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Buying bread... in restaurants.


ulterior epicure
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...<respectfully snipped>...

Inflation isn't the only issue here, though. The paying-for-bread trend in the US started before the current spike in costs. It was already occurring in smaller, contemporary restaurants, especially those serving styles of cuisine that don't specifically demand bread. Momofuku Ssam Bar, for example. If you want bread, you pay for it. You pay a lot. But it's really good, as is the accompanying butter.

Of course all these factors -- inflation, style of food -- are real, but they can also become excuses. Restaurants (businesses in general) often take advantage of such excuses to raise prices more than the underlying causes warrant. Remember when France switched to the Euro? So, I think people should be understanding about the current round of price increases -- whether they're expressed as increases in menu prices or decreases in what you get for the same money -- but we shouldn't be overly forgiving. We all need to earn a living too.

Amen to that!

And thank you for the background information regarding the start of the trend prior to the jump in grain costs. It's little tidbits like that which industry loves to gloss over if not flat-out omit.

Eat Well,

-jbl

The Postmodern Soapbox - NominalTopic.blogspot.com

Twitter: jbzepol

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A professional baker I know attributes the rising cost of flour to the conversion from wheat-growing to corn-growing (with attendant govt subsidies) for ethanol.

Apropos of the subject is Paul Krugman's op-ed about rising grain prices in a recent NYT. (The entire article is worth reading, BTW.)

"Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels. The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.” This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/07/opinion/...85a8&ei=5087%0A

To the degree that the problem is due to bad policy, that decision can be reversed. We can hope.

Meanwhile, as a restaurant patron, I've always been troubled by the waste of the bread basket. If I were asked ahead of time if I wanted bread, I would probably say No most of the time.

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I mean, one way or the other you are going to pay for the bread. If they don't directly ask you to pay for it if you want it, they will at least raise the prices of the other food to cover the cost of the bread. Almost all menu pricing reflects these costs anyways--the variables, such as extra sauce, ketchup, butter, bread, tobasco, whatever.

So, instead of charging for bread they should just raise the price of every item a dollar or two? At least with them charging for it you have the option.

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We have a small restaurant where all bread, pasta, desserts, etc are made in-house. Last year (or so) I was paying about $10 for a 50lb bag of unbleached ap flour. Today, I am paying almost $40 for that same bag. Under no circumstance would we charge for bread with dinner. Last week we took a long look at menu prices and found 2 items that we think were relatively underpriced and upped those 2 items by $1 each. For now, that should cover us for the increase in flour.

It is a really hard balancing act. We don't want to seem "overpriced" but we do want to cover our expenses.

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Why don't restaurants which serve bread offer it by the piece rather than an entire basket? At Steirereck in Vienna, they have a bread cart where they slice (if necessary) and serve a little at a time. Certain hotels in Japan I've been to (the Osaka branches of Ritz-Carlton and the Imperial Hotel) also have waitstaff bringing around baskets of bread from which you choose one or two pieces, but they don't leave a basket filled with bread at the table. In both cases, I was more than satisfied with the amount of bread I received, and more importantly, none of the bread I took went to waste.

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Why don't restaurants which serve bread offer it by the piece rather than an entire basket? 

Because bread is cheaper than labor. If you serve bread by the piece, you need an employee to walk around the dining room and offer bread repeatedly to every table. Depending on the size of the restaurant, it could be a full-time job. You have to waste a lot of bread before it costs as much as hiring an additional person.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Because bread is cheaper than labor. If you serve bread by the piece, you need an employee to walk around the dining room and offer bread repeatedly to every table. Depending on the size of the restaurant, it could be a full-time job. You have to waste a lot of bread before it costs as much as hiring an additional person.

How much more time does it take than, say, taking additional drink orders from a table? In the hotels I mentioned, the same person who served my meal (and that of at least three other large tables) also served bread. I think they only came around twice, which was enough.

Personally, I don't think bread baskets are necessary. The only time bread really should be served is if it complements whatever dish with which it is served. Beyond that, why should a restaurant bother?

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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Personally, I don't think bread baskets are necessary.  The only time bread really should be served is if it complements whatever dish with which it is served.  Beyond that, why should a restaurant bother?

Hey, now, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, here. I have had some absolutely *fantastic* bread in my time from places great and small, expensive and inexpensive, and sometimes it *is* very much worth it. A bread artisan isn't the easiest thing to come across, IMHO.

A bread course isn't uncommon in certain places I've been, and usually when it's a course, it's something to behold. Had some restaurants that I've been to "not bothered" with bread, they wouldn't have made the same impression that they did.

Let's not be "down" on fresh, house-made bread any more than we'd be "down" on fresh, house-made pasta, shall we? Call a spade a spade.

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At a few mexican places Ive been to, the first bowl of chips is free but you have to pay if you want more -- Im sure something similar could work out for restaurant bread.

And the "oh well why dont we charge for warm food and renting the chair oh and how about breathing?!?!" arent really helpful because the price of air hasn't increased by 400% in the past few years. I follow the commodities pretty well and it is going up across the board, rice is the new "oh its so expensive" grain. And no.. while the farmer does see some more profit, the real money goes to the seed and fertilizer companies, who see the disparity between cost to plant and profit from harvest, and just raise their prices accordingly.

Edited by turkeybone (log)

Rico

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Let's not be "down" on fresh, house-made bread any more than we'd be "down" on fresh, house-made pasta, shall we?  Call a spade a spade.

That's not a fair or accurate comparison in the situation of which this topic is discussing, so it would hardly be calling "a spade a spade". If you insist on comparing the two, then you're actually making an argument against the free bread basket. After all, a restaurant does not provide a pasta basket (or bowl) free of charge, does it? A customer must order it. So then why not insist the customer order and pay for a bread basket?

And nowhere in my comment did I say anything negative about freshly-made bread. I merely commented (keeping in line with the topic), that I don't believe bread baskets need to be provided by a restaurant. Should one desire a bread basket, then go ahead and order (and pay) for it.

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I have no problem at all with paying for bread and butter.

Partly because I hate seeing all the waste that's encouraged by free bread baskets. Partly because I get the economics, and would rather see it as an option than an assumption. Partly because I am weak, and when there is free bread in front of me, I eat it--all of it-- even when all that belly space should be reserved for the piles of good food coming shortly.

But the bread and butter had better be good. Really good.

Notes from the underbelly

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What does it cost you per customer to provide bread? and the average spend of your guest?

For me,small bistro making bread ourselves it works out at about 10pence a guest who is spending £30.00, so really make your savings elsewhere, charging for bread makes you look cheap .

Making bread in house for us is a no brainer, it's cheaper than buying it, it's better than buying it, and the guests love it.

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Our small restaurant also makes all its own bread, and despite the huge hike in flour prices (£60 for a sack of Spelt flour last week!!) and butter doubling in price, we would never charge for bread- however, we do offer the bread basket slice by slice as is needed. Yes a waiter is needed, but at least then the bread is fresh and warm every bite, and people do just eat what they want.

http://www.allium.uk.net

http://alliumfood.wordpress.com/ the alliumfood blog

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming - Whey hey what a ride!!!, "

Sarah Poli, Firenze, Kibworth Beauchamp

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Erica, get down to Liddels  48p for 1.5k bag of bread flour.May not be Spelt but makes mighty fine bread :biggrin:

Hmm, selling 30 kg of bread a day in the deli- don't thinl Liddel would appreciate me wiping them out!!!!!

http://www.allium.uk.net

http://alliumfood.wordpress.com/ the alliumfood blog

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming - Whey hey what a ride!!!, "

Sarah Poli, Firenze, Kibworth Beauchamp

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WOW 30k? WTG!

Hmmm.. :blink: I'd be happier with a bit more sleep!! Bakers shift is no fun you know!! :wacko:

http://www.allium.uk.net

http://alliumfood.wordpress.com/ the alliumfood blog

"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming - Whey hey what a ride!!!, "

Sarah Poli, Firenze, Kibworth Beauchamp

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