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Bread or No Bread @ a Restaurant?

How do we all feel about bread not being served before a meal?

Does it vary depending on the type of the establishment?

Do you think it is okay to have it available upon request only?

I enjoy a bit of bread before my meal, but often if I'm not careful it can ruin my meal as I'm too full & then I miss out on dessert too! I have been known to look over the dessert menu @ the beginning of my meal too...

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  1. I believe a starter should be a part of the experience, but in a controlled amount. In formal dining from centuries ago meals were 12 courses long. I'm not saying we should go back to THAT amount, but I feel a meal is more enjoyable when it is spread out, with lots of complimentary tastes to the main course. So maybe a small basket with like...2 slices of bread per person at a nice Italian/French/Mediterranean meal? Spanish/Mexican styles should have something complimentary (other than chips and salsa), Asian could serve edamonde, or soups...? Depending on the origin....

    Gets complicated, but it starts the appetite.

    1. I love bread at restaurants if the bread and butter/oil are good quality. Bonus points for warm bread. I've been to establishments where the bread is "warm at home" dinner rolls where they didn't warm it and in those cases I'd rather skip it. It's like eating hot dog buns.

      The bread is a(nother) reflection of the restaurant. If they cut corners and use cheap bread and margarine, i wonder what else they're cutting corners on.

      1. Warm bread + soft butter = good start.

        I usually limit myself to two pieces so my meal doesn't suffer.

        1 Reply
        1. re: brekkie_fan

          Absolutely, dbug31. I expect bread and I don't expect to be charged for it.

          If they're not on a separate menu, I always look at the desserts first also.

        2. I don't much care either way except to say if there is going to be bread, make it very good bread.

          1. Having worked in restaurants for many years where bread was brought automatically, I prefer bread on request (or have the server ask "would you like bread?". It always killed me to see so much untouched bread go into the garbage. What a waste!

            9 Replies
            1. re: veeva

              That makes good sense, veeva. As long as it's included in the price of the meal.

              1. re: dolores

                I have never been to a restaurant where they charge for bread -- and yes, I prefer that they ask, too. Why waste good food?

                1. re: Kbee

                  I didn't know I had either. I was in a Vermont restaurant with a group last year and they found out that (or so they thought) when the bill came that the additional baskets of bread were not free.

                  Thanks to threads on this I called the place and it seems there is a charge for 'all' of their bread.

                  Forewarned is now forearmed.

                  1. re: dolores

                    Pearl Oyster Bar charges for bread...

              2. re: veeva

                I agree with dolores -- waitstaff asks, but it's included in the meal.

                Also -- one of my alltime peeves -- if a restaurant is serving bread with butter, the butter should be soft. None of this straight from the coldest frig and rock hard stuff!

                1. re: LNG212

                  Could not agree with you more about the butter, great point.

                  I love warm bread at restaurants, but understand that not everyone wants to fill up on bread. I really place a large portion of my judgement about restaurants based on the quality of bread. It really can be a saving grace for a bad meal. (ie cheesecake factory)

                2. re: veeva

                  I try to remember to catch them before they put it down and say 'no thanks!'.....I also hate the waste.

                  1. re: veeva

                    Since the no carb craze ended, GOOD bread is rarely left untouched.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      Not in my experience. I worked somewhere with fabulous, hot bread and wonderful soft butter, and often it went straight into the trash. Heartbreaking.

                  2. I'm a little bit neurotic about bread. I WANT bread, I want it NOW. I want to eat it with my wine. I don't want to wait until my first course arrives to eat my bread. I don't want to wait forever for the glass of wine, either, but that's a different thread.

                    I want the bread to be good quality and fresh.
                    Warm is a plus.
                    I do not want to have to beg for a bread refill.
                    I don't LIKE paying for bread, but I will, if that's what it takes for the restaurant to get it right.
                    I agree that the bread service is a reflection of the restaurant itself. A leading indicator, if you will.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: danna

                      I agree on all your points, danna.

                      With the exception of paying for bread. I go back to my tale of the restaurant that started charging for a potato when it was previously included with the entree. They folded.

                      If the restaurant is THAT hard up that they need to be paid for their bread, then up the price of an entree by a dollar.

                    2. from a restaurant owners point of view - we didn't give out bread until the customers had ordered. We want them to want an appetizer so if you put bread down first they are already filling up before ordering.

                      Also, you don't want to give too many refills either. You want custos to order a dessert!

                      Onto butter - when I first had my restaurant we used to have butter in the little plastic pots with a sticky lid. The customers used to steal them. Then I switched to the foil envelopes. Magic - they couldnt put those in their purses or pockets because they knew they would open up and make a mess! Even though those were more expensive there was a good saving in the long run!!

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: smartie

                        Yes, I see how it could be dangerous to have bread that's TOO good. But restaurantuers should remember that the bread may well be why some of us psychos decided to eat there in the first place. Make me happy with the bread and you may not sell a dessert, but you have sold my entire meal and my companions'.

                        One restaurant in Northhampton Mass has the best cranberry rolls. One night, I was dining alone, so already not a waiter's favorite table. When asked about dessert, I sheepishly asked if I could just have another roll. Not only was the waiter very nice about it, but along with my check, he brought me a paper bag of the cranberry rolls "for breakfast". He got a BIG tip.

                        1. re: danna

                          Wow, now 'that's' a smart restaurant.

                          If a restaurant charges me for bread (or water, are they out of their mind?), I'm not going back.

                          1. re: danna

                            Danna - which restaurant was that? Do share...:)

                            1. re: jeni1002

                              Del Raye. But beware...if I remember correctly, last time I was there ...NO cranberry rolls! I'm not sure if they were just out of them, or if Mr. Cranberry left and took his recipe, or what. I only get to Northampton once or twice a year on business, so it's been a while.

                              Regardless, their other bread offerings are pretty good, and come with a nice slab of butter decorated w/ pink peppercorns.

                          2. re: smartie

                            Also, I've worked at two restaurants where customers come in, sit down, ask for bread, and then don't order! A glass of water or, maybe, maybe, a cup of coffee, which garners a 50 cent tip, for the elaborate b.s. bread service (olive oil, cheese pepper), perhaps even a bread refill if the custo's ballsy enough. I mean, come on... the soup kitchen is down the street. All of this is why most places implement a "don't serve the bread until they've ordered" policy. Just a head's up -- so if you want it early, you can always ask the server to bring the bread before ringing in the order, as you'd like to snack on some with your wine first. They shouldn't have a problem with that.

                            1. re: ctscorp

                              That is despicable! We were at a mexican restaurant that put chips, salsa, and a warm bean type dip (whole beans, not like refried.) We watched this woman come in, order water, eat up the beans, ask for more, then finish the chips and salsa, all the time looking at a menu. She put the menu down and walked out the door! Didn't even leave a dollar on the table for the time the server spent on her. And she was very well dressed - not looking like she needed a free meal. I wanted to run after her and tell her what a piece of scum she was, but she was larger and too fast getting to her car. I told her server (who was also our server) that she left and when we left I gave him some extra tip money to make up for that nasty woman. He appreciated it.

                              I do like a bit of bread if I am having wine, and if it isn't on the table then I ask if it is available, but I don't like to fill up on bread when I am looking forward to a good dinner!

                          3. Bread being served/offered isnt important to me. I very rarely will eat a piece of bread that is provided, I am saving my appetite for the appetizers, and main course, I dont want to fill up on bread.

                            1. I like bread at a restaurant and prefer it to be served with my meal as opposed to at the beginning. Of course, it's up to my self control, but I end up having a couple of bites of my bread. There's nothing better than taking the first bite of an appetizer with an untouched palate. The food is a lot more flavorful -- which is one of the reasons my pre-dinner drink is water.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                One other great thing about bread is when you just snack on it at first with some very soft butter. When the salads and/or apps come out, if it is a quality soft bread it is perfect for sopping up sauces and dressings.

                                Even better and why it is absolutely critical for Italian restos to have good bread is for dipping up reserved sauces and oils with each dish, especially the entree.

                                1. re: yankeefan

                                  Right, yankeefan. You've been in the Italian places where they have the really good Italian bread with the hard crust and the soft insides? Imagine if Italian restaurants suddenly started telling customers that they could have more bread but there'd be a charge for it? What's a good chicken scarpariello without some crustry Italian bread to dunk into the sauce?

                                  1. re: dolores

                                    Again, couldnt agree with you more. There is a reason that the best mom and pop establshments have a great bread that is baked on premises and have customers that return and return and return. All the dishes need good bread for sopping, its a necessity. no doubt.

                                    Other than Italian, belgian brew pubs are another that a lot depends on the bread that is served with the mussel butter broth. What good is all that quality juice with nothing to dip into it.

                              2. I like it when (good) bread is brought around and one piece (be it roll, slice of bread of muffin) is place on my plate by the waiter/bread person. I know this is typically the case in higher-end places but chances are:
                                1) it is usually nice and hot when served this way
                                2) usually when it is served this way, it is GOOD bread
                                3) I do not run the chance of "filling up on bread" before my meal....that's a problem with REALY good bread. There is a non-defunct place I used to go where the bread was assorted, homemade and served with fresh preserves. By the time the meal came, I was ready to go home and nap!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: L_W

                                  It's been quite a few years since I've eaten dinner at Daniel. But I still have a vivid mental image of my friend, the bread waiter, placing lovely, lovely, raisin pecan bread, and others of his 4 or 5 magnificent offerings on my plate with a pair of tongs. Over and over. With a smile.

                                  When I get attitude at some place about bringing me more bread, I think about that.

                                2. I guess none of you have eaten at Chinese restaurants in the boondocks in the midwest where an entree comes out with a covered plate of white rice and a second plate of white bread, the mooshy soft kind.
                                  And if the bread didn't come out, some customers got really upset.
                                  The Chinese dishes were pretty good with really fresh ingredients and well spiced.
                                  But the dependence on white bread remains sadly memorable.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: shallots

                                    What the?

                                    Good grief.

                                    No, shallots, no such thing in Chinese restaurants in Lower Westchester.


                                    1. re: shallots

                                      I live in NYC where I went to this "Americanized" Chinese restaurant in Chinatown where our meal came with this horrific supermarket-cottony Italian garlic bread made with margerine and garlic powder. The geoduck was awesome there but I had to pass on the bread.

                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                        i always think it's weird to get bread at chinese restaurants. it's not something the chinese would *normally* eat and it's never any good.

                                        i grew up italian-american so i always want bread with dinner. i don't get impatient for it, i'm fine whatever the normal course of service is. however, i dislike having to ask for another piece, and i HATE when they don't ask and whisk it away before the entree comes.

                                        i can always spot the par-baked rolls though and skip them. they come out warm but turn into little rocks as they cool. pass.

                                        there is a restaurant here in boston that serves butter from brittany with their rolls. it is sublime and the best in the city. the bread guy walks around with a big wheel of it and turns a quenelle onto your plate . lovely.

                                        if i'm having a nice meal and saved room, i usually have cheese rather than sweets, but am always curious why the bread serving on that is so skimpy.

                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                          hehe..sounds like the place of kenmare street.

                                          1. re: DarthEater

                                            Right on the money. My husband apologized after taking me there and promised never to do that to me again. He took me there for a "gag" meal (not literally).

                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                              Shudder..and whats with the canned pasta sauce and fruit and potato with mayonnaise that they call a salad? That place is awful. I'm counting down to their demise.

                                        2. re: shallots

                                          Chinese restaurants where I grew up in SE Mass always served chunks of white bread or dinner rolls. Haven't seen that since I was kid.

                                        3. Thanks to all of you that have responded.
                                          My husband & I were having a conversation on this topic the other night & we wanted to see what other people thought. : )

                                          1. I want bread, I want it right after I order and refills if it's gone before I start on my salad. But make it flavorful bread with a good butter (actually, if it's good butter then cold is fine- - - I've been known to put cold butter on crackers for a snack) or oil. I usually don't like dessert anyway, so that's not a big issue. Unless there is good cheescake or chocolate mousse, then outta my way! (But I will have eaten the bread too!)

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: gourmanda

                                              Same here, gourmanda. I want my drink right away and then I want the bread shortly thereafter.
                                              I did my own version of the Atkins years ago to lose weight, but for the past two years I've gone berserk with bread (but not pasta) and have managed to keep the weight off. On a recent trip to Cape May NJ a seafood house had the most sublime rolls, which I liked better than their food. So I ate and ate the rolls. Thankfully, I haven't found any such rolls here in Westchester!

                                            2. My first thought was "Of course I want bread!" Then I went on to read other posters' points about wasting bread--which never occurred to me because bread never go wasted in my group! In fact, we often ask for bread refills. In finer restaurants, when bread is given one by one, we have been known to ask for all the bread options at once. Some of my friends don't like sweets, so being too full for dessert is not an issue; for the rest of us, we seem to know when to stop gorging on bread b/c we realize that there is a 2- or 3-course meal coming up.

                                              This is the first time I've read about Chinese restaurants that serve bread. Good lord.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                                and Indian restaurants don't serve bread unless you order Naan or chipatis and then you have to pay for them.

                                                1. re: smartie

                                                  That I know, since I eat Indian frequently. Most of the Indian places I've been to give you the free papadum w/all kinds of chutney, so I guess that could be their version of free bread at the beginning of a meal. I also eat Chinese frequently but have yet to eat in a Chinese restaurant where bread is served...probably just as well.

                                                  1. re: gloriousfood

                                                    Our local Chinese restaurants serve a bowl of Crispy Noodles with Sauce for dipping, and pickled vegetables.

                                              2. jfood loves great bread, great butter and no cost. but economics also convince jfood that this will be a thing of the past in a few years. then jfood predicts t hat we will enter the designer breads and different prices.

                                                Will jfood bite, probably and the good news is that he will probably partake in only one basket and save the appetite for the main event.


                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  some restaurants, especiallly in Europe charge a cover charge for linens bread etc. I guess that is charging for bread! You will always see it on the menu though if they charge.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    And the restaurants won't have the smarts to up the price of the entrees to include the price of the 'exorbitant' bread? You think so?

                                                    That should make for an interesting dining experience in Westchester if they do as you say.

                                                    1. re: dolores

                                                      jfood does not disagree that it will make for an interesting experience, but to that point jfood will add..."lettuce and tomato $1.00". remember when that was free on a sandwich?


                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        they probably didn't cost as much in proportion to costs as they used to. A case of tomatoes is now ridiculous.

                                                        Think how much restaurants do give you (free but costed in to a point and some customers use a lot of) - napkins, straws, take home boxes and bags, lemon slices, ice, condiments such as salt pepper, sugar, sweet n low, menu reprints, ketchup and other table sauces/mustard, breakages, use of bathroom and toilet paper, towels, soap, cleaning products, laundry for tablecloths and cloth napkins.

                                                        Just sayin'.

                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                          i'm on your side on this smartie. a tomato now costs $1 in his 'hood and does not understand how some are still including in the price.

                                                          i akso think you got a little carried away with the list though, but point taken.


                                                          1. re: smartie

                                                            Lemon prices are so high right now. I always cringe when Rachael Ray orders "just a water with lemon" on her $40 a day show.

                                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                                              we're paying 60 cents EACH for lemons right now in our restaurants.

                                                    2. For restaurants featuring European-influenced cuisines, bread is basic. It's inclusion in the meal is a connection to bread being the staff of life for cultures that gave rise to those cuisines. Omitting it is a sign of a cultural lobotomy - and restaurants (and their other customers) should be able to assume customers are capable of self-control if they so desire....

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Karl S


                                                        Yes bread is basic and in Europe, as you know, many restos charge for bread. It's a cultural thing that bread is free in America, but then again many Europeans think that most Americans have already succumbed to your cultural lobotomy (nice phrase).


                                                      2. I'm always disappointed when there is NOTHING before a meal, no matter what caliber the establishment is. I do enjoy my bread before the meal, and my chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants....

                                                        1. A restaurant that offers something when you sit down at the table creates a certain atmosphere of warmth and plenty, and makes you look forward to the meal.

                                                          Whether it is a basket of warm rolls, mini muffins and cornbread at a Diner, Shrimp Chips at a Thai restaurant, or Focaccia and home made bread with EVOO for dipping at an Italian restaurant, it is the hospitable, gracious thing to do.

                                                          If you don't want the bread, don't east eat it.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Fleur

                                                            'If you don't want the bread, don't east eat it.'

                                                            Absolutely true. One of the Chinese restaurants in Westchester serves the pickled vegetables, another the chips, another a dish of steamed green beans (they're more into 'healthy' dishes').

                                                            After reading all these threads, I'll now expect my bread and I won't pay an extra charge for it.

                                                            1. re: Fleur

                                                              And don't give a rip that the otherwise perfectly good bread will go straight from your table into the garbage.

                                                            2. So, now that we seem to have a consensus here...

                                                              what types of bread or bread-ish items do we like to see?

                                                              white, wheat, sweet, savory?

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: dbug31

                                                                Depends on the establishment. For example, at tex-mex or cajun places, I love to be served corn bread. At Italian places focaccia is nice. I guess if *I* had to pick anything, I love multi-grain, crusty, hot rolls served with butter. I find that although I have a super-sweet tooth, I would rather save the "cake-like" breads for dessert.

                                                              2. I think it depends on the establishment. If it's Asian, I would not expect any bread since it's not typical. For French/Italian/American, bread is very typical. It's practically an institution. For other exotic cuisin like Morrocan, it can really depend on the restaurant.

                                                                With that, having something to munch on while I wait for my apetizer keeps me occupy. If the bread/starter is very good, it gets me excited for the entree. The only Asian restaurant that I've been to that service any starter was Saigon House where they give you shrimp chips. I do like the Italian restaurants with their breadsticks and olive oil. My favorite bread would have to be at DB Bistro Moderne in the city.

                                                                1. Surely there's no such thing as 'free bread' - the cost of it is factored into the price of the rest of the food.
                                                                  I personally would rather pay extra for 'artisanal' breads when I want them than get pappy white stuff for 'free' and it get thrown away. If the cost is not incorporated into the rest of the menu (including the cost of the wasted uneaten bread) then surely that's a win-win situation?

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Peg

                                                                    Exactly! That's been my point for ages -- don't charge me for bread or takeout containers, have the brains to factor in the price to your foodstuffs!

                                                                    Any bread is fine with me, as long as it's on the table and appears to be free.

                                                                  2. I love bread, but I tend to go overboard with the bread basket. So I kind of prefer it when a resturant doesn't put it out automatically or if you have to pay extra for the bread (it's a constant battle between my wallet and my waistline).

                                                                    Some higher-end places near me have a nice compromise--they have a server come to your table with a giant bread basket and give you one piece of bread. I don't want to seem like a glutton so I don't ask for second piece. I like this policy because I can have my bread and not pig out on it.

                                                                    1. I love pre-meal freebies and think it makes the restaurant a nicer place to visit that they appreciate the customers this way.

                                                                      I have had wonderful varieties of breads in restaurants either with butter or the oil for dipping, and i love getting fresh made biscuits or local breads with my meals for sure. my favorite Indian brings warm Naan to the table free of charge, and i've seen others bring out papadum; i prefer the Naan because i'd prefer to sop up my sauces with this instead of rice, but also because Naan is not something i'd ever make at home. It's part of the experience.

                                                                      I went to a high end chinese place on boxing day that brought us out NOTHING before our meals, and a couple of us were waiting for drinks. One place i went as a child in the US brought us out crispy noodles and duck sauce before our meals. I'd prefer this.

                                                                      My favorite Japanese brings complimentary miso soup to each customer, i can't remember if the edamame are FOC. The Thai place i like brings out the shrimp chips. Again these are things i don't typically make at home. Myself and a friend go to a tex mex place nearby solely for the free and undending chips and fantastic salsa, but i would never think of eating away and not ordering anything else, despite the fact that i'm often too full to eat.

                                                                      A wonderful meal at a fantastic Tapas restaurant recently, started out with lovely freebies , not only yummy bread with high quality olive oil, but a bowl of warm olives...mmmm.

                                                                      I'm one of those who prefers savory to sweets, ...i don't care if i have room for dessert. I think people would always have the option to wave away a complimentary basket of bread with a no thank you. However it might be a good practice to ask the patron, so that nothing goes to waste and if it's auto for the restaurant, bring it to people whether they've ordered app's or not . I have had it happen a couple of times when the restaurant forgoes the bread or chips because appetizers have been orderd.....i want my free bread !! haha.

                                                                      1. Bread and some funky compound butter. But no bread if it is a mexican restaurant - then chips and fresh salsa.

                                                                        my blog http://www.dinnersforayear.blogspot.com

                                                                        1. My favorite places serve complimentary bread before/with the meal. It's even better if they have a special type of butter. Some seafood restaurants have been known to serve a cheese spread and crackers. Of course tortilla chips and salsa at Mexican places. I actually went to a Mexican restaurant once where you have to pay for that extra. That kind of turns me off.