Are there any tricks of the trade when putting in your order at a steakhouse? It’s a question you’re only going to ask if you want to make the most of your steakhouse experiences. A lot of people don’t really visit steakhouses very often, and when they do, it’s a simple question of asking the waiter for input and making a choice. Others are more interested in the details. If you were the head chef or the owner of a steakhouse, and you went to visit another establishment, what kinds of things would inform your decision?

When you think about it, visiting a high quality steakhouse is a reasonable expense. There are some very good establishments that offer excellent value for the money, but it’s still not going to be the cheapest meal of the week. It makes sense to put some extra thought into what — and how — to order. Here are a few indispensible things you should know when ordering at a steakhouse.

USDA grading system

Knowing the difference between Prime, Choice and Select can make a big difference when ordering steak. Not every cut of meat is going to be graded by the USDA, but when they are, you’ll want to know the basics. Prime is top grade, and is almost exclusively served by steakhouses and hotels. It has abundant marbling and ranks among the most tender steaks out there. Choice is second in line, and while it has less marbling than prime, it’s still a high quality piece of meat. Select is third, and usually much leaner with less marbling. When cooked right, Select can still be a good steak. Generally speaking, a reputable steakhouse will tend to offer Prime (and sometimes Choice) steaks.

Pairing your steak

Choosing a beverage that isn’t too sugary or tart — such as red wine, scotch, or even beer — can enhance the flavor of your steak. When it comes to sides, every steakhouse will have a number of options that cater to a variety of palettes. Ask your waiter about the most popular sides, and what goes best with a high quality steak. This is a good way to go. Play to the strengths of a given steakhouse and you’ll be rewarded with a better dining experience.

Grass-fed vs. grain fed

You’ll sometimes see steakhouses boasting about grass-fed beef — but as it turns out, this is more than just a marketing gimmick. Grass-fed beef tends to have a better nutritional profile, including fewer saturated fats, considerably more Omega 3, and higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (which is healthy).

It’s not rocket science, but…

Ordering your meal at a steakhouse isn’t rocket science, and it’s certainly possible to have a good experience simply by asking the right questions and reading the menu carefully. But when you know a few inside tips, the whole experience of dining at a steakhouse can be that much more rich and rewarding. Most importantly, you and your dinner companions are likely to be happier with what’s on the table.