Ask a Waiter

Bernard Patten of Peter Luger Has a Strict ‘No Touching’ Rule (Even With Lindsay Lohan)

“Unless you knew [the new room] was a new addition, you wouldn’t know by walking in.”

Last night at Peter Luger, around 9 p.m., Lindsay Lohan dined with a large party, sporting black patent-leather quilted ankle boots with black semi-opaque tights and a black crushed velvet jacket that came to mid-thigh. One man who wasn’t fazed by this? Waiter Bernard Patten. Since moving from his native Dublin in 1985, he’s seen it all, first at the Waldorf-Astoria and then, for the past eighteen years, at Luger. The Williamsburg bastion of dependability has been going through some changes lately — a new steak on the menu, an expanded kitchen, and a new dining room (seen here) that Patten tells us has eased waiting times. In about six months, there will also be an upstairs lounge and bar with an adjoining private-party space. We asked Patten how he’s been weathering the changes.

To what extent do you feel obligated to play the role of the “Peter Luger waiter”?
Ninety-nine percent of the time, when people come in they say, “I didn’t think the people were supposed to talk to us.” We’re not telling them what to do, but we don’t want them to make a mistake and go away from the porterhouse.

How is the porterhouse supply these days? Are you over the shortage?
At the moment it seems to be fairly good. After the election, however, they’ll put more money into ethanol, and the corn will go to that as opposed to farmers [for feed].

Have other items made it onto the menu besides the rib eye you added during the shortage?
Now everyone wants to order the onion rings. They started when they had the scare with spinach about a year ago. People were ordering onion rings so much they had to stay on the menu.

Have any menu changes been particularly controversial?
The ice-cream sundae. The waiters didn’t want it on the menu, but eventually everybody loved it so much they said, “The customer likes it, that’s it.” Another change is Saturday lunch. When I started, 40 people was a busy Saturday lunch. Now we do 300 to 400 people. And the wine list has grown — we used to have one or two wines on the list.

How many people order the fish?
When customers ask that, I say, “Someone came in last year and they ordered one fish.” But we sell maybe 50 portions of fish over the week out of I don’t know how many people — about 3,000.

If you’re a party of four, what’s better — two steaks for two or one for four?
You get more meat and heavier weight with the steak for four (there’s two T-bones on it plus the sirloin). But the steak for two, which is the main porterhouse, has more filet on it. Some people like the filet a little more because of the tenderness.

What do you say when someone wants a steak well done?
I tell them, “This is prime beef — the more you cook it, the tougher it gets. It’s not like choice, which is the opposite.” But if you want a steak well done, you’re not going to eat it with red in the middle just because the waiter wants it that way. Ninety percent of people take their steak medium rare.

Do you have a serving ritual?
I’ve always served a little filet and a little sirloin with the juice on top — I give it a shine, or give it a little more liquid protein. It has to look nice on the plate.

Any jokes you’ll tell?
When I come with the hot plate, I say, “It’s like a first date. No touching.” They’ll always say, “It’s a long time since you were on a date.”

When’s the best time to walk in?
If you’re in around 5:45 p.m. or 6 p.m., you won’t have to wait [for an hour]. If you come in at 6:45 p.m., you won’t be seated till well after eight. But if you come in at 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m., it tends to be slowing down.

Do customers get bummed when they’re seated in the new room?
People seem to love it. Unless you knew it was a new addition, you wouldn’t know by walking in. Our older clients really want the old rooms.

Related: After 120 Years, Peter Luger Introduces a New Steak

Bernard Patten of Peter Luger Has a Strict ‘No Touching’ Rule (Even