Should you serve complimentary bread? What to consider

The pros and cons of free bread

Not long ago it was commonplace for restaurants to serve complimentary bread to diners before the main meal. But as we see free bread slip from the plates (and menus) of diners across the country, new restaurant owners and kitchen staff (not to mention hungry customers) are often left wondering – why is it disappearing? And is it worth keeping?

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether to offer your customers free bread, charge for the privilege or just not have bread at all! Here we explore the pros and cons, and let you decide for yourself…

Pro #1:

When served great quality, rustic breads (like Speedibake’s rustic dinner rolls) free of charge, diners can’t help but feel good about a restaurant. If customer relations and loyalty is your goal, it really is a no brainer to serve good quality bread on the house

Pro #2:

You can never underestimate the calming effect of hot, just-baked bread and butter. Customers with something delicious to graze on as soon as they are seated will often forget that they had to wait for a table. Calm, happy guests are much easier to serve, more likely to settle in and order multiple drinks and stay for dessert, and that in itself is worth the few extra dollars.

Pro #3

Having bread on the table gives diners something to do while they wait for busy serving staff who may not have had a chance to take their order yet. This stops them from becoming impatient or dissatisfied with the service.

Pro #4:

As much as we probably don’t like to admit it, everyone likes to think they are getting a bargain. Free food always creates that illusion. So if a customer can ‘get their money’s worth’ on free bread they are more likely to feel like they have had a good deal and will likely come back again.

Pro #5

Although it may be subconscious, giving away free bread often inspires reciprocity in diners. If they are offered a free basket of warm bread before they even have a chance to order, they are more likely to return the favour and may tip more generously.

Con #1:

Although customers are generally always happy to receive free bread, restauranteurs may need to consider if this is stifling their appetite and leading them to order less. Is your entrée or dessert menu suffering as a result of your customers filling up on bread? Or does a good bread stimulate appetite? If this is a worry for your venue, consider offering the free bread after the orders are taken so it is less likely diners will order a smaller main.

Con #2:

Most customers like to know what they are paying for, so if free bread appears on their table, whether they want it or not, they may wonder where the cost of the bread is being absorbed. Are they paying extra for their main? Their drinks? Some venues like to be more transparent with their pricing, acknowledging that free bread is never actually ‘free’. 

Con #3:

Sustainability, ethical use of resources and environmental friendliness is high on the agenda for many people today. Offering free bread that doesn’t get eaten means that restaurants may end up throwing out a large quantity of otherwise completely edible bread. This leads to waste that not only hurts your bottom line but also the environment and customers’ view of your venue’s responsibility. 

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