The Bread Basket Etiquette You Broke Without Thinking

For hungry diners, there is nothing more welcoming than free restaurant bread service delivered right after you sit down. Whether it's a whole loaf on a cutting board for you to slice into, a basket of assorted bread rolls to pass around, or a crusty baguette to split with your dining partners, a bite of bread with creamy butter often signals the beginning of a scrumptious meal.

However, before you dive right into the complimentary baked goods, did you know that there is etiquette when it comes to consuming bread at a restaurant? While no longer widely practiced due to the more casual atmospheres of most dining establishments, fine dining etiquette exists to promote social harmony and maintain decorum. For instance, instead of buttering an entire roll before biting into it, proper etiquette dictates that you tear off a small piece of bread, butter it, and eat it before repeating the process.

The rules of sharing bread in restaurants

In general, the rules of sharing bread with your fellow diners at a restaurant are pretty simple. If the bread is served whole on a board with a knife, cut several pieces and offer one to the diner on your left, then pass the board to the person on your right. If it's a collection of baked goods in a basket, choose a piece without touching the bread too much with your hands; use a napkin or tongs if provided. In some very formal establishments, a server might come to you with a selection of bread in a basket. In that case, politely pick one or two varieties, and the bread will be placed on your plate.

Once you receive the bread, place it on the bread plate — which is the small plate to the left of the main plate — before tearing off a bite. Keep your bread on the bread plate when tearing to avoid littering your place setting with excessive crumbs. If butter is served individually, you can butter your bread right away, but if everyone is sharing a ramekin of butter, wait patiently for it to be passed to you. Use your bread knife to butter the bread, and consume the bite-sized piece whole.

Other fine dining etiquette

The rules of breaking and buttering bread are just one small category in a galaxy of archaic restaurant etiquette rules to follow when dining out. For example, you should always place the napkin on your lap upon being seated, and it should remain there for the rest of the evening. If you need to leave the table, place the napkin on either side of your place setting. If you are finished with your meal, place the napkin on the left side to signal that you are done.

Another aspect of etiquette deals with the use and placement of silverware. Always use the silverware from the outermost pair to the innermost pair. If you need to put down your silverware for any reason during the meal, place the knife and fork in an upside down "V," with the tips converging on the plate, to signal that you are not finished. If you are done, place the silverware in a parallel fashion, with the handles pointing to the lower right, signaling to the server that you are finished with the course.