Oh, poor bread (02/16/13)

Valentine’s Day weekend prompted me and my husband to take a little romantic trip to a wine county in Pennsylvania. It so happens that if you are not home, you will have to eat out – for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner – which is fine with us, since we love experimenting with new places and dishes. But, today at lunch two familiar scenes, albeit strange if you pay close attention to them, happened.

The first situation unfolded as we ordered our food. We asked the waitress if she thought we were ordering too little or too much (we both wanted soup and salad). She told my husband that the salad was small and that the soup bowl was shallow and “just” the size of her palm. Thankfully, my husband had had a late breakfast and along with the wine tasting, felt full. He resorted to the soup and told her he would order more if he felt hungry later on. When the waitress came back to serve the table beside us, she was carrying the special salad my husband had considered. We both stared in awe, as it was anything but small. It was served on a dinner-sized plate and the lettuce was falling off the plate. Minutes later, she brought his soup out. It took some self control to not laugh out loud and insult her, since her concept of size was definitely different from ours. The soup bowl was a regularly sized deep soup dish with a decent amount of soup in it. But the fact that for her everything was small and that she thought he would be able to eat both of them just sounded ridiculous to us. We wondered if she actually thought they were both small dishes, or if she was trained to say it so that customers ended up eating more. We will never know.

Restaurant Bread Basket
Restaurant Bread Basket

The second situation regarded my appetizer (after a french onion soup, which was half my husband’s soup size, I ordered sauteed mushrooms). It was served in the same dish as my husband’s soup (yes, that is how many mushrooms they served me!) but on top of it 4 massive slices of baguette were displayed. As soon as she lay the plate on the table, I knew the slices would never make it to another dish because they had gotten “contaminated” with the mushroom gravy. I had already had a piece of bread, and would not be able to fit another carb in my belly (and for that matter, it was very difficult to finish the mushroom itself – it was supposed to be an appetizer). That situation got me thinking about bread; and the bread prerogative at restaurants. At most places we are served a bread basket, which serves to kill our hunger as we wait for our food. Sometimes it is impossible to eat all that bread – and we don’t know if they are tossed or reserved. We know that bread and baked goods are by far the most wasted products at supermarkets; and that at home, compared to a regular loaf of bread, unfamiliar baked goods like bagels and doughnuts are tossed more frequently. But I have never read anything about the statistics on bread waste at restaurants and the situation got me thinking. I will look into the issue and see if any data is available, and in the meantime, the bread leftover from the restaurant is coming home to become bread crumbs, which I much prefer homemade for I can season them however I wish. (Sarah Hartman)

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