by Ben Miller
Frank Bruni has an interesting post up on the Diner’s Journal, which argues that restaurants should start charging explicitly for bread, rather than hiding its cost by tweaking the prices charged for other dishes.
From the restaurant perspective, I think bread could actually be a money-losing amenity. There have been several times when I went out to dinner and was waffling on ordering an appetizer, but decided not to after receiving a generous helping of bread. That represents a loss of roughly $7 to $10 for the restaurant, which must be greater than the overall increase in the entree and/or dessert price that I ended up paying.
I’ve also found that bread can end up lessening a dining experience. It is often the very first food item that a diner has from that establishment, so if your offering is mediocre then it can start the meal off on the wrong foot, lessening expectations of what is to follow. (Unrelated, I think the same argument can be applied to why a restaurant should take care to have good cocktail offerings.)
That’s not to say there aren’t positives for bread. If you’re a restaurant known for being notoriously slow, then providing something up front may be a way to keep diners happy until their dishes arrive–something that could improve business by increasing the likelihood that they order dessert.
Good bread is also something a restaurant can use to really showcase what it offers. Last night, for example, I ate at Potenza, a restaurant down by 14th and H. One of the things that really intrigued me about the restaurant was that it also had a side bakery–something they showcased by giving you hunks of some of its homemade bread. (Note: it would have been better warm, but I did appreciate the process of having a stand where you could actually see your server take a huge loaf and cut it into pieces.) They also accompanied the bread with a clever trick of holding a small bowl of olive oil and onion pieces upside down on a plate and then lifting it up to cover the bottom. While simple, I liked the manuver and the presentation–it suggested that the bread and olive oil was something that some thought had gone into, not a necessary first element
In general though, I agree with Bruni. Bread and butter is certainly nice, and something I almost always reach for when offered, but I’d gladly pay $3 for nicer bread, than stick with a so-so offering for free.
What do you think? Bring on the bread or keep the table crumb free?