I’ll “Do” the Pancakes

And other expressions to avoid while dining out

Paul Greenberg

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AI image generated by Wombo

The plague that almost killed American restaurants is officially over. But am I the only one to have noticed that a different kind of infection took hold in our cafés and bistros during the long emergency? This new plague-let comes most recognizably in the form of a particular type of contaminated dialogue. A man (and it’s usually a man) peruses the menu at length and finally when the waitress alights (and it’s usually a waitress), the man informs her:

“Yeah, I’ll do the pancakes.”

Or the steak. Or the salmon. He would like to do these things. And the server is happy to bring them to him so that he might do them.

If you find this and other similar emerging restaurant-based usages troublesome, you’re not alone. “I wish I could explain why it sets my teeth on edge,” the New York Times’s restaurant critic Pete Wells wrote me in an email. “I absolutely hate it,” former Washington Post food columnist Jane Black zapped me back in seconds when I asked her opinion. The New Yorker’s Mary Norris was equally quick in her response. “It’s like the diner is taking on a Herculean task, eating more than is strictly called for.”

The problem with ‘doing’ the pancakes, is that it evokes for those of us perverse enough to be triggered in this way, the vision of a dude slipping his member into a pile of flapjacks.

Clearly “doing” food has recently become something of a flashpoint among those who dine out. But why exactly? Why the teeth-on-edge and the impulse to switch restaurants when the expression alights? Is it the restaurant equivalent of wearing sweatpants to the office? Or is something else going on here?

A classics Ph.D. I know believes the phrase comes from “the same odious eating culture that gave us the apparently now standard end-of-meal query from the waiter before clearing your plate, ‘are you still working?’ as if I went to the restaurant with my family or friends because it was something that needed to get done–I said I was going to do the pancakes, so now the question is whether I am done working on the pancakes.”

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org