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Bread upon request

I am noticing that a lot of restaurants in the SF Bay area are moving to a bread upon request policy and some even a water on request policy. I realize the economy may have made restaurants try to reduce the bread expense, but I am seeing it at high end restaurants and more casual places.

I can understand if a place doesn't want to drop a plate of bread automatically, but I think the nicer places should offer bread without having to be asked. But this no bread unless you ask at a place charging $75 and up for a tasting menu is a bit much.

Are places in other parts of the country adopting a similar policy?

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  1. I don't have a problem with such a policy at all. So many people hardly eat bread, so why waste it?

    however, the latest trend here is the PNW at upscale foodie places is to charge separately for the bread, so just having to ask seem like a bonus.

    1. Could this be a result of the gluten-free movement? Maybe places would hate to cause someone to have a "reaction."

      4 Replies
      1. re: escondido123

        It saddens me to think that it is becoming a movement, especially since I have Celiac Disease and my life depends on avoiding gluten at all costs. So, I definitely do not have a problem with that policy!

        1. re: escondido123

          I think "movement" is a bit of a strong word. It's as if you're implying there's some sort of Anti-wheat Guerilla Insurgency.

          I understand why a restaurant may not want to feel like they're wasting all of that bread. Why not do it as a bread service thing? Have a server walking around the dining room with a basket and tongs. "Would you like to have rosemary focaccia, walnut date bread, or a sourdough boule." No big deal, right? Saves on expenses by not wasting a ton of bread on each table, and it still makes it seem Nice that there's bread for those who want it.

          Celiac disease is a very real thing, and no joke. But I feel like the gluten-free faddishness diet is ridiculous.

          1. re: egit

            I stand corrected. There is a "Gluten-Free Living" national magazine that informs me it is a "lifestyle." Celiac is a very real and difficult disease, and I have total sympathy for those people who I'm sure would rather not be having to do without gluten, while other dieters trivialize the condition.

            1. re: escondido123

              Thanks for understanding! Gluten is hidden in so many non-obvious products. Not easy when one is so passionate about food and eating! However, it now it has become a natural part of my everyday life. I really feel for those who have both Celiac as well as intolerance to things such as lactose, soy and so on. As I do not have abdominal symptoms eating gluten it is doubly difficult because I have no way of knowing whether I have been cross contaminated or not which is extremely dangerous. It really angers me that some go on a gluten free "lite" diet when it suits them! But I truly do not want to complain any more. I have it sooooo much better than many folks out there! :-) Oh, as a positive aside - at one good restaurant we were served GF rice cakes with our steak tartare. Very much appreciated and nice to have that option!

              Celiac or not, I think it would be wise offer a choice of bread(s).

        2. I haven't noticed it in Vancouver but that might be because of the types of restaurants I frequent ("ethnic" for want of a better word) where the free bread thing is not relevant. I did notice it at Frances in your hometown last time we were there. I think it would be nicest to be offered bread, whether at a charge (clearly stated) or no, so that the diner could decide. It might well save the establishments $ and I imagine would save on wasted bread.

          1. I do not have an issue with this at all. Very seldom do I eat bread (not allergies just prefer) and so bread brought without asking to my table, at *any* price point place is WASTED food.

            If my server asked me "Can I bring you a bread plate(basket et al)" I can decline or not. But bread or anything else just brought (like wow the butter or EVOO) is wasted. Not good karma.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Quine

              I don't consume a lot of bread but do like to have a slice as a palate cleanser between courses which is good if you are having wine. I would rather them offer bread on a per slice basis. Often when I ask for bread they drop off 4 or 5 slices when all I really want is one slice.

              The reason for the post isn't really to discuss the merits of the policy just curious as to whether it is prevalent in other parts of the country.

              1. re: Scott M

                The reason for the post isn't really to discuss the merits of the policy just curious as to whether it is prevalent in other parts of the country.
                here on Chowhound? yeah, good luck with that ;) though in all fairness, you did offer your own opinion about the practice/policy, so you should expect others to weigh in with theirs.

                and yes, it's happening at places all over the country.

            2. Seen it in New England too. It's dismaying. When dining with friends who have children, esp. fussy, hungry children, I miss the pacifying effect of the bread basket (on them, and me!)

              It's probably a cost thing, and an anti-carb thing. There was an excellent restaurant in my neighborhood that would put an ample basket of savory AND sweet breads on the table for diners after they were seated. It was lovely.

              I agree with those who say that the server should ask if it's wanted....

              The quality of the bread offerings at restaurants is something for another post.

              1. I'm in LA and I see water and bread upon request sometimes. And sometimes even upon request, there's a charge for it.
                Personally, I prefer the upon request policy. If the bread is in front of me, I may make a dumb decision and shove it in my face without thinking. Having to ask for it forces me to truly want the bread and not eat it blindly. Additionally, I'm happy to know that the restaurant is trying to minimize waste by not tossing away tons of unwanted bread.

                1. I don't think you should have to request the extras, wait staff should ask guests if they would like bread or water, it's all part of hospitable service. Otherwise, if a customer has never been to the restaurant, how do they know bread is offered? and if I saw bread on someone else's table, I may give the restaurant a bad review for service.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: OenoV

                    Otherwise, if a customer has never been to the restaurant, how do they know bread is offered?
                    it's usually pretty easy to determine by reading the menu...or just ask your server.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      How is it easy to determine by reading the menu whether there is gratis bread service?

                      Unless of course the menu stated that complimentary bread is offered upon request.

                      Which might be the best (compromise) way to handle it.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Unless of course the menu stated that complimentary bread is offered upon request.
                        yep - some do.

                        and for those that don't, see my comment about asking the server ;)

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Part of the problem with asking the server is that there really isn't a tactful way of doing it, esp. if you are dining on business or a first-date or something.

                          How would you ask?

                          "Can I get some free bread? ... Oh, and while you're at, can you tell me what else I can get for free?"

                          Even something like "Is there complementary bread basket?" may come off as a little rough-around-the-edges if on a business meal.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Boy, try that on a first date and see how it goes.;-)

                      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        I have yet to see "complimentary bread" written on a menu, however, I can't say that I have ever paid close enough attention. I do understand that it's now a cost issue with a lot of restaurants but I still think it's more hospitable for the server to offer than the guest having to ask for it. I guess it's just my many years working in the hotel industry that makes me feel this way.

                        1. re: OenoV

                          oh, i don't disagree that it would be nice of them to offer! i was just responding to the part where you asked how patrons are supposed to know it's available :)

                          it's not something i look for since i can't eat bread anyway, but i have noticed the "complimentary upon request" notation on some menus.

                          1. re: OenoV


                            Bottom of the second page of the menu. (which is the bottom right page when you open the menu in the restaurant). This restaurant has been in San Diego since 1989 and the bread/butter/water being 'available upon request' showed up on the menu in about 1995.

                        2. re: OenoV

                          Having wait staff ask is really helpful. This way I'll know if the restaurant even offers bread or water; many times I've asked and the answer is no. And, for those restaurants that still do or have a special bread they enjoy sharing with customers having the wait staff mention it beforehand alleviates waste should a customer decline or excites if the bread is particularly wonderful. So wait staff, take the lead! And water, well...so many restaurants are now charging for water or offering a special water that asking is probably a good idea rather than paying for water unexpectedly.

                        3. Perhaps the ideal policy would be for the server to ask if the patrons would like a bread basket brought to the table?

                          But I like that it's becoming less of an automatic thing. Too often perfectly good bread goes to waste. And if a restaurant spends less on wasted bread, its prices might come down in other areas.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Heatherb

                            That's what one of my go-to places do. They have a good variety of breads (one fried) and it would be a shame to have a lot wasted. It's a perfect solution, imo.

                          2. Odd, I thought water upon request was the law in most of drought stricken California, it was for a long time. On the bread issue, at a $75 meal, the server or whoever should at least ask if you want it, if they offer free bread.

                            CPK (california pizza kitchen) originally just served bread, then asked if you wanted it, and now you have to request it, but you have to know enough that you can request it. And no, I don't think it is on the menu. But I don't think I've ever come close to spending $75 per person at CPK, even with drinks (plural), appetizer, small salad, a pizza, and dessert I don't think I've ever seen anyone go over about $30 or $35 - and that took some serious eating.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              I would find it strange for a pizza place to serve bread.

                              1. re: kpaxonite

                                At Sammy's Woodfired Pizza, it's a selection of flat breads topped with spices and sesame seeds as well as some slices of soft bread. The food available is more Mediterranean, (hummus, Feta, lebni) with a few Asian items tossed in.


                                I posted a direct link to a menu (mentioning that bread, butter and water is available upon request) above.

                                1. re: kpaxonite

                                  CPK is not what you think of when you think pizzzria. Probably more about them on the Chains board. They are known for their unusual pizzas and other dishes (I had the Habanero Carnitas pizza the other night, my friend had the Carmelized Peach Salad.) http://www.cpk.com/menu/
                                  Some people love the place, others can't stand it.

                                  1. re: kpaxonite

                                    I've been to quite a few places that have wood burning ovens for pizza but also serve other Italian entrees. They serve bread.

                                  2. re: KaimukiMan

                                    It has been the case in California at various times when we are in a drought condition that people are urged to conserve water and restaurants would stop automatically bringing it to the table. But I think they always would provide it on request and I am not sure it was actually a law. Not to worry though we have not been at that level of drought for a few years now. As a matter of fact, we had so much rain/snow this year that some ski resorts in the mountains are still open this 4th of July weekend.

                                    As for CPK, it is more than just a pizza place, as the name would imply. They have a full menu. I guess it falls into the category of a more upscale chain.

                                    As for this topic in general, I think we are probably better off if the restaurant does not automatically offer bread. As other posters have noted, it's easy to eat a few pieces before the meal and then leave you too full to really enjoy your main. I would be equally happy if the restaurant either listed it on the menu or the server asked if the table would like some bread. I would also not be upset if the menu listed a bread basket for a price, assuming that the quality of the bread was in line with the price requested.

                                    Rather than just bringing the basket out when you are seated, it would be better if a restaurant brought bread when a course is served that would normally have a bread accompaniment, mussels, for example. But if I am ordering dishes that are already heavy on the starch, like pasta or risotto, then the bread is just superfluous.

                                  3. I live in the NYC area, and the only time I have seen a water by request policy was when there was a water shortage. The restaurants would have a small sign on the table stating the policy. I thought this was entirely reasonable. If a restaurant had a bread by request policy and stated it either by a sign on the table or on the menu, I would not have a problem with it, either.

                                    Otherwise, I would just ask. If it were a first date, I would still ask. If the date has a problem with it, then he's not my type, anyway, as I have no problem with asking questions and not caring what anyone thinks. (This is hypothetical, anyway, as I am happily married.)

                                    1. I haven't seen that as much here in the Boston area, although we have often been asked if we want bread before they bring it. I never got on the low carb bandwagon, and I don't have a problem with gluten, so I always say yes to the bread. And if all I had to do was ask, but not pay for it, I'd definitely ask. If I were charged, I'd want to make sure it was good, fresh bread worth paying for. Really, I don't mind paying for anything as long as it is worth the price.

                                      1. Scott M,

                                        I have not observed such, but then our SF dining is most often in the Union Square, or SOMA areas, so maybe we have just not noticed.

                                        With breads, we always ask for the server to identify each bread, and each butter, if there is more than one.

                                        So far, no issues.


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          I think the complimentary bread situation could be remedied by having it simply and clearly stated in the menu that bread is available at no extra charge, upon request from your server. As for water, I don't see why it is a big deal for servers to ask diners if anyone would care for some ice water at the same time as taking drink orders. Personally, I like restaurants that begin the meal service by having the server's first visit to a table include the pouring/offering of ice water. I really don't believe that people order fewer beverages from the menu because water is on the table. If someone only wants water, that's all that person will ask for regardless. I'll still have an alcoholic beverage if I want it, or else a soft drink, juice, coffee or tea.

                                          1. re: 1sweetpea

                                            It's not usually the first alcoholic drink that doesn't get ordered due to water on the table, it's the second. If a diner is near the end of a meal and they need something to drink it's often possible the presence of water stops them from ordering a second cocktail.

                                        2. Nothing is ever "free" in restaurants. Even water takes up time for the server and maybe bartender to pour and deliver. But to avoid needless waste, I am totally supportive of the server offering bread and not bringing it automatically. That way at least people who have no interest can politely decline and the bread won't go to waste.