Free Bread at Restaurants Hitting Endangered Status

But don't worry, unlimited breadsticks at Olive Garden are safe.

ByABC News
September 18, 2014, 10:27 AM
Olive Garden is committed to keeping its unlimited breadsticks as a part of "Italian generosity."
Olive Garden is committed to keeping its unlimited breadsticks as a part of "Italian generosity."
Olive Garden

— -- It’s a familiar ritual: sit down at a restaurant, get bread, order and continue with your typical dining out experience. Except lately, restaurants are removing one part of that scenario: the free bread.

It has been a slow rise, starting with the occasional restaurant only offering bread upon request, leading up to this week when one of Olive Garden’s investors tried to nix the national Italian chain’s unlimited breadsticks.

“Endless salad and breadsticks are another contributor to food waste,” Starboard said in a report on how Olive Garden can improve.

The Italian mainstay fired back that is has no intention of heeding such advice, writing, “Olive Garden’s salad and breadsticks have been an icon of brand equity since 1982. It conveys Italian generosity ...”

The restaurant “will continue to serve breadsticks with each meal,” Olive Garden spokesman Justin Sikora also confirmed to ABC News.

So rest easy, your unlimited breadsticks are safe. But are your other bread baskets?

“It makes sense as more and more people are avoiding carbohydrates, because they’re on the Paleo diet or going gluten-free,” Bret Thorn, senior food editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, told ABC News. “So why should a restaurant spend money to give you something you’re not going to eat?”

Restaurants like Roberta’s in New York City, Barnyard in Los Angeles and Roost in Houston go one step further than not serving free bread; they charge for it.

“Some restaurants are really going out of their way to make really excellent bread or source really excellent bread,” Thorn said. “So you can get a really great basket of delicious bread, often not just with butter, but with lardo [pork] or some other awesome topping.”

Other restaurants, such as Fire & Oak in Montvale, New Jersey, only offer free bread to customers who request it.

“The menu that we designed has burgers and sandwiches on the dinner menu and the trend when we opened was in general a lot of people having burgers for dinner, so at the same time with wasting food and people going more green and all those things coming together, we decided to only make it available on request, and it’s stated on the menu,” owner Joshua Dorras told ABC News. “We didn’t know what the reaction would be when we first opened, but it’s always been fine.”

PHOTO: Fewer and fewer restaurants are automatically serving free bread.
Fewer and fewer restaurants are automatically serving free bread.

Dorras has owned several restaurants over the years, and estimates thousands of dollars wasted on untouched bread.

“It was always a shame even when we used to do it automatically. You just keep throwing bread away, and it always seemed sad to throw that food away,” he said. “I’m sure if you added it up over the year and counted every piece of bead that you threw away, it would be thousands of dollars. It’s kind of like garnishing a plate with something you’re going to throw away every time. What’s the point?”

The trend has gotten so large that New York Times food critic Pete Wells penned an entire opinion editorial on the topic. Spoiler alert: he’s not very happy about it.