Pros: Great food, clean kitchen
Cons: Can be expensive, long waits!
When I was in college, I worked for a year as a ho-stess at the Outback Steakhouse in Saint Augustine, Florida. Having worked there, I ate there quite frequently, had in intimate knowledge of the way food is prepared, and decided I would share it with you! This is, in fact, my first restaurant review. I seem unable to pick a topic and stick with it. Destined never to be named top reviewer or lead of anything (well, anything Epinions related anyhow), I press on. Im back once again to share with you some of the vast void of useless information that is, my mind
A Little History on The Chain and What that Slogan REALLY Means
Outback Steakhouse was started in 1988, with the intent of being a restaurant that offers consistently high quality food and service, generous portions at moderate prices and a casual atmosphere suggestive of the rustic Australian outback. Do they achieve this? Well well discuss that later. The slogan they have adopted is No Rules, Just Right.
So, what does that actually mean? Well what it means is that they will bend over backward to accommodate any request you might have. In regard to seating, if you ask for a table, and it is open, we have to seat you there, even if it means we are passing over a server and messing up the rotation. If you want something cooked a certain way, request it and it shall be done. Nice!
As the name implies, the menu offers a variety of steak, which are all fresh and cooked to order. They also have a number of chicken dishes, some pasta, shrimp, burgers and sandwiches. The bloomin onion is always a favorite, and for this appetizer, they put a large onion in a manual machine, and when the lever is depressed it cuts the onion into a number of strips still attached in the middle. The onion is then battered and fried and served with dipping sauce. Yum.
Another appetizer favorite of mine is the walkabout soup. This is the house soup, and is a creamy cheese onion soup. It is difficult to describe, but delicious- try a cup!
Some other appetizers are: Aussie Cheese Fries- (Aussie chips (similar to french fries) topped with Jack and Cheddar cheeses and bacon, served with ranch dressing); Shrimp cocktail; Chicken wings; Coconut Shrimp Six huge shrimp dipped in beer batter, rolled in coconut deep fried and served with a tasty sauce.
Some of their many, many entrees are:
*Outback Rack- A 14-oz. rack of lamb with a Cabernet sauce (my mums fave!)
*Prime Ministers Prime Rib -16-ounce cut, oven roasted slowly (12-oz. and 8-oz cuts also available)
Drovers Platter- Generous portions of ribs and chicken breast with Aussie chips and cinnamon apples
Fish of the Day
*Alice Springs Chicken- Grilled chicken breast and bacon smothered in mushrooms, melted Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, with honey mustard sauce
*Walhalla Pasta (my favorite)-Pasta tossed with fresh steamed veggies in an Alfredo sauce, topped with parmesan. Also available with a grilled chicken breast
All of the entrees come with the side of your choice. You can get a salad (garden or caeser) for a very small additional price.
(Menu items taken from memory and www.outback.com/menu)
From the service point of view, leaning how to take orders here was ultra tricky. They werent jotted down or remembered by a server and entered into a computer- there is a very complicated way of mapping out for the chef what each person wants and how they want it.
If you dine in the restaurant, and there is an extra seat at your table, your server will sit down with you to take your order. This is done to make things seem more relaxed. It also takes more time, but servers here have fewer tables than most restaurant servers do (usually no more than 4, where 6-12 tables/server is often the norm). This doesnt mean that your server will never end up in the weeds (going crazy, everything comes out at once, and she/he cant seem to juggle the timing for various reasons)- it happens to the best of them. For the most part, your service will be friendly, and it will be done right. You cannot become a member of wait-staff without first working as a hostess or other member of the team first.
All Outbacks have, to my knowledge, a full bar. There are a number of beers and wines available as well as mixed drinks. Two for one happy hour is a nice bonus, but may vary depending on the location. My favorite drink is the Wallaby Darned- this is sort of a frozen peach Bellini, with champagne, peaches, schnapps and other yummy goodness served in a freezing mug. Im drooling just thinking about it.
They also offer a number of very large deserts, so if one catches your eye, think about sharing!
Behind the Scenes
So I promised you some insider info, and I can only report on the specific restaurant that I worked in, but I believe that most of the restaurants would be similar to the one in St. Aug- if not identical.
The kitchen is large and very, very clean. There is nearly always a manager in the back, assisting the staff with orders, overseeing the production of the food, and helping in whatever way is necessary. This may include adding garnish or getting food loaded onto a tray for an over-busy server.
I cannot stress enough how much of an emphasis was placed on cleanliness here. Something I really appreciated since I ate there often. Trash cans were places far away from the cooking area as was the dish washing area!
There is a very large dishwashing area located off the kitchen, as well as a laundry. The hostesses would roll steak knives and forks into napkins for the tables when they werent too busy. They are also responsible for making sure that the bathrooms are kept neat, and there are no fingerprints on the door. If you notice a messy bathroom and want to report it, let a hostess know. More than likely they have had a very busy spell and have had a hard time getting away to check the bathroom. If you let them know that the bathroom did not stay as clean as they hoped it would in the last hour and a half, theyll find time to make it right, quickly!
Another note on bathrooms is they are often marked Blokes (men) and Sheilas (women)!
I called myself a ho-stess, because though they were all very nice girls, all of the other women I worked with dressed slightly provocatively. Not overly so, and nothing you could specifically point out was an issue, but I think the Outback liked having attractive girls working as greeters, and who can blame them, really.
A note about the seats, for my larger readers, is that the booths are somewhat flawed in that if you are a very heave person, you may not fit into a booth. This was tricky for the hostesses, because everyone always wanted a booth, but wed have a pretty good idea of who may not fit into one. Rather than lead that person into a situation that might prove embarrassing, wed take them to a table instead. Just something you might find helpful.
If you are a hostess at the Outback, you receive less than minimum wage, but you also receive a portion of the waitstaffs tips, so you make out slightly better than minimum wage in the long run, but only slightly.
Another responsibility of mine was occasionally working take out. The take out option at Outback is fantastic! When you call them to place your order, you tell them what type of car you have, and when we see you pull up, we bring the food right out to you. Well make change at your car or run in and out again with your credit card. Its the next best thing to delivery. It should be noted that whoever works this position deserves a tip. When the food is ordered, one person will write your order up and submit it to the kitchen. The kitchen serves it like any other meal, and the take out person wraps each meal, gets the appropriate cutlery, bread etc. and packages it all up for you. Dont tip them as much as you would if you had been served in a restaurant, but give whoever helps you a couple of dollars at the very least- they worked for itand that position doesnt get a share of waitstaff tips.
My experiences working and eating at the Outback have been good ones. The food is fresh and tasty. My mother goes mad for their lamb chops, and I love their pasta and steamed broccoli. In any restaurant there is room for error, and if you should order something and are not happy with it, send it back, and be nice about it. IN a lot of the restaurants I have worked in ( 5 total), the kitchen staff could care less if the customer is happy. This is not the case at the Outback- they really do want you to have to food you want, and will redo anything for you in order to make it better.
My mother once ordered her favorite- rack of lamb, and once she started eating, she found the meat to be very (and unusually) tough. We called the waitress over, and she brought them back. The kitchen prepared a new set for her quickly, (which were delicious) and she wasnt charged for her meal. Things like this happen from time to time- it happens to me fairly frequentlyIll buy 6 steaks for a dinner party and someone gets a tough one. Just let them know what the problem is and theyll fix it for you happily. The food here really is fresh, and prepared with care.
The Outback Steakhouse is a popular family destination for the reasons I have mentioned above. They do offer a kids menu, and kids are often there (theyll get crayons to color with). It is also often crowded, and long wait times are not uncommon, especially on holidays.
One Valentines day I was stunned that there was a three- hour wait, and people agreed to wait! I thought they were crazy, but kept on taking names anyhow. They do not take reservations. Because of this, I will often order from takeout! This is probably not your best bet for a romantic dinner, either.
Another downside is cost.The portions are generous, and the quality is very good, but these things dont come cheap. Expect to pay about $50 for dinner for two if you have some drinks or appetizers. It isn't expensive, but it's more expensive than Applebee's or Chili's.
I really enjoyed working for the Outback, and that says something. From my experience, the people who run and manage them are good people, the wait staff are all friendly and skilled, and the kitchen is clean and efficient. The food is mighty tasty as well. I absolutely recommend The Outback Steakhouse. As chain restaurants go, it really doesnt get much better than this!