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Friday, November 11, 2022

Readers reply: why do restaurants give us bread at the start of the meal? | Restaurants

Why do restaurants give us bread at the start of the meal? I can never resist eating it, but it means I fill up and don’t appreciate the meal fully. It seems counterproductive for both restaurateur and diner. Colin Woodcock, Beaconsfield

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers reply

Because more food is eaten. Bread causes a glucose and insulin spike, which results in you eating more and subsequently a blood-sugar crash 90 minutes later, so you are also more likely to order dessert. Vaz Frigerio

To keep us buying more drinks while they delay taking our orders. Paul Reid

It’s cheaper to serve bread than to increase portion sizes, I guess. London25

It’s to go with the circuses. BaddHamster

I love bread, especially artisan sourdough, with hard crusts and totally aerated pockets of wheat. However, I have discovered that I have a gluten intolerance. I now believe that restaurateurs place the bread before meals just to watch me salivate with envy and desire as my companions chomp on that delicious filler. Joe Grennell

The bread is put there to accompany the meal. Either with the starter and/or the main meal. It’s not meant to be eaten as a pre-starter. Susan Holland

Here in Italy, they always bring bread before the meal, but no one eats it before the meal – they eat it with the meal, especially anything with a sauce, obviously. Having said all that, they do also have breadsticks sometimes, and of course it’s impossible not to eat those as soon as they’re in front of you. PortEllen57

I was told that it was to discourage people from changing their mind and leaving; once you’d got stuck into the bread, you were committed. I’ve no idea how true this is. Is there a single reason? pol098

As a culinarian and chef working in the business for more than 40 years, I would say that, in some cases, an establishment has a good baker and a great recipe and just want to showcase. In other cases, it might be to reduce consumption in an “all you can eat” situation. In other cases, it is simply a delightful pairing to get the taste buds flowing and might induce further requests for other options or courses. But I will say: if the bread is not good at the start of any meal, it can easily spoil the entire meal. Ken Grant

A hungry customer is an impatient, angry beast. What better way to ensure that your customers don’t go crazy about slow service or long ticket times than by taking the edge off of the hunger with some bread? Paul McNally

In France, bread is also placed on the table before the main dishes are served. This is because the bread is to be eaten with the meal. You can always spot the Britons because they immediately butter the bread and start chomping on it as if it’s a starter. All other Europeans wait. Margaret Boudra

I was a waiter for 30 years. In my experience, when customers come in hungry, they are cranky and bitchy. Low blood sugar does that to you. An alcoholic beverage does nothing to improve their mood, but some food starts to get them back to their lovely, friendly selves. It’s a metamorphosis from crank to charming. dancog

The questioner has already supplied the answer: bread is not an appetiser and, yes, it does fill you up and reduce appetite for the main meal. This works to the restaurant‘s advantage. Assuming that bread is a cheap item for the restaurant to produce (compare the raw material costs of, say, 100g of cooked bread, which is 50% water, with the cost of things such as fish, asparagus, meat, eggs, etc) then it is in the restaurant’s interest to see you take 100g of substance off the main course in the form of cheap bread. It can reduce portion sizes and make more profit on the mains, but overall you will still feel sated. And (last twist of the knife) don’t forget that you usually pay for the bread as well. Jeffrey Cosser

I have worked in many restaurants in my life and in some (not all) we served bread at the start of the meal. The only reason I can give is that many guests are a bit cranky when they are hungry. When the restaurant is busy, food sometimes takes longer. If they have something to nibble on, they are more relaxed. And happier. Nicolas Cazcarro

I always thought it was a courtesy thing going back to biblical times. You offered your guests bread and something to drink as they entered your home. Catherine McCall

It’s because bread defrosts quicker than the meal. Philip Barnett

If people arrive hungry and their first course takes time to cook and prepare, they will remember the wait and leave a negative review and/or a small tip. If they have drinks and some good bread with a tasty butter, they are less likely to notice how long they wait. Antoinette Moses

They serve bread at the start for a few reasons. First, it’s a cheap gesture that symbolises hospitality. Second, as soon as you’ve had something in your stomach, you’re more likely to throw some wine in on top of it. Third, the margins on wine are far, far more than bread (or most other food), so it’s an inducement to buy more high-margin products. Mike Wilson

Your customers do not want to sit with an empty table in front of them, while your kitchen might be under pressure, so the stuff they order might take a bit of time. So, put something on the table: bread or grissini, a bowl of olives, the wine order or just some fizzy water. Quick and easy and they won’t get frustrated waiting. It enables them to give the partly sated diner smaller starters and main courses and thus save on their more expensive ingredients. Those who enjoy puddings will usually order them even if they feel full. Thomas Boyd

I live in France, where every meal – including a sandwich – is accompanied by a basket of bread. This bread is always gooood. But I don’t think it’s the done thing to eat it before the actual food arrives. And there’s never any butter, unless what you’ve ordered is oysters. I sometimes eat out here just for the bread. May it never stop! stimpyyouidiot

As a matter of interest, talking about France: the law of 8 June 1967 mentions it is mandatory for restaurant to offer bread. gregoire

I do understand the point that it may blunt your appetite, but recently I went to Tom Kitchin’s place in Edinburgh and we got the most lovely basket of bread – warm with a little side dish of soft salted butter, not the freezing hard pellets that you used to get. We fell in love with the place immediately. I think it’s a pretty inexpensive way of giving you a wee warm welcoming hug, which settles you in and makes you trust that they know what they’re doing. ciaran1968

Most restaurants in the UK don’t do this now, in my experience. Bread is now one of the starters listed. Even in places where it appears to be complimentary, you are generally charged for it. CroneRanger

I was once told by a serious French wine drinker: “Never drink wine when you are thirsty.” It’s perhaps the same with really good food? The bread takes the edge of hunger and the food can then be enjoyed slowly and to the full. Clibanus

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