What Servers Don't Want You To Know About Free Bread Baskets

One of the very best things about eating out at many restaurants is getting a warm basket of complimentary bread to dig into while you wait for your main course. Sometimes, the seemingly never-ending supply of doughy goodness is almost tastier than the entire meal itself. Unfortunately, you may want to think twice before enjoying it at whim. As it turns out, some restaurants may be serving you uneaten bread that's been recycled from another table.

That's right; those free herb breadsticks and garlic dinner rolls could be harboring a dirty — and unappetizing — secret in the form of germs. Don't take it from us — just ask the servers, many of whom have sounded the alarm about the unsanitary practice of supplying patrons with leftover bread. 

"A lot of the time, if you don't eat it all, it goes right back to the bread warmer," one alleged former restaurant worker wrote on Reddit. Another told The Takeout that their manager actually instructed them to reuse bread baskets. "[W]hen I went to throw [the bread basket] away at the diner, my manager told me to save the pieces that looked fine," the anonymous server said.

Chefs also say free bread may not be the freshest

Waiters aren't the only ones warning the public about how some restaurants may be serving re-used bread. Some chefs also say the complimentary goodies may not be so fresh after all. Just take it from the late Anthony Bourdain. Back in 2001, the legendary chef dished on a few of the restaurant industry's best-kept secrets, including what happens to leftover bread. "You've heard it before, and it probably horrified you. But yes, a lot of restaurants recycle their bread," he once told Oprah

Bourdain noted that the main reason restaurants reuse uneaten bread boils down to what he calls the first rule of classical cooking: "Use everything, waste nothing." In 2018, George Mahe, dining editor for St. Louis Magazine, agreed with this take, further describing how cost factors came into play as restaurants didn't want any bread to go to waste. He shared an anecdote about how staffers in a restaurant he worked for many years ago were told to reheat uneaten rolls to serve, just as if they were fresh.

Should you pass the bread?

Granted, reusing bread is probably a less wasteful alternative to restaurants tossing it in the trash. Nevertheless, it's hard to deny the "ick" factor when it comes to chowing down on someone else's leftovers. Not to mention, reserving uneaten food to a different customer is a violation of local health ordinances. The Food and Drug Administration actually prohibits this due to the potential for health risks, such as foodborne illnesses.

Although it's difficult to know for sure whether or not a restaurant partakes in this unsanitary practice, many chefs agree that such a thing is unlikely today — especially post-coronavirus pandemic — for the same reason that salad bars are largely done away with. "Bread that has been served to a table and comes back into the kitchen is thrown out," Ande Pietoso, who helms a chain of Missouri-based Italian restaurants, affirmed in a story with St. Louis Magazine. In addition to being unsanitary, the chef added that reheated bread simply wouldn't taste as good — meaning you're probably safe to pass the bread in these cases.