The Dirty Secret Behind Free Bread In Restaurants

There are a lot of reasons why we dine out (even if we do feel like we're dropping a lot of cash each time we do), from being too tired to cook something yummy for ourselves at home to being on a personal quest to seek out the restaurants that serve the best free bread. So when we started hearing rumors about the dirty secret behind free bread in restaurants, you know we had to do a little investigating.

One of the most prevalent rumors about the free bread at restaurants seems to be that, allegedly, some restaurants re-serve the free bread left on customers' tables if they don't eat all of it. If this is true, why would anyone want to dip their hand in the breadbasket again, knowing that many other hands may have done the same? Thankfully, those rumors might not be as true as some conspiracy theorists would have you believe.

Do restaurants really re-serve uneaten bread?

According to some restaurant employees, certain eateries really do re-serve bread that goes uneaten on the tables.

"A lot of the time, if you don't eat it all, it goes right back to the bread warmer," warned one employee (via Reddit).

Another commenter pointed out that this is a health code violation.

That's why it's probably not likely that this is an industry-wide practice, but rather something that happens at poorly-managed individual restaurant branches (via Culinary Lore).

There aren't any news stories or FDA reports about anyone getting food poisoning from eating the free bread at a restaurant, and you'd think there would be at least a few cases of norovirus being spread if people were really touching pieces of bread that then got re-served to other customers. You know not everyone washes their hands before eating a meal at a restaurant — and it doesn't always happen after they visit the restroom, only to go back in for another roll, biscuit, or buttered slice. 

Other sources point out that the average restaurant has so much uneaten, untouched bread leftover in the kitchen at the end of the night that they have no need to recycle the bread that was left on customers' tables. They can simply use the bread in the kitchen that was never served if they need bread for things like bread pudding, stuffing, and croutons (via Bon Appetit).

Why do restaurants give free bread?

Aside from free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, there's almost no better perk to dining out than getting free bread before (or with) your meal. But what incentive does a restaurant have to serve free bread, considering that it's pretty filling and might convince diners to order less food that they'll actually pay for?

Apparently, there are a few primary reasons (via The Daily Meal).

One is that it's a show of hospitality for guests. Another is that in the olden days, restaurants were usually located in taverns, where one meal was sold per day, so customers were given bread to fill up on so there would be enough of the main course to go around without the tavern owners having to spend too much money on the more expensive food.

Free bread can also keep customers calm

Also, free bread gives customers something to focus on before their food comes out, so they're less antsy while waiting for their entrees. That way they're less annoyed if the kitchen is running a little behind schedule.

For the skeptics among us, there's a more devious theory behind that basket of free bread. Some surmise that it's served because white bread makes your blood sugar spike after eating, which can actually make you hungrier, meaning you may be more likely to order dessert later on (via First For Women).

Either way, we're just thankful that free bread exists.

The real reason why you shouldn't eat free bread at restaurants

So, it seems pretty unlikely that the bread in your bread basket was recycled from other tables. But there's another reason why you might want to avoid eating the free bread brought to your table.

According to nutritionist Regina Fazzini, R.D. (via SheFinds), "The bread basket is super tempting, but it's ultimately not worth it."

That's because most restaurants serve you white bread, which isn't very nutritious, and because you'll get enough calories and satiation from your appetizer, entree, and sides. There's just no reason to also stuff yourself with bread.

This is especially true at notoriously high-calorie restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory. Sure, their honey wheat brown bread might be some of the best free restaurant bread around, but what The Cheesecake Factory doesn't want you to know is that more than 166 of their dishes contain more than 1,000 calories each. You're better off skipping the bread and saving your appetite for what counts — slurping up that fettuccine Alfredo.