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The Underwhelming Reason Restaurants Give You Bread Before You Order

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably noticed that most — if not all — self-respecting sit-down restaurants offer a free basket of bread to their patrons. (Visions of steaming hot Olive Garden breadsticks, The Cheesecake Factory's famous brown bread, and Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits are dancing around in our thoughts right about now.) But have you ever sat down and wondered why that is? From a business standpoint, it doesn't make sense: Giving customers the chance to fill up on bread they haven't paid for before they eat their meals?

It sounds crazy, and while we love any and all free bread (the more food, the better!), we're not alone in being confused. In fact, lots of people are curious about this very question, and several interesting theories — many from people who have worked in the service industry — have been raised in online chat groups. Hospitality is among one of the most popular answers; several Reddit users on a thread in the "No Stupid Questions" sub-Reddit claim that giving out bread is just another way of fostering good cheer among diners. They point out that the expression to "break bread" with people means to welcome them, or in some cases, to forgive them.

Others, however, say that those seemingly generous bread baskets are just a trick to make us even hungrier. White bread is a refined carbohydrate, so our blood sugar rises almost immediately after eating it. (Our body then responds by releasing the hormone insulin — which makes us not only tired and lethargic, but hungrier than we were before.) And still others argued that free bread is simply expected these days; if they're charged for it, customers will be less likely to come back.

(Photo Credit: Giphy)

So, what's the actual answer? Well, it's not very flattering, but it makes the most sense: Customers are pains when they're waiting, according to waitress Kimberly Lewis, and bread essentially helps keep them quiet and patient while they wait at their table. That basket of bread — or chips, or breadsticks, depending on the restaurant — helps ward off "hangriness," and we all know how our tempers flare when we're starving. Free baskets of bread equal happy, not-angry customers? Sounds like a win-win to us.

Of course, we're sure there are plenty of waiters or restaurant-owners out there who may maintain that bread is simply a way to welcome their guests — which is what we'd like to think, too. But at the end of the day, we're just happy to be eating free carbs — no matter the reason!

Is all this bread talk making you hungry? Check out this easy sourdough recipe:

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