Friday, January 25, 2013

The Sucker Course



"I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee." --Burt Lancaster


Yeah, and I judge a book by its bookends. Eat that, Burt Lancaster.

For years I have referred to the obligatory basket of gummy bread plopped onto the table of many restaurants as "The Sucker Course". Why would anyone stuff their face with bread, even a hot loaf of well-crafted bread, and end up skipping appetizers or taking half of their entree home in a foil swan when they could just stay at home and stuff their face with bread? Bread, after all, can be eaten at home in underpants for less than a tenth of the price of putting on pants and eating out and you won't have to feign interest in your companion's yammering while doing it. That, and making your own foil swans at home might be therapeutic; helping you work out your aversions to small talk and wearing pants.

Now, I'm not talking about bread served with meals. I'm not talking about useful breads. I'm not talking about you, dear naan or that foam insulation served with Ethiopian food. I'm not talking about Wonder soppin' Bread with BBQ or biscuits with gravy. I don't mean you, cornbread, bless your little heart. I'm not even talking about dinner rolls. I'm talking about the edible centerpiece. The vehicle for butter. The complimentary basket of bread.

Don't even get me started on unlimited sawdust breadsticks.

From the restaurant's point of view a basket of bread makes sense. No one wants to deal with a bunch of surly, hungry types after they've been made to wait 40 minutes to be seated after arriving five minutes early for the reservation they took the time to make a month in advance. It's so much easier to sacrifice a bus boy and a basket of bread to them than to risk losing a server, who probably only has a few more cocaine-fueled shifts in him anyway. The Basket of Bread Gambit is a brilliant strategy. It's chess with little pats of butter.

Complimentary bread is also about taking care of your guests. Often guests will walk into the restaurant as sloshed as their server or worse. A hearty basket of bread will always give these folks something to do with their mouths besides telling you your business and trying in vain to pronounce "excuse me" and "fuck your motherfucking mother" at the same time. The bread will also soak up some of the alcohol the guest will soon be hurling onto their server's clogs, giving the server yet another reason to visit the restroom.

It also makes economic sense. The guest who walks in sober and wants to knock back a couple of Manhattans before ordering may find a gut full of bread stretches his drink order out to four or even five Manhattans to achieve the same buzz. Advantage? You. I completely understand why you'd want to throw some free bread around.

Yet, while she may have raised a fool or two, my mother raised nary a sucker. No bread course for me, thanks. And, if anyone needs me, I'll be folding swans.