By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
Before the pandemic, it was quite customary in restaurants to whet the appetite with the tableside delivery of a breadbasket, or some variation of a small loaf of bread, as a welcome to the establishment. There has always been a positive symbolism with this act, as breaking bread not only increases meal satisfaction by alleviating any hunger pangs but also implies a deeper sense of trust and camaraderie.
There’s more here on the psychological and monetary front. The bread serves as a timing delay tactic, giving the kitchen more time to prepare the selected appetizers and mains while simultaneously easing the diners into the setting and prompting them to linger with an opening cocktail or wine order. In this manner, the breadbasket may slow the table turn but ultimately improve the revenue per cover.
Now into the post-pandemic world, we can’t help but notice that bread service at our favorite restaurants is no longer free, with prices ranging from $4 to $12 per order. Obviously, this has been commonplace throughout Europe for quite some time, it nevertheless requires an adjustment for those who aren’t just to the surcharge. We understand the need to hold the line on costs; after all, the bread course is not free as it has to be either baked in-house or bought from a local supplier.
In our opinion, though, there is still something magical about sitting down at the restaurant dining table and having the wait staff deliver fresh bread. It cements the welcoming atmosphere and creates a sense of arrival. For those who have an in-house bakery, it demonstrates the creativity of your staff.
To now discover bread on the menu, gawk at the price, think about all the health reasons why we should not consume bread, and then opt to reject or accept it seems like setting the meal off to a very unsatisfactory start. True, it’s a minor grievance as people are likely to weigh their mains, drinks and company over mere bread, but first impressions are powerful, nonetheless.
Further, we also wonder if anyone has done an analysis of TripAdvisor scores between those restaurants with complimentary bread service versus those with bread as a paid menu item. It would be difficult to quantity but perhaps there’s a way to get some anecdotal feedback from servers in terms of how many times on the average night they are asked about the bread service or what’s entailed in its menu price.
So, is this penny wise, pound foolish? Or is it a sign of the times (at least here in North America where it used to be mostly gratis), reflecting the need to recoup past losses from 2020 or a throughput from all the current staff shortages? What position does your restaurant take on this dough-y matter?