness is best, with 50% preferring a medium or medium-rare steak, and the other 50% preferring a more well-done steak.

To summarize using consumer’s own words, a quality steak is…

"Cooked to order, served with sides that I choose, juicy and tender."

"A good cut that is cooked the way you want and that is tender."

"A steak that is perfectly cooked, just the way I like it, and made from quality cuts of beef."

As mentioned, the type of cut is relevant to consumers perceptions of steak quality. Regarding types of cuts consumers prefer most, the Filet Mignon is number one, especially among women. Consumers also perceive the Filet as the highest quality cut followed by the Ribeye.  

Though most consumers focus on the taste, tenderness, and juiciness of a steak, a quarter do feel having a USDA Prime steak is important. However, claim-related factors like “all-natural” or “organic” are less relevant when dining out for steak.

Though the steak is the star of the plate, it’s unlikely it will be the only thing on the plate. The side consumers primarily prefer with their steak is potatoes. In fact, 64% of consumers prefer to have some sort of potato side with their steak, with the most popular being a baked potato or mashed potatoes. Other accompaniments consumers also like with their steak includes mushrooms, steak sauce, and butter. 

Ultimately, restaurants hoping to appeal more to consumers should focus on taste, preparation method, and ensuring the cook is perfection. Offering a variety of steak cuts when possible, but especially a Filet and/or Ribeye offering will appeal to most. Additionally, great customer service and delicious potato sides are sure to provide consumers with a more than satisfactory steak dining experience.