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Breaking Bread at the Diner

January 7, 2014

Long ago I worked in the restaurant business. It’s really an experience I think everyone should have. Over time I held two positions in the front of the house. The first job was bussing tables, but before long I had moved up to the host stand.

Looking back on it, that was an odd decision. Maybe I looked the part? The restaurant was trying to recreate the experience of an artist’s loft in Spain, and back in those days with my long hair I was a bit more bohemian. But I was seriously lacking in social skill and grace.

Regardless, for the sake of this story, I need to go back to the days of bussing tables. Because that was when I was the person who delivered the bread basket. Don’t worry, this isn’t some gross-out story. At the end of the meal, I was also the person who cleared away the bread basket and tossed all the leftovers in the trash.

Bread isn’t an expensive item, but it’s still food. And wasting food is a problem. It’s a big problem. A really freaking huge problem. So, what’s a restaurant to do? Would you believe that I found the answer at a diner in Jersey?

The Americana Diner isn’t your typical Jersey diner. It was their hamburger that brought me through the door. Get a load of this:

We Make our own Grass-fed Burgers and dry age our beef: Our team carefully sources the very best meat from local farms, which is hand selected and dry aged for at least 21 days.

Nice. And the sizeable burger, which comes with cheese and a side, is only ten bucks. This is exactly the kind of grass-fed burger I’m looking for. And it was solid. But I’m not here to talk about that. I need to tell you what they do with their bread.

At one point, a server comes out with a tray full of what appears to be baguettes in thin, long bags. Except the bags are about half their normal size. It makes a lot of sense when you realize that inside the bag is half of a baguette. With the bread, the server also delivers a cold slab of unsalted butter that is sprinkled with a few crystallized grains of sea salt (that’s my favorite way to eat butter).

The brilliant part here is the bag, for two reasons.

First, it provides the opportunity for consumer education. There is a lot of text on these bags. The story starts with what it means to actually break bread. Which is important since the form of the loaf requires patrons to tear off pieces in a more communal eating experience.

Bread has been the cornerstone of the dining experience for ages. By breaking bread together we establish bonds, affirm friendships, celebrate events and resolve differences. Despite its significance, bread is among the most basic of prepared foods – essentially it is derived from just four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.

Second, not only does the bag explicitly entreat the eater to bring home the uneaten bread, it provides them a device in which to do it.

Please take any remaining portion with you in this eco-friendly, French bread bag to enjoy later.

Awesome.

Oh, and please don’t dismiss the Americana Diner as a divy dirty spoon kind of place. It’s beautifully remodeled on the inside and their grass-fed dry aged steaks go for about $30 a plate. So there is no reason that nicer restaurants across the nation couldn’t adopt a similar bread serving (and saving) strategy.

The only thing that the bag might be able to use are some tips for refreshing day old bread, or perhaps some recipes for what to do with leftover bread. I have the sinking suspicion that too many people will toss perfectly good bread once it goes hard. And there is plenty of room on the back side of the bag to provide such guidance.

I’m a big fan of savory bread puddings. But maybe I’ll write more on this theme in the days to come.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    January 7, 2014 11:15 am

    You may enjoy this article from a recent Economist:

    http://www.economist.com/news/21589122-massachusetts-leading-way-recycling-organic-waste-waste-not-want-not

    IMO, one of the driving forces in food waste is the use of expiration dates on everything (presumably in the name of consumer “protection”). Most folks will simply toss milk that’s a day past its expiration. Why not give it a little sniff before pouring a quart down the drain? It’s most likely completely fine for yet another few days. Supermarkets can’t sell bruised fruit or slightly misshapen vegetables because people won’t buy them, viewing them instead as spoiled or ‘bad’. In our endlessly sanitized society, everything has to be picture perfect or else…

  2. January 7, 2014 10:49 pm

    I am very excited that someone forwarded me your “breaking bread at the Diner” You captured the bread service challenges we hoped to overcome by launching the half baguette bread bag exactly. You even recognized the title “breaking bread” as instructions!

    I always enjoy seeing our guests taking the remaining bread with them — I wish they all did.

    Your idea of recipes for day old or hard bread on the opposite side is a good one – Suggestions are welcome?

    Constantine

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