Goodbye, free bread basket


The familiar restaurant scenario where the waiter brings you a basket of bread to nibble while you are perusing the menu is fading into oblivion (at least in the U.S.), according to this Yahoo! Food article. The recent lawsuit by shareholders of Darden (parent company of the Olive Garden restaurant chain) brings this trend to light. Investors objected to the unlimited free breadsticks (700 million sticks per year) that had been a trademark of the chain, calling the practice "massive unnecessary waste." Olive Garden defends the free breadsticks as being part of traditional Italian hospitality.

As restaurants battle increasing food costs, more of them are doing away with gratis bread, reasoning that the shift will save money but won't alienate customers. As industry consultant Joe Spinelli notes, "I haven't seen anything to indicate that people aren't going to go to a restaurant because they have to pay for bread." And as more consumers move to cut gluten and carbs from their diets, it's also less risky to take away the free bread.

Although you may be saying adieu to free slices, the good news is that the bread for which you will be charged is generally better than what you were getting for free.  Restaurants like Barnyard in Los Angeles report that their artisanal bread basket (priced at $4 USD and served with a trio of Dijon mustard, Wisconsin butter, and house-made preserves) has sold better than any other menu item since the restaurant opened in 2012.

This trend may work its way into other menu items. Spinelli believes that we "might be paying for specialty sauces and condiments that used to be free, too." Maybe we'll soon see a ketchup and mustard charge at burger joints. Does this trend bother you, or do you think it's just good business? Have you seen it outside the U.S.?

Photo of Ciabatta from indexed blog Leite's Culinaria


  • Christine  on  9/25/2014 at 1:16 PM

    I haven't noticed this trend, but I don't really eat out all that often! I don't think I would mind paying for bread especially if it meant there were (potentially) more choices and better quality by making it a menu item instead of a freebie. Some restaurants have really excellent free bread, but some others, not so much. Not that it happens everywhere, but it does bug me if the waiter refills the basket when we really don't need/want any more (same goes for water!) -- that practice is definitely wasteful.

  • ahelck  on  9/26/2014 at 8:20 AM

    The bread basket was anything but free when I was in Slovenia and Hungary earlier this month. Some places, yes...many places, no. But given I was able to have the best foie gras for about $ complaints.

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