“Do” (a menu item)

My observant friend Pat Raccio Hughes remarked that she’s lately been noticing young people ordering food in restaurants in a particular way. Let’s say they want a hamburger. Instead of saying “I’ll have a hamburger,” or “I’d like a hamburger,” or even the dreaded supposed Americanism, “Can I get a hamburger?”, they’ll say, “I’ll do the hamburger.”

This was a new one on me, but I immediately started to notice it in my travels. It seemed a sort of reversal of another food-related “do,” previously covered in NOOBs (“This restaurant does a nice pot roast”), so I had a hunch it has a British origin.

The only online dictionary in which I found a relevant definition was in one of the OED‘s many, many meanings for “do”: “To partake of (a portion of food or (esp.) an alcoholic drink); to eat or drink, esp. in a social context.” “Let’s do lunch” is a common phrase. But neither that nor and of the OED citations seem quite the same thing as ordering a particular item in a restaurant:

1853   ‘C. Bede’Adventures Mr. Verdant Green x. 78   To ‘do bitters’, as Mr. Bouncer phrased the act of drinking bitter beer.

1867   J. S. BorlaseNight Fossikers 116   I asked him to come to Poole’s shanty and do a chop and a nobbler with me.

1888   Civil & Mil. Gaz. (Lahore) 8 May 2/1   Hulloo! Back again, old man?.. I think we might do a drink together in honour of the occasion.

1908   S. R. LeeOther Sara v. 65   I feel as if I could do a chop and a glass of stout now.

1987   Sunday Tel. 19 July (Colour Suppl.) 39/3   An invitation to lunch might be pitched as, ‘Come on, let’s do sushi’, or ‘We have to do some Korean’.

In 2013, someone on the WordReference.com forum asked about “I’ll do the salad.” Only a few of the respondents had encountered it, but, amusingly, most of the British ones contended it was an Americanism, and most of the Americans contended it was a Britishism. Someone posted a link to a California magazine article from 1985 about demanding and entitled restaurant customers, an example being a woman who told a waiter

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.58.50 AM

Also suggesting an ’80s origin was the Random House editor and word maven Benjamin Dreyer, who responded when I brought it up on Twitter: “I’m sure I remember ‘will do the lobster’ from the last years of my restaurant career, so NYC in the late eighties.”

In 2013, an American blogger complained about the usage but had no idea where it had come from. In 2017, another blogger who also appears to be American noted:

“I’ll do the [food]” is one such phrase that’s been bothering me for the past few years—likely because I overheard it on an episode of some Beverly Hills reality show that I hated both for its existence and cult-following. Since then, I’ve continued to hear this phrase assertively stated at formal and fast-casual restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

Finally, I asked my daughter Maria, who is young and who is a writer and editor for Food and Wine magazine. She replied,

I think there’s something slightly pretentious about it, but i definitely do it maybe 50 percent of the time.

It often comes up  when servers are describing specials, and they say, “We have a lovely sole meuniere with chanterelle mushrooms, and we have a pork chop with an apple demi glaze.”

And then you say, “I’ll do the pork chop.”

My conclusion: this do isn’t a Britishism, one-off or otherwise. And it seriously annoys some people.


18 thoughts on ““Do” (a menu item)

  1. I have yet to hear ‘do the [food item]’ used in London, where I live. I don’t think it is a Britishism.
    I have – for several years – been hearing people ordering food by saying ‘Can I get a …’
    This seems to me as rude as using ‘Hey!’ as a greeting.

    1. I used to think that ‘Hey’ as a greeting was somewhat abrupt, but then I learned some Swedish and realised it just means Hello. So many US people are descended from Scandinavians and other Nordic roots that I’m sure it’s a legacy from that.

      Also note, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Atticus Finch actually tells his children to say ‘Hey, Mrs Wossname’ as a polite greeting.

  2. Can’t recall every hearing “do” in Britain, but there is the phrase “I could murder a …”. And “to do” can mean to murder. (Usually, to do in.)
    In one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, the character of Death says, “I could murder a curry.” (But being Death, he says it in small caps.) I’m fairly sure I’d come across the phrase before reading the book, and the Pratchett Quote File tells me it was In Mort, which I think I read not long after it came out, so about 30 years ago

  3. Ben, thanks for citing my blog piece “I Think I’ll do the Mashed Potatoes.(Does This Make Me a Pervert.)” I appreciate it greatly. The polluting of our language is just one more sign of the dumbing down of the populace. tony powers (Barking in the Dark) continue…

  4. I’m British and live in London, and I’ve only heard “I could do curry” as a positive however I’ve frequently heard the negative over the last 10 years or so e.g. “I don’t do dairy” or “I don’t do spicy food”, implying they are allergic to that foodstuff/drink. Why they say this rather than “I’m lactose intolerant” or “I’m allergic to alcohol” I have no idea, I think because it jars, it sort of emphasises it. (cf. “How are you?” “I’m good”.)

  5. I wonder if this usage of “do” might be akin to another, structurally similar one: to »do« drugs (»do« coke, »do« acid, »do« meth, etc). From my perspective, that one seemed to spring up suddenly in the late 1980s and shove aside “take” (take drugs, take acid, etc). Around that time I even heard the likes of “C’mon, do your pill; we’ve gotta go or we’re going to be late” in reference to entirely legal prescription meds.

  6. Can’t say I’ve heard it here in Australia, but we certainly will ‘go’ food – as in “I’ll go the hamburger with pineapple and beetroot”, although it’s the complete opposite of pretentious!

  7. The Dutch use this kind ‘do’ all the time. Our ‘do’ is ‘doen’ so you could hear; ik doe de hamburger (I do the hamburger). But it’s worse than that! A very common way to order is: doe mij maar de hamburger – do me the hamburger please. Britishism? No kidding: might be a Dutchism:)

  8. I think of Americans as very ‘doing’ kind of people who love the verb ‘do’. ‘Let’s do it’ seems to be one of their key phrases and there are others such as ‘Go do it’ and ‘doing’ drugs rather than taking drugs.They even have a great song ‘Let’s Do It, Let’s fall in Love.’ I love it more than ‘Let’s do lunch’ (A more typical English phrase might be ‘Let’s have lunch, shall we?’) or ‘I’ll do the hamburger’ : ‘Lithuanians and Letts do it; let’s do it…’ Best ‘done’ by Frank Sinatra. ‘I’ll do the hamburger’ is worse than ‘Can I get …’, which is worse when Brits do it than when Americans do. Those dictionary examples did surprise me. We are more into ‘doing’ than I thought.

  9. My mom is from the Canadian prairies and when her family’s branch of Clan Cameron got together every summer for their reunion, they called it ‘the do.’ ‘You doing the do this year?’ ‘Is Wendy doing the food for the do?’ Lots of ‘do’ there –

    1. It’s the same in the UK. A “do” is a celebration
      e.g. “leaving do”, and “doing” the food means making it or supplying it.

      1. Absolutely. And very often, the phrase is extended to “a bit of a do”.

        Back in the ’80s on British TV the extended phrase was adopted as the title of a series of comedy of manners dramas. They followed a socially mismatched married couple as they went to various do’s, each of them feeling out of place at half of them.

        And yes, the plural of “do” is quite definitely “do’s” and not “dos”. The requirement not to mislead on pronunciation overwhelms the calls of grammar.

  10. I agree with your conclusion, Ben. I’ve never heard do used in the UK to specify what we wish to order.

    The closest would be something like “I could do a whole bargain bucket”, but this is using do to mean “manage”, with connotations of extreme hunger.

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