Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dough for Dough

Recently there’s been a veritable firestorm of conversation locally and nationally – much of it angry – about restaurants that are charging for bread. Just type the phrase into your browser and you’ll see what I mean. For starters, check out this thread on Chowhound. Some of the most recent ranting, raving, and even occasionally thoughtful commentary was sparked by Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic. In a blog post on the subject, he went out of his way to provoke readers, not merely defending the establishments that have decided to make diners pay for the bread they eat, but suggesting that it would be better if more places followed suit. In Cleveland, I know that Felice and Taste do it. At Boulevard Blue, there’s a cost for bread basket refills. There may be other restaurants I’m not aware of that are adding the carbo-charge.

Here’s my position. Restaurants are struggling to stay afloat in this economy and maintain the quality of their offerings. If this little tweak to business as usual helps, I say go for it. It's better than raising prices across the board, especially for those who choose not to have bread. Besides, it will surely lead to less of the stuff being thrown away and that’s important. Multiply all the complimentary bread that goes from the table to the trash, night after night and coast to coast, and we’re talking mountains of garbage a lot of resources wasted- just think of the fuel used to process, transport and cook the ingredients... and then cart them off to the dump.

Yes, I know paying for the bread we feel entitled to is a change and not a welcome one. But I predict that we'll get used to it. Just like we got used to paying extra to sit in the car while someone else pumped our gas. Now doing it ouselves seems normal and only people of a certain age remember that once upon a time it was free. And sure, I like to spend less money not more, just like everybody else. But I like good bread too and it doesn’t seem unfair for a chef or owner to pass some of the cost of it- which has risen dramatically over the past couple of years- along to me. My only caveat is that it should be clear upfront- printed on menus, and mentioned by servers- so I'm not surprised when the charge appears on the bill.

Anyone want to weigh in on the topic?

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Anonymous said...

I don't have any problem paying for the bread I eat. Less waste, good idea!

Russ said...

I have no problem with this practice. I believe the bread is extra at the new Greenhouse Tavern, but it's some of the most amazing bread and spread you'll ever have.

During a recent vacation in Portugal, we discovered their practice was to set a table with a number of small plates/appetizers and in some cases bread. You are charged for any you partake in, and not for what you do not want. That solves the problem of giving a quick food fix for overly hungry diners, which is the only part of this that I can imagine being a problem.

Michael Walsh said...

No bread was ever complimentry, it was never free, the price was always worked into the price of all the other food on the menu, like salt, and cooking oil. To imply customers were getting something for free is false.

I do not mind a nominal fee for bread service. Especially re-fills. Some people tend to abuse the 'free' re-fills idea.

The best point made is that the restaurant needs to be upfront with these charges, post them on them menu, have the server make you aware of them far ahead of the bill arriving.