Can I start charging for bread?

More restaurants are charging for bread due to high food costs and waste. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

I am sick of seeing a trash can full of bread and butter. It’s probably $100+ per night we waste. I’ve told my servers to ask if people want bread and butter and even if they ask and the guests say, “Yes,” it doesn’t always get eaten. Can we start charging for it?

– Manager


Bread is one of the most wasted categories of food in restaurants and other foodservice. This includes both bread that gets stale or moldy before service and is discarded and “plate waste” from bread that is served and not eaten. As previously discussed in this column, food waste has tremendous financial, environmental and social implications. It is both good business and the right thing to do to prevent food waste however you can.

I think you are on the right trajectory to reducing your bread waste. I think we can think of this on a continuum from most wasteful to least wasteful:

  • Everyone gets bread and baskets replaced when empty (where you started).
  • Asking if guests would like bread (where you are now).
  • Bread service upon request (maybe an intermediary step).
  • Bread on the menu (where you want to be).

Due to rising food costs, interest in reducing waste, and opportunity for margin, I am indeed seeing more restaurant menu bread service as a revenue-generating offering rather than an expected cost per cover. It has the added benefit of reducing your waste and generating funds to make good quality bread service the special experience it should be.  The idea, of course, is that if guests are paying for bread, they are more likely to eat and appreciate it, rather than taking it for granted. Whether this strategy will work for you is largely dependent on the context of your concept and what your competitors are doing. My advice is that if you go this route, you make sure to deliver on quality so that your guests see your bread service as a quality premium offering rather than an unwelcome cash grab for something that your competitors (and currently, you) provide for free.

Finally, if you do move to a revenue-generating bread service to reduce waste, be sure to ease into this transition and train your staff to be able to answer questions and deal with potential blowback. More on managing a revenue-generating bread service here.