Bread, on the table…s’il vous plait

Sesame baguette

One of the things that I see when dining with visitors to France is that right after they pluck a piece of bread out of the bread basket that is invariably set on the table in cafés and restaurants, they start looking around – a little nervously – where to put their bread down. While the conversation is going, I sense a bit of multitasking – their eyes nervously scanning the table, darting back and forth, looking for something — a plate, a board, an extra napkin…anything to put their bread on.

Finally, they settle on the side of their plate or bowl as that’s the only option that seems to be available to them. But that’s tricky since the sides of plates are sloped. Their minds continue to race as they mentally calculate the engineering behind finding the exact correct angle to place the bread on the plate, usually close to the rim, so it has something to hang on to (because, darn, those porcelain plates are slippery), while trying to look nonchalant and continue to appear unruffled. But soon, the slice of baguettes starts inching down towards their dinner, and they have to keep propping it back up to keep it away from the food. Or worse, to keep it from sliding off, and onto, the table.

Chez Dumonet

Directly on the table, though, is where the bread is placed in France. Except when dining in upscale restaurants, where you’ll not only get a bread plate, but you’ll get butter, too. (Bread is meant to accompany a meal and sop up sauce, it’s not a separate course, so butter isn’t usually served with bread in France. Exceptions are fancy tables and when you get oysters, which comes with rye bread and salted butter. Then you’re welcome to spread it on.) However in most bistros and cafés, the bread basket is brought over and plunked down, and you take a piece, and set it on the table next to your plate.

I won’t comment on the hygienic merits of doing this but kitchen towels are quite suspect, especially ones that have been used repeatedly to clean tables all night. But I’ve only been stricken with le gastro five or so times since I’ve been here. And I’m not sure the culprit was bread.

Interestingly, at the boulangeries, they never handle bread with anything but their bare hands. The only time I’ve ever seen anyone use something other than their hands to grab bread for customers was in a delightful film celebrating the merits of French cuisine when it joined the UNESCO world heritage list, and the vendeuse, at the bakery shown in the film, where tongs were used for handling the bread. I don’t get weird about other’s handling my bread, except when they sneeze into their hands first. When that happens, as soon as I get home, the first thing I do is autoclave my bread before tearing into it.

(If you’re as cautious as I am, you should know that restaurants recycle the bread. Bread slices left in the basket when you’re done eating are augmented with more bread if necessary, then brought to the next table. Maybe that’s the real reason why the respected French bread expert, Professor Steven L. Kaplan, brings his own bread with him when dining out?)

Chez Dumonet

Bread is a necessity to any meal in France, and not just when tucking into a meal of la cuisine française. I’ve been served a basket of bread along with a hamburger at cafés (which are so ubiquitous, they were the meal served at the Parisian café at last year’s salon de l’agriculture in Paris, as the plat representing Paris), and I once saw a Frenchman at a Chinese restaurant happily eating his meal along with a big mound of rice, who flagged down the waitress to ask her for some bread. I can’t say I blame them, because I like – and expect – bread all the time, too.

But I don’t expect a bread plate, and you shouldn’t either. (And don’t be a Professor wanna be and bring your own bread plate. If you bring your own bread, like he does, get ready for a few jibes.) Accept that bread goes right on the table, s’il vous plaît. Grab that bread, rip it apart, enjoy the yeasty aroma when it crumbles open. Savor the shattering crust when you bite down on it (thanking God beforehand not just for the meal, but that you don’t need to vacuum up afterward). And when it’s time to put it down, be brave and set it right on the table. Where it belongs.

Related Posts

How to Find a Good Baguette in Paris

The Grainy Breads of Paris

10 Common Ordering Mistakes People Make in Paris Restaurants

Whole-wheat Sunflower Seed Rye Bread


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77 comments

  • Paula L.
    February 3, 2015 3:49pm

    Thank you for this information! I know it seems like a simple post, mais comme un Americain who visits Europe occasionally, it’s good to know the proper etiquette as well as the little nuances of French culture.

  • February 3, 2015 4:35pm

    That’s a hilarious observation. I can imagine you sitting back laughing inside while they go through this little act.

    I can only hope Kaplan has a complete bread kit including a cutting board and knife stashed in his bread briefcase. I also hope he stops randomly on a park bench or on a bus, opens it up, and chows down much to others disbelief.

  • February 3, 2015 4:39pm

    Now when I’m in America, I’m searching around not for a bread plate but just for bread! After only 3 years, I forgot how few places serve bread at all (minus those that are serving more artisanal bread and charging for it). You really do get used to always having (amazing) bread once you’re here for awhile

  • February 3, 2015 4:45pm

    Fascinating, not something I’ve ever thought about! Better than a small round table (so common in deutschland) where you a struggling to find space for 2 plates and two glasses let alone a bread plate…

  • Charlotte K
    February 3, 2015 4:57pm

    Do they recycle the bread in American restaurants? I always assumed they do, but then most of eat it all! Especially if there is butter!

  • Charlotte K
    February 3, 2015 4:59pm

    “most of US eat it all” I meant.

  • February 3, 2015 5:28pm

    How do you autoclave those post-sneeze baguettes?? More than once, I’ve brought bread home from my local boulangerie and thought it probably wasn’t the most hygiene food I’ve ingested! Sometimes I run it very briefly under the tap and toss it in a hot oven to crisp it up nicely which – now that I think about it – might be a good thing for my health as well.

  • Susan B
    February 3, 2015 5:50pm

    I’ve read that this habit symbolizes the communal aspect of sharing a meal, of breaking bread together. In theory, bread on the table belongs to all. Again in theory, you could take a piece of your neighbor’s slice of baguette. Though I’m sure you would at the very least get some mighty strange looks.

  • February 3, 2015 6:22pm

    Great observation–I never think about this anymore, but you’re completely right. Even the bread baskets themselves aren’t that “clean,” considering that they usually set out the uneaten bread from Table A on Table B!

    I like that the French don’t take this kind of thing as seriously as Americans…I put my bread on the table, and I’ve never once had an “intoxication alimentaire” (knock on wood!).

    I still can’t quite bring myself to take an uncovered baguette in the metro, though…

  • bob raymond
    February 3, 2015 6:25pm

    This is the same rule that we follow in the U.S. but most people aren’t aware of it and look shocked when you do it at a formal dinner party. It’s just like the etiquette of drinking from a cream soup bowl.
    Thanks for all your good blogs from France!

  • February 3, 2015 6:29pm

    It’s the same as salted nuts at a bar. Never eat them since men do, then go take a wee and don’t wash their hands and chomp down more peanuts! Blech….

    Over here in la Suisse, there is usually a little plate with a knife and a pot of butter. But not everywhere…..

  • Gina
    February 3, 2015 6:38pm

    If you don’t get bread automatically in a restaurant you can ask for some, but what to do if invited to someone’s home and there’s no bread on the table? Obviously, I do nothing, but I make a mental note to bring some of my homemade baguette next time!

  • Rick May
    February 3, 2015 6:39pm

    Eating in a restaurant involves a certain amount of trust, and hope, in the social contract. But I do like having a bread plate and some butter, especially in cute little ceramic tubs. Call me crazy, call me Anerican.

  • Sara
    February 3, 2015 6:52pm

    OK David, I’m just going say I chuckled at the picture of the half loaf. Can’t get my mind out of the gutter.

  • Norman Olson
    February 3, 2015 6:53pm

    Recently ate in a San Francisco restaurant that does not serve bread! Either complimentary or for a fee! When I inquired I was told it was because so many people are gluten intolerant. Please! Call it what it is, cheapness.

  • February 3, 2015 6:57pm

    Always wondered if restaurant bread was recycled (that’s when the 2nd or 3rd basket had leftovers)…not that often of course. Italians (my family) usually set it on the table (cloth)…we mainly use it to sop up our leftover pasta (and other) sauces.

  • Susan
    February 3, 2015 6:57pm

    Mon Dieu, what fools………how do they expect their immune system to be up and running if ‘they’ are worried about putting their bread on the table!!! Crazy. Or maybe it’s just that I have no shame……..

  • February 3, 2015 7:15pm

    I so remember way back in the 70s being surprised when the basket of bread appeared at the Chinese restaurants. And, yes, always on the table – and, at Bastide de Moustier, one star M. you get the loaf set on the table – with a knife. DIY

  • Linda R.
    February 3, 2015 7:18pm

    I love everything about your posts, and this one definitely brought a smile. I miss being in France – your blog (and cookbooks) keep me there in spirit.

  • Frank
    February 3, 2015 7:29pm

    Kitchen towels used not only to clean the tables but the seats of chairs. Chairs turned seat side down on tables at night so the floor can be swept. For those who expect strict government health inspections and/or are overly concerned with their idea of cleanliness, I’ve always thought table tops were an obvious flaw in the germ eradication program. That having been said I go for the food (and the bread on the table) and avoid other distractions. (Another topic – the civilized French allow pets in restaurants.)

  • February 3, 2015 7:42pm

    Good to know :) I was surprised when my friend and I were charged for bread in Lisbon a few months ago.
    Also, I just finished reading your book, The Sweet Life in Paris and I loved it. Coincidentally, I read it while eating lunch at Breizh cafe in Tokyo.

  • Nicolette
    February 3, 2015 7:47pm

    This is why one should consume wine with one’s bread (to kill off the germs)!

  • Barry
    February 3, 2015 7:53pm

    I was a little surprised by your comment that the vendeuse (yes, they usually are women) never handle the bread with anything but their hands. When I lived there full time in the 70s and when I travel back there now they usually use a small square of paper to pick up the baguette and present it to you with the paper around the middle. And this is in your local neighborhood boulangeries and not one of the fancy ones.

    • February 6, 2015 12:10am
      David Lebovitz

      Interestingly some bakeries are now using machines to take money, and give change. (They still wait on you, but you feed in the money yourself.) Some have said it’s for “hygiene,” since money is quite germy. But recently I asked at a bakery and they said they were using the machines to prevent braquage – otherwise known as getting “held up.” I didn’t realize that bakeries were targets of armed robbers!

  • February 3, 2015 7:58pm

    They reuse the bread in the states too…just have to use your best judgment about the cleanliness of the restaurant and decide whether you want to dig in or not!

    Love how you just put the bread right on the table – who needs a plate?

  • February 3, 2015 8:03pm

    And you can imagine how a French reacts when abroad. Same puzzled looks around, same multitasking (catching the server’s eyes…) to get bread on the table! And this same server, looking weirdly at you when you actually ask for some bread/ toasts/ extra roll. At this point you just want anything that looks like bread and feels like it in the hands.

  • Laurel
    February 3, 2015 8:08pm

    Hilarious! I can see myself doing this, not out of germophobia, but out of a desire to have “good manners”. However, we’ve got to stop being germophobes! Most bacteria are your friend and don’t cause illness. If you didn’t have any gut bacteria you’d die in short order. People round here are always slathering on the hand sanitizer. Have you seen the ingredients in that crap? Then it all ends up in our rivers and streams, not to mention your bloodstream. Stop the madness. ARGH!

  • February 3, 2015 8:23pm

    Loved this post, David! I grew up with the bread-on-the-table phenomenon :-) Simple.

  • Alice
    February 3, 2015 8:24pm

    My husband and I spent three weeks harvesting saffron on a farm in Italy and at one point he blurted out, “I just want a bread plate!” There were 18 people in one house with one bathroom and only sporadic hot water…..and he was obsessed with the lack of a bread plate, sheesh. Needless to say, I made sure I sent this blog post to him as soon as I read it!

  • Cyndy
    February 3, 2015 8:44pm

    As much as I loooooooooove a baguette from the neighborhood boulangerie, I usually find the bread served in mid-scale restaurants to be very dry and tasteless. Now I know why! I never considered it’s been sliced and sitting out all day, going from table to table. A pot of salted butter would go a long way toward making it edible. Otherwise… good hockey pucks!

  • Peter Chennell
    February 3, 2015 9:02pm

    Nice one, David.

    My brother has lived in France for over forty years, and I remember he once, rather archly, asked a waiter whether there was any of today’s bread available.

    The embarrassed man had overheard us conversing in English, tried to offload some stale-ish bread, and was taken aback to be addressed in fluent French.

    That taught him!

  • Yeesheen
    February 3, 2015 10:25pm

    This is how it’s done in old-school restaurants in New Orleans too. Sometimes at a place like Galatoire’s they will ask whether you want it the traditional way (bread on the table) or a plate!

  • pat pavlucik
    February 3, 2015 10:34pm

    I was in Paris just after Christmas, and one evening, dining in a neighborhood bistro, noted a Parisian using the bread basket as his “plate”. He would break off a piece of bread from the pieces in the basket and eat it, then, go back to the basket when he wished another bite, using the original slice of bread for his next bite. I was intrigued by this! But, that certainly solved the problem of no bread plate for that person!

  • Anne Soloviev
    February 3, 2015 10:52pm

    Can you please provide the name of the film re French cuisine on the UNESCO World Heritage list?

  • Julia
    February 3, 2015 11:35pm

    You are a great writer!

  • Wendibtz
    February 3, 2015 11:39pm

    And if you’re dining with close friends or family don’t be surprised if someone reaches over and helps themselves to a “petit bout”, a little piece, of your bread sitting next to your plate. I thought my mother (American) was going to fall off her chair when my future father-in-law (French) reached over and snagged half of her chunk of baguette! He didn’t have the best table manners but I have seen that slight of hand many times over the past 30 years.

  • February 3, 2015 11:43pm

    an observation I made too, long ago – and I have no problem putting the bread on the table because already as children we ate stuff from ‘dubious places’, treats having fallen in sand pit, chewing gums scraped-off from the airport floor… and look how strong and healthy we have become! :)
    wonderfully written, photos to love and well, about the bread, I go with what my son told me on the phone last week: Mum, even if not ALL baguettes are wonderful in France, they still are much better than what they sell here under the name ‘baguette’. He’s right and I’m thankful for a brilliant bakery very nearby.

  • February 4, 2015 12:01am

    You can hardly overstate the importance of bread in French culture. My friend Alain has bread with his pasta (he tends to think of the latter as a vegetable). Also, restaurant guides like Pudlo will rate the bread and coffee at a restaurant, whereas US guides tend to focus on the cleanliness of restrooms…

    • February 6, 2015 12:04am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I guess it’s a good thing the French guides don’t rate cleanliness of restrooms at restaurants. Even in nicer places, their cleanliness seems to be not a priority.

  • February 4, 2015 12:58am

    HA. Its like a bread basket SCOBY/starter.

  • February 4, 2015 1:22am

    This is hilarious! I am headed to Paris in three months. I will be sure to place my bread on the table, thanks for the heads up!

  • February 4, 2015 2:18am

    I can’t believe there is ever any leftover bread in the bread baskets in Paris!

  • Diane
    February 4, 2015 5:05am

    Awwwh, David! You’ve spoiled my yearly visit to La Belle Paris. Sneeze into his hands, topping up bread baskets, dirty tea towels! I think I will lose weight the next visit in September as I might not be game to eat the bread in the brasseries etc.

  • le pâtissier
    February 4, 2015 5:09am

    Sorry David, but worrying about bread on the table or bread being handled with bare hands is so paranoid and so typically american! The same goes for your earlier statement about the fèves (beans, figurines) in the traditional galettes des rois (or phitiviers): “Elsewhere, it isn’t considered a wise idea (ie: hiding things in baked goods) that can be dangerous to young folks if swallowed, so if you want to join the tradition and add a fève, you should be more prudent and use a whole almond or a piece of dried fruit instead.”
    My parents had a boulangerie/pâtisserie here in Switzerland for many years, and my mother always handled the bread with her bare hands. Nobody ever complained, nobody ever got sick, nobody ever died. Main thing: The Bread was excellent!
    But: Compliments for your fine blog!

  • Carol
    February 4, 2015 5:10am

    Hello from Canada . I do not know how I began subscribing to your blog but I have stayed with it just because the writings are interesting and well written.

    Funny bread is the topic of the week. I am from the generation that existed before McDDonalds replaced the parents in the kitchen, and home economics were taught in schools, and I still have a keen interest in food and cooking. And, since this week the Eastern Canadian residents have been home bound due to two blizzards and a third immently on the way, I personally have spent my time in-house thinking about my grandparents, as a direct result of watching Canada Masterchef which premiered last Sunday after the Super bowl. And this blog got me on that train of thought again.

    The bread connection? Well, first, my mum’s parents lived an amazing life. Gramp was in WWII, was part of the liberation of Holland, came home, married and fathered 9 kids. Overcame debilitating alcoholism used to cope with war memories. Grew vegetables, cut hay, kept dairy cattle and chickens and a hog, felled trees, then split and hauled the timber with a horse drawn sleigh, drove the public school bus. Hunted with his 3 sons and Beagle dog afterwards. Hauled the family to the little Baptist Church every Sunday. Always worked with a song and telling jokes.

    His wife learned to cook age 14 from her husband to be’s family. Kept the house of course, including cleaning the chamber pots(no plumbing for the 1950s Canadian family), making bed quilts from flour sacks, knit slippers and gloves for her children’s families(about 30 grandkids) every Christmas, did laundry for 11 persons, endured 9 pregnancies! (and weighed a mere 145 lbs. at 5′ 8″ AFTER giving birth to all kids). Did laundry on the old wringer, fed all of them, and often a few neighbourhood kids included, three times a day. This included making two loaves of exquisitely made fresh bread every day on the old wood cook-stove of the early 1900s. The family always raved about her bread.

    I have the recipe, it is an 8 hour process, done correctly it comes out milk-sweet, delicate, slightly saltine(5 tsp. Per 8-10c. flour), with a thin crisp exterior crust, and rises A MILE HIGH! (No exaggeration LOL) The crumb, I do not know if there is a French equivalent. It is not the small, pumice-stone style holes, nor the same smaller holes interspersed with larger holes found in an excellent baguette, nor does it have the beautiful chewiness of a baguette. Made in a loaf pan, it leavens forming an elongated “muffin top” that is 1.5x the volume of its base; when fully cooked, it is so soft and spongy you can squeeze it, release it, it will spring back into shape; the crumb finally, if torn apart rather than sliced, results in what is like the long tendrils of cotton candy. I have seen many homemade dinner rolls result in this, but never bread sold in any store bakery. Though they sell exquisite artisan bread(French, Italian, baguettes, Kaiser rolls etc…)

    So, homemade bread always makes me miss these dear people, and, with watching Masterchef Canada, in particular the story of the lady contestant who became widowed 5 years ago had to learn to hunt to feed her family(she served a beautifully presented elk dish), how over and over people in this country I love so dearly rise up to some pretty extreme challenges and come up compassionate. Including my grade 6 educated grandparents and others in that generation who came back from the war, got on with living, with renewed gratitude, building families and this country, what we enjoy in the present.

    It was a long time long ago when most everyone knew how to cook :)

    Anyhow, I once heard Canada supplies France with wheat for its bread. For its high gluten content I believe(12% hard wheat). I was curious, do you personally know anything of this, either in past or present?

    I watch Masterchef as it interests me what youth today know about food prep. And from Australia, I find it more educational with respect to their culture, and culinary- wise. They do 5 eps. per week after all. But, Canada’s looks good this year, not so much over the top drama. (Which was a bit tamer that way anyhow compared to the American version) And with stories of interest to different regions of the country, it should be a nice way to spend a Canadian winter. At least judging from the premiere :)

    Thanks for your diligently cheery blogs!

  • ron shapley
    February 4, 2015 5:41am

    So…….here in NYC, people eat on the subway..

  • Elli
    February 4, 2015 7:02am

    I have a funny bread story to tell. A few months ago I had dinner at a very fancy french restaurant in Japan. We ordered pate de campagne as an appetizer and quite to our surprise they didn’t bring us bread with it. We immediately asked for bread, but we were even more surprised by the reaction: the waiter was taken aback and said “bread is served with the main meal”. Ok, we answer, but we would like some bread with the pate too. Pause. “Let me ask the kitchen.” He came back and asked “what kind of bread would you like?” “eh, normal bread”. “We have rosemary flavored, corn bread etc etc”. We randomly picked something, the waiter went back and forth several times, and after more than 10 minutes he finally brought separate plates with oven warm but tiny mini breads, specialty salt and flavored olive oil. We signed, and immediately ordered for a second batch of bread while finally trying our pate…

  • February 4, 2015 10:26am

    Ah yes the eternal bread question! Also, it took me a while (I’m living here 6 years now) to get used to mopping the sauce with bread in public, I’d never do that in a restaurant at home in Ireland! :)

  • February 4, 2015 2:11pm

    This sounds very much like the Italian way. Bread is meant to accompany a meal and not feast on as an appetizer. The use of bread as a scarpetta “little shoe” to mop up sauces and your plate. And butter? It is usually kept in the kitchen for cooking. Thank you for the French version – it’s good to know.

  • Lurker
    February 4, 2015 3:24pm

    Et Romain, il en était le modèle? Nous nous demandions à quoi il ressemblait.

  • mary streets
    February 4, 2015 8:29pm

    I live in America…land of the free and home to Round Up, so as long as it isn’t poison, or GMO… I will have an extra slice.

  • Ralph Lowen
    February 4, 2015 9:18pm

    I must be the only one who thinks the first photo looks like part of a happy man.

  • Seyma Lehrer
    February 4, 2015 10:20pm

    i agree with the happy man comment. Is this a new bread shape in Paris?

  • February 4, 2015 10:49pm

    I thought everyone knew that bread plates are only for place mats. When there’s a tablecloth, it goes on it. At least in France they still give you bread, reused or not. Here in Los Angeles it’s either unavailable or has to be ordered separately. I don’t know when this started, but suddenly there’s no bread included in the price of a meal.

  • JudyMac
    February 4, 2015 11:26pm

    Guess this explains why my bread was hard as a brick at the Cafe de la Paix. I love a fresh warm baguette, but a day old baguette? Nah. Bricks are very hard on the teeth. I knew to lay the bread on the table, but didn’t realize they recycled the leftovers.

    My grandfather ran a corn mill, so my mother grew up with either fresh cornbread or hot biscuits on the table at every meal. As a result, it was difficult for her to eat a meal without a piece of bread in one hand and a fork in the other. In her later years, my daughter and I always got a good laugh when taking her to a Chinese restaurant (she loved egg foo yong) where she always asked, “Where’s the bread?” Old habits are hard to break.

  • February 5, 2015 12:39am

    This made me giggle. I suppose I’d never considered where to place my bread while dining in France. And, to be completely honest, I suppose I always ate it too quickly to think about it. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Cynthia
    February 5, 2015 1:58am

    Oh the shape of the bread made me laugh!

  • February 5, 2015 12:51pm

    The best part about this truth is that visitors, for some reason, never think to glance at neighboring tables to see what other people are doing about their bread. The solution is right there! French people are impossible about how right they are about everything, obviously, but sometimes it is simplest to just do as they do, weird as it may feel. As for resto bread, pretty sure that happens is restaurants around the world. Certainly did in the ones I have worked in!

    And the vendeuses never wear gloves. They touch money, newspapers, pens, their hair, broom handles, and myriad other treats barehanded. And then give you your bread, which they wrap in little paper to protect it from…something.

    Hilarious post.

  • February 5, 2015 12:55pm

    OMG, I love that the French bread expert brings his own bread to a restaurant. I always try to keep my bread on my plate as well, there is no way I let it touch the table if at all possible, even if it breaks all the rules!

  • February 5, 2015 11:40pm

    Um. Why not put the bread on your plate?

  • Carol
    February 6, 2015 7:34am

    Many, many years ago on my honeymoon in French Polynesia, we were served a basket of sliced baguettes wherever we ate, at the hamburger shack that served croque monsieurs, a Chinese restaurant, even the food trucks in Papeete that always had counter seating so that you could be so civilized. And at the amazing little restaurant at our hotel. I wonder if it’s still like that?

  • February 6, 2015 8:55am

    This has always bothered me, along with no napkins when you get a drink. My French husband never uses a plate at home and thinks nothing of walking around with a piece of cheese and a slice of a baguette in each hand getting crumbs all over the place. Truly a cultural things.

  • February 8, 2015 4:41am

    Thank you David. I enjoyed this post very much.

  • Thea Tedy
    February 8, 2015 8:57am

    Dinner tonight at a friend’s house, and she mentioned cinnamon gives her migraines, and she’s so grateful the French don’t use it with apples. Felt small smug satisfaction I’d read it first in Lebovitz posts. Recall you wrote that’s changing. True? She goes to France soon.

  • February 8, 2015 1:27pm

    Interesting post and thread. In the U.S., my understanding is that reusing food left on a table violates health codes. Bread is no exception. That’s not to say that every restaurant follows that code. Personally I find the idea of recycled bread disturbing. Then again, free bread is becoming more and more uncommon. I remember in the 80’s and 90’s, bread was expected at most restaurants. Now its pretty rare. Makes me wonder if tortilla chips are recycled…….

    • February 8, 2015 8:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      I worked in a restaurant where our cost for the bread was something like $6 a loaf. The waiters would give eat table one-quarter of the loaf, and people could ask for more. However people “caught on” and starting asking for more (and more) bread. Then asking for a doggie bag to take it home.

      So they started charging people for second helpings of bread. There was a mini-rebellion so the restaurant decided just to raise prices in general a little bit to compensate for the excess of bread that was going out.

  • February 9, 2015 11:39pm

    This is so nice to know – when I am next in France I will definitely be doing this!

  • February 10, 2015 12:53pm

    Ha, I never actually noticed people freaking out about no bread plates in France, but maybe that’s my fault because it never occurred to me this could be an issue for anyone. Having a Croatian husband, bread at every meal is a must (especially when with my in-laws!). Mound of potatoes on the table? Doesn’t matter, get the bread out. And we put our bread right on the table wherever we are – even if it means having to vacuum up afterwards.

  • February 10, 2015 2:01pm

    I just love reading your tidbits about French life. I’m a pretty hardcore francophile but I never gave this bread routine any thought before. And it totally makes sense that bread is meant to accompany the meal, and not be the first course.

    Thank you!

  • February 10, 2015 5:17pm

    It may not be this way anymore, but there was a time when a table set in the most proper way for a very formal dinner did not include a bread plate but just a tiny plate (called a butter pat, if I recall) for the butter and the dinner roll was placed directly on the tablecloth. It’s what you would have encountered at the White House, for example. I would never eat bread or any food that had been placed directly on a restaurant table!

    A friend returned from a holiday in Paris and told me about seeing people picking up a baguette on their way home from work and jumping on the subway with their unwrapped bread; one sweaty and odoriferous woman in a sleeveless dress was carrying hers under her arm!

    • Le Pâtissier Suisse
      February 10, 2015 5:47pm

      @jean/delightful
      quote: “I would never eat bread or any food that had been placed directly on a restaurant table!”
      Many people on this planet don’t even have a piece of bread on their table every day! So I think your comment is not only overanxious but also cynical!

  • Linu
    February 10, 2015 7:43pm

    J’apprécie le petit commentaire de ce coquin de Lurker.

    I au paired for a very seizième family. Madame made it her business to instruct me minutely in table manners à la française. She agreed mostly with your instructions. Ordinary white bread on the table cloth (i faut toujours une nappe! She even tried to get table cloths for the kids’ lunch in the school cantine). However any bread served with butter — dense breads, specialty breads — requires a plate and its own knife (hers were imported from England as the lazy French didn’t always include little knives in their silver service). A lady NEVER has more than 2 pieces of bread or the world will end. Children and people from other arrondissements may sop up the jus with bread, but you mustn’t if you have any pretensions to gentility.

    Of course I follow her practice to the T. Except most of the time.

  • February 10, 2015 9:26pm

    Yes, that’s really true about bread in France. This is one of the points why I love France and French food. Great description, I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks.

  • February 10, 2015 9:37pm

    Bread is near and dear to my heart as I bake naturally leavened sourdough constantly from home. To me, there can be no meal without a slice, or even better, the “heel” of the loaf. I feel it’s fine to place bread on the table, just as they do in Italy where my family originates.

    It’s a rustic thing: tearing bread apart, passing pieces to family members, and dipping it into the remaining pasta sauce on your plate.

    Beautiful post on something that is common place but takes a writeup to sit back and look at what happens around you each time you go out to eat.

  • Stephanie
    March 1, 2015 7:21pm

    Also, since the French typically eat only bread for breakfast, breakfast plates are optional as well. I thought my French husband was being lazy but he showed me several French movie scenes where Frenchies eat breakfast without a plate. I told him he could eat however he wanted if he vacuumed after breakfast every day so now he eats on a plate :)

  • Lomanda
    March 2, 2015 12:25am

    Carol’s narrative/comment was enjoyable. Would she share her wonderful bread recipe with me ?

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