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
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.”
“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.