When did waiters grinding pepper on salads become a thing?

Back when I first started dating (late 1960s) when you went to a nice restaurant the waiter would make a show out of grinding fresh pepper onto each salad. They would wait for the customer to nod before withdrawing the 2 foot long pepper mill. This was at places like the Brown Derby in Cleveland. It felt like you were ordering an expensive wine with the sommelier going through the cork sniffing ritual. Us 18 year olds were thoroughly impressed.

Now I can’t remember the last time I have seen this. Maybe I don’t go to nice enough restaurants (very good possibility). Although there is still one real Brown Derby (not a Roadhouse) near me and we stopped in a few months ago and I had the best T-bone I have ever eaten. But the pepper was DIY.


I don’t know the answer, but it made me think of this SNL skit.

My guess is that this started right after the first customer stole a restaurant pepper grinder for use at home.

I became aware of it in the early Eighties, although I’d certainly been to nice restaurants before that. The pepper mills also got bigger and bigger, as a weird kind of status symbol, I guess - my wife and I refer to them these days as “pepper bludgeons.”

They still do that at the fancier places we eat. Not at Denny’s, but Delmonico. Heck, they do it at our local Italian place as well.

The pepper-grinding ritual is still commonplace, including at non-high end restaurants.

Haven’t seen it in a while but now that I think of it, I haven’t ordered salad in a high end restaurant for some time.

What always bugged me is that the server would make the offer of pepper right away. I would always want to sample my salad first before deciding whether it needed pepper or not. By a similar token, (not to hijack) but I can’t abide the degenerates who salt their food without tasting it first. No offense.

Pepper boy? I think they prefer ‘pepperier’ (pronounced ‘pepper-yay’).

Degenerate checking. Sorry. :slight_smile:

And I haven’t seen this in awhile, although doesn’t Olive Garden do it?

The amount of salt or pepper on food is a matter of individual choice, not determined by the cook. That’s why formal table setting calls for one salt cellar for every two diners. If the food has been prepared properly, it will need the amount I automatically put on it to be palatable to me. If I tasted it first it would mean I didn’t trust the cook.

Pepper grinders in restaurants were not generally used before waiters started offering to grind it for you, and if you said no, the pepper grinder was not left on the table; you used the old fashioned pepper shaker already on the table.

I’d guess it was in the late 70s and early 80s and it was in upscale (possibly theme) restaurants, first. The first salad bars were introduced at that time too. The first in Denver was ‘The Cork and Cleaver’.


Slate suggests this practice started in the early 20th Century.

They only seem to do this for salad. Why not for the soup or steak?


This “Brown Derby in Cleveland.” Was it the one on the “Cloverleaf” on State Route 21 at the northern end of Independence? Where I-480 crosses I-77 these days?

That was where my parents would take us in the 1960s and '70s when they wanted to go to a “classy” joint. I remember being fond of the grilled beef shashlik with rice pilaf.

To answer the question, the big pepper mills came into fashion in the early 1970s. By mid-decade, there were jokes and New Yorker cartoons about them.

You still get the waiters offering a fresh grind, but never for for a secondo (meat or fish, for which you assume the cooks actually SEASONED the dish). Often for the primo (pasta or risotto) after the offer of freshly grated cheese.

The only one I went to back then was the main one near the airport, on Brookpark Road near Rocky River Drive. I worked at the nearby NASA and the Derby was where any important outing was held. I met my 2nd (current) wife on a blind date there in 1995. It was just the place people went.

But by then it was a Roadhouse, with beer crates stacked for decor and rowdy music playing. We left.

I don’t remember the one near Cloverleaf but that was an area I seldom went to back then. I do go to the Outback in that area occasionally today. The one we visited last month is in Middleburg Heights. In a shopping center. Doesn’t have the same elegance as the huge room in the one by the airport.

The main room was a vast oval with a domed ceiling (not a derby, though). At the end was a raised area. If your party was large enough, you could reserve it.

Ah, the memories. One project we had in common with the Army, and one brash young engineer referred to the Army’s liaison (I think he was a colonel) as the Jolly Green Warmonger after a few drinks. Fortunately the colonel was happy as hell by then also.


I was in a strip club once and a girl named Pepper offered me a grinding.

“Say when!”

“Too late…” :frowning:

That bit is where I learned the practice even existed.

There is a little motel just north of my hometown that boasts of having the largest peppermill collection in the world.