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What do you think about restaurants charging for bread and butter at dinner?

  • j

Don't want to mention the name because the dinner was swell but they charged $3 for bread and butter.
I ordered escargot and didn't even think about the bread.
The snails came and they were nice but there was no bread served with them to sop up the sauce.
Poo on that.

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  1. Hi, Jay:

    I think they might as well charge rental on the tableware while they're at it. Napkin surcharge? Salt and pepper don't buy themselves, ya know...

    PLEASE name names.


    2 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Yup. If your having 'snax N drinks' - you can choose to make my bread be an order.... if I am having dinner? - NOT so much.

      Figure in the price allready for bread, if I am having dinner.

      1. re: kaleokahu

        Stop me if I'm wrong, and I know that in the US a "cover" charge is a fixed fee, as a nightclub, but t didn't this term originate with "le couvert", basic charge in a restaurant for use of dishes, cutlery, glassware, linens, plus bits of food set out, like bread, pickles, olives, salt, oil? More common in other countries, I think.

      2. I don't like it. My boydriend andvI go out to eat a lot. He works very hard so by the time we arrive at a restaurant for dinner, he's starving. He'slways grateful for the bread and butter and usually asks fr more. We've lways been gives as much as he likes with no charge. Its not that either of us is cheap. We spend quitca bit on our meals. Bt I think its nice and try to find places that offer it. Wecalso like when they offer complimentary appetizers as well. Like pickkes, olives, small salads etc. I don't find that they ruin our appetires at all, and we tend to order more from the menu when bread etc is offered first.

        1. But it's SPECIAL bread and/or SPECIAL butter (or oil, or whatever)...TheTom Douglas empire does it, for starters, but it's becoming pretty common.

          1. If bread it not complimentary, it should be noted on the menu.
            At Zabars in NYC, the menu clearly states that a bread basket is $12, unless entrees are ordered.

            It's nice when bread/butter/olive oil are placed at the table. But when it has no place in the type of food offered, I understand the restaurant charging. (Like at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant)

            3 Replies
            1. re: cheesecake17

              French "bistro" food for the place in question.

              1. re: JayDK

                Well Jay, that is a crime against France (Viva La France!), since the baguette is a national symbol, and no Frenchperson would not eat dinner without crumbs on the table.

                Perhaps a bobo would skip it in a trendy-chic place in the Maraise, but any real french bistro here better bust out the bread. Or, perhaps, all the Frenchie natives who live here are wrecking their food cost with over-consumption of free baked grain?

                Hmmmnn.... give a hint who you are impugning....

                1. re: JayDK

                  I would expect bread.
                  But with all the low carb/pales/GF people...maybe it wasn't eaten? Even so...The waiter could ask if you'd like bread or the menu could say "complimentary bread basket upon request"

              2. From a business perspective I understand,

                For instance, "If we charge 'em for bread and they pay for it, why give it away?"

                1 Reply
                1. re: JayDK

                  Well, I do not think of it as a "give away," but part of my total meal.

                  OTOH, with airlines charging for everything, I am not surprised that some restaurants are doing the same.

                  I just expect those costs (and they ARE costs) to be factored into my meal.

                  I guess that I had better gird my loins, for the next time that I order a few glasses of wine, at the bar, and "snacks" are served - "Oh, you ate 6 peanuts, one pretzel piece, and four cheese crackers... That will be an additional $ 1.75, added to the cost of your wines."

                  Suppose that the time is coming?


                2. The economics of bread and butter.

                  I bake a lot and buy from Cash 'n Carry.
                  I use the Shepards Grain hi gluten and if memory serves it's far less than 50 cents a pound. This is the popular flour with the baking crowd, sustainable practices, a marketing story to go along with it, i.e. know your farmer. It's nice flour. And it's pretty cheap too.

                  Cash 'n Carry also sells butter. About $2.50 per pound. It's produced locally which is hip right now. (Darigold)

                  So the economics of bread and butter just don't pan out to justify charging.

                  Restaurant economics: They think that bread and butter fills you up so you order less.

                  So far from the replies, it would be interesting if each one of us alerted our restaurants that charge for bread and butter about this post, the owners might get the picture.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: JayDK

                    What are the food costs that go into the 15 dollar plate of pasta? There is a lot more to restaurant economics than raw food costs.

                    1. re: dagrassroots

                      No doubt that is true.
                      But pasta usually has sauce and for that price it might be handmade right on the premises. This kind of a plate might very well be worth $15.00.
                      Bread and butter - even good bread and butter is a commodity.
                      In fact, I polled a few food banks who say that they have too much bread and don't need anymore. And I'm not talking about wonder bread either but good bread.

                  2. I don't have a problem being charged for a bread basket, assuming the menu is clearly marked as such.

                    But if you're ordering escargot, where the sauce is a big part of the dish, a slice of bread should come along with it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: tcamp

                      Of course you're right.

                      Jaleo (Spanish tapas) in DC hes discontinued their bread service, but will still include it for certain dishes that are saucy and bread is traditionally used to mop up.

                      1. re: tcamp

                        I agree. We were at a "small plates" kind of place and had mussels with a wonderful broth but no bread. So we ordered the bread ( $5) which was a nice sourdough loaf ... but was too much, and came with a huge scoop of un-needed butter. A couple of slices of toast would have been nice.

                      2. My reaction was so weird it surprised me.
                        I have no objection to them charging for bread, but the idea of charging for butter seemed really strange to me.
                        I wonder why I reacted like that?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Tripeler

                          I think unless it's "special butter" or a house churned butter, then regular butter is sort of a condiment in the same way that salt and pepper is.

                          You'd probably be flabbergasted if a restaurant charged you for freshly ground black pepper, right?

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            My thoughts, exactly. Of course, if it is a special butter and supplied in good quantities, I wouldn't mind paying for it. But ordinary butter, no.

                        2. Jay,

                          Long aside:

                          There was a family restaurant near me many moons ago. Upon being seated, diners were brought a large basket of rolls, both savory and sweet. There'd be a couple of small berry scones nestled against three or four sourdough rolls, nestled against a poppy and onion roll and a pumpernickel roll. If diners didn't want the rolls, they would tell the server not to bring them; if diners didn't eat all of them, they had them wrapped (and supplemented happily if they wanted to replace a berry scone) for to-go. Different times, the 80's/90's.

                          They never, ever charged for the rolls. Prices were on the high side for the times and area, and the place was packed.

                          I should also mentioned that meals came with three vegs in addition to a starch...it was nice to have a little dish of squash, a dish of string beans, and a dish of turnip and onion.

                          Different times, like I said--and the place thrived. It closed because the owner retired and his son refused to take over the business.

                          Short answer: I don't like it. Bread and tap water should be available to those who wish to eat/drink it. We don't eat the bread anymore due to H's health, and I still believe the above.

                          1. If it's just white bread and generic butter, it should be free. If they've actually put a bit if thought into a bread basket and served it with homemade or even just high quality butter, I have no problem paying for it.

                            I appreciate restaurants that ask if you want bread. We rarely do and it's silly to waste bread and butter on us.

                            1. This was very common in high-end restaurants decades ago. It was also known as a cover charge. Usually in tiny print at the bottom of the menu, "B&B $1". (No, you were not getting a cheap Benedictine and Brandy!) And no, you couldn't have it removed by sending back the bread. I think they realized how inhospitable this was.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: mwhitmore

                                Whiere do high end restos charge for bread? In NYC, high end places I have been to have never charged separately for bread. Most in fact have multiple choices for breads. There will be even specific bread servers who come to you and ask which type of bread you would like and they come by often.

                                1. re: Bkeats

                                  I can think of a few places in the DC area. It is a trend. I am not optimistic it will be halted, but I am hoping for containment.

                                    1. re: Bkeats

                                      Check out menus from Le and La restaurants from the 50s/60s/early 70s. Pavillon, Cote Basque, Caravelle. And the bread wasn't very good, either.

                                  1. Just went to Ma Peche and noticed that. The butter was a fancy goat or VT butter.
                                    It's a common charge in Europe where people will sit for hours and nibble on bread while having coffee or a cocktail.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Motosport

                                      In France, I expect bread and butter at an upscale restaurant, but only bread in a casual environment.

                                    2. I can appreciate that bread and butter is not free for the restaurant, but at the same time, free bread and butter has long been a standard and it's hard to un-ring that bell. I see more restaurants moving to providing bread on request as opposed to just plunking it down on the table, which seems sensible.

                                      I was at a restaurant last night that charges $6 for both mustard and hot sauce, so who knows anymore?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: LeoLioness

                                        I guess that I could imagine a time, when everything was itemized, and charge for:

                                        Bread $4.00
                                        Butters $6.00
                                        Tap water $1.00 per glass, times 4 at table
                                        Waiter stopped by 3x @ $3.00 each
                                        Napkin $2.00
                                        Food $300
                                        Wine $250
                                        Clearing used plates and utensils $25.00
                                        Validate parking ticket $5.00
                                        Hostess wished you a lovely evening $10.00

                                        That would get my attention, and in a hurry.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          What, you wanted ice in that tap water? That'll be another 10 cents per cube.

                                      2. I don't have an issue with paying for bread but I am outraged (being dramatic) that escargot came to the table with no bread! If there ever was a dish that requires bread, it is escargot.

                                        1. I have never encountered a direct, logged charge for such, but then, I expect that the full price of my meal will include those - or at least they should, to pay the overhead.


                                          1. This is not that unusual.

                                            As long as the menu or restaurant informs me ahead of time, it's OK.

                                            Just don't automatically give a bread basket without telling me it's not gratis. Just like you better not keep refilling my glass with the bottled sparkling water without first asking ...

                                            1. As long as the server or menu say so ahead of time..and if I'm getting charged for bread and/or butter I hope its spectacular!

                                              1. I donnd paying for what I eat and as long as I am informed in advance I would accept this.

                                                Your many years when travelling in Europe there was a charge for the bread and butter on the table. In some countries your bill indocated how many rolls you consumed from the basket and you were charged by the roll.

                                                1. It's a trap!!! ~~~ It's a gimmick!! ~~~ It sucks!!!

                                                  Figure your food cost...including salt and pepper... Oh, and TP in the restroom for that matter... then put the price on the menu.

                                                  1. It's not customary in the USA. So, as a matter of hospitality (and restaurants are in the hospitality business), it's necessary for restaurants to flag this deviance from customary practice up front, else the restaurants be seen by their customers as operating in bad faith.

                                                    The customary practice is that it's paid for as part of overhead allocated into the prices of specific menu items. Doesn't HAVE to be done that way, but it is very dominant custom, and deviating from custom has risks. I've seen restaurants try this and learn it wasn't worth the bother.

                                                    1. Very common to add a cover charge for bread in Spain - increasingly with restaurants saying that if you don't want bread then tell the server. I sense it's becoming more common in other countries.

                                                      Of course, bread is never complimentary anywhere in the world, although the cost is usually just hidden away in the general menu pricing. I'd be much happier with the Spanish method becoming more commonplace so that customers can make their informed choice.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        I am often impressed by complimentary bread baskets - croissants, muffins, varieties of obviously freshly baked warm breads wrapped in a warm linen. Also, the bowls of herbed olive oils. That's a lot of work with love. I would pay to play, never have been asked to.

                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                          Well, I'd only pay to play if the markup on other items were reduced accordingly - but that's unlikely to happen. The US practice on bread coexists with other US practices that are less marked elsewhere. And I think, subconsciously, that's what will rudder customer resistance: unless they are specifically shown how this shift would save them money elsewhere, they will assume it's just a money grab, like myriad airline charges. And that's a formula for sowing mistrust, however small but corrosive, between customer and house in a hospitality business.

                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            I know I'm paying for it at the end, but it is part of the pleasure of good service and an occasional nice surprise. OK by me. We'll miss it when it's gone.

                                                      2. I've been charged 3 times for bread. Ironically, all three places were on the more expensive side (average $50+ pp tab). One place was $1 for an extra biscuit (first one was "free"). This annoys me to no end. When I'm dropping over $100 (pre tip) on dinner for 2 and you hit me up for that extra buck, the rest of the meal better be exceptional for me to return.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: bobbert


                                                          That would catch my attention too.

                                                          I do not mind paying for what I get, and state that, if making any substitutions to a menu. However, and probably for some deep-seated reason, I would rather that my main course be bumped up by $1.00, than to have that separate charge listed. I know that the total comes out the same, but I hate being "nickeled and dimed" on everything. I see that nearly every day on airlines.

                                                          Just my personal thoughts on the matter.


                                                          PS - Since this thread started, I have tried to recall any separate charges for bread and butter (or maybe olive oil), and other than an order of Naan at an Indian restaurant, cannot think of a single case. Maybe I just missed it?

                                                        2. It's a bit of a ripoff to charge for ordinary bread (or pita, or tortilla chips, or the other appropriate 'starchy carb' for the genre of restaurant)... and it's a surefire way to get me NOT to order it unless it's something really special.

                                                          1. Bread is filler. It fills people up and then the don't have room for, say dessert. No bread? Maybe they'll order an appetizer while they wait for the mains.

                                                            I agree with those who said that they can't believe your escargot came with no bread. I think certain dishes should come automatically with bread-mussels, salads for example.

                                                            I had a salad recently in a restaurant where I added chicken on top and then asked for some bread. They ended up charging me a stupid amount for the most pathetic bit of bread. My lunch ended up being fairly expensive.

                                                            I think a complementary bread basket is a nice touch but can understand for the above reason plus the rising cost of flour etc why restaurants don't do it.

                                                              1. It's usual in Italy, but they've had over 2 millenia to figure out how to gouge tourists :). I was a little surprised to hear a server ask if we wanted bread at an up-scale California restaurant, but there wasn't a charge for it. Bottom line for the US: if they want to charge, the menu should indicate this.

                                                                On a related note, a Chinese restaurant near me charges $1/person for tea, while most of their competitors don't. The menu notes this, and the servers ask if you understand there's a charge, but since it's upfront and I want tea I'm fine with that.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: tardigrade

                                                                  I think that noting such on a menu covers the bases.

                                                                  It's like an extra order of corn tortillas at a Mexican restaurant. I order those, and expect to pay for them.


                                                                  1. Gosh, if the bread is really good, it is likely worth what they charge. I have trouble with the idea of paying separately for butter, but if it is special and delicious, I don't mind.

                                                                    1. Bar Tartine in SF has a lunchtime sandwich counter "pop up" in the normally dinner only (and brunch) dining room. They have a bread and cultured butter plate for $5, I think. I will order it every single time, and it is so, so worth it.

                                                                      1. In my knowledge, I think that because some people take home those free butter that it's in little container and bread . It sounds funny I know but trust me, I know so many who does the vacuous thing.

                                                                        1. I have no issue charging for bread as long as it is disclosed on the menu

                                                                          1. I have no problem with a restaurant letting you know that there is a charge. That way you can make a decision.

                                                                            I have had 2 incidents, one where I was charged 50 cents for blue cheese dressing when the waitress had offered me dressing options and not told me that there was an additional charge for blue cheese, and another where I went into a restaurant for their special tapas menu and they asked if I wanted water. I said yes and was later charged $1 per glass. Turns out that their regular menu says that water is $1, but the tapas menu that I had did not say that. I contacted the owner and they gave me my money back, not before telling me "It's spring water and costs more. Our regular customers know about the charge." And so, do you not want any NEW customers? Obviously when you treat people like this.

                                                                            Again, I have no problem paying for what I know that I am being charged for. No surprises on my bill please.

                                                                            1. If they stated that there was a charge and how much the charge was upfront, no problem. If the charge is a surprise after the fact, not cool at all. And I would refuse to pay.

                                                                              1. My honest opinion is that it is stingy on the restaurant's part. However, as long as I am made aware of the fact beforehand, that's fine. I don't like "surprises" on my bill.

                                                                                1. Seems pretty cheesy to charge for it separately. On the other hand, you are being charged for it in any event: Restaurants don't give away food. Maybe the rationale is that it is fairer to the (presumably many) customers who don't want bread with their meal to spare them that cost. Out here in the Bible Belt, there's a similar controversy developing in a few Mexican restaurants that charge for the basket of tortilla chips commonly put on every table before you even look at the menu. Supposedly because of people who came in, mooched the chips and then left (sounds like they need a classier clientele to me).

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: emu48

                                                                                    Similar sort of thing in my part of the world with pappadums at Indian restaurants. Some places charge for them while other are "free". They're always brought to the table but we usually decline them, to the puzzled look of the waiter and the comment that "They are free".

                                                                                  2. I know if bread automatically comes to table, whatever isn't eaten is SUPPOSED to go into garbage... I think that's the "rule"?? Maybe something on menu that bread/butter is extra? Or be asked if you want B&B when ordering?

                                                                                    On escargot... LOVE it! Second best part to me is sopping up the butter/garlic it's in... I would WANT bread for that.

                                                                                    1. If it is brought to the table without being asked for, I would assume it was complimentary. The cost should be rolled into the dinner by the owner. To do otherwise would of course alienate his or her customers.