Steak 'N Shake Used To Look Very Different Compared To Today

Steak 'N Shake, not too long ago, was a fast-food chain much like any other chain, with perhaps its most distinguishing feature being a complete lack of those steaks that the name seems to promise. (Sure, it serves "steakburgers," but these can't compare to even the cheapest of steakhouse sirloins.) One other thing that once set Steak 'N Shake apart was the fact that it offered table service that was geared towards dine-in customers, which is a rarity among quick-service chains. While tables and chairs may remain at today's restaurants, neither servers nor cashiers are part of a new model the chain adopted post-pandemic. Instead, it's in the vanguard of a new breed of fast food restaurants, one where there's no one behind the counter and ordering is done via kiosk.

While the new breed of Steak 'N Shake may be convenient, it's too bad to lose the human touch because the chain has long had a legacy of going above and beyond in the service department, Once upon a time, when you set foot in a Steak 'N Shake, you'd see staff moving at top speed as they were trained to have your burger on the table within 5 minutes. So dedicated to serving the customer was Steak 'N Shake back in the day, that a location in Peoria, Illinois in the pre-WWII era even had a dock where you could sail your boat in to order a burger that you could then eat on board.

Steak 'N Shake's menu has been streamlined over the years, as well

The first proto-Steak 'N Shake was an Illinois establishment that sold both fried chicken and beer, but it seems that the state's 1934 Liquor Control Act may have put a crimp in the beer side of the operation. Owner Gus Belt felt that the chicken market was over-saturated, so he pivoted to burgers instead, with his gimmick being that he'd grind up the beef (or "steak") within full view of the customers.

By the mid-70s, Steak 'N Shakes had a menu more in line with a casual dining establishment than a fast-food burger joint. The menu (which actually folded) featured two pages of entrees including "deluxe sandwiches" such as ham and egg and grilled cheese along with Midwestern favorites like chili served on spaghetti. There was even an oh-so-'70s "low cal platter" consisting of two bunless burgers with lettuce, tomatoes, and cottage cheese. The extensive dessert menu even included ice cream sundaes, apple pie, and cheesecake along with the eponymous shakes.

Today's Steak 'N Shake offerings look somewhat sparse by comparison, although there are now a wider variety of burgers. The chili mac remains, though, and the chain's also gone back to its roots by adding fried chicken (albeit of the boneless variety). While there are no desserts apart from shakes, banana has joined the earlier lineup of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors and there are also specialty shakes with mix-ins such as cotton candy and Nutella.