Dining Etiquette Series – The Bread and Butter Plate

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Well-Bred When Breaking Bread

The formal table setting often includes the bread and butter plate, which is located at the upper left of your service or main plate, directly above your forks. However, on a crowded table this small plate might be placed wherever there is room, but always to the left. On your B&B plate will rest a butter spreader, named such because it’s used to spread butter rather than to cut bread. (See the section below, Buttering Up, regarding missing butter spreaders).

To remember that your B&B (as well as your salad) plate is placed to the left of your main plate, and glasses are placed to the right, try these methods:

  • The word “left” has four letters and so does the word “food”; the word “right” has five letters and so does the word “drink.”
  • Form two circles with your thumbs and index fingers and raise the the rest of your fingers straight up to form a “b” (for bread) with your left hand and a “d” (for drinks) with your right hand.

Now that you know which side your B&B plate is located, you will not be confused when you are seated at a crowded table, or a round table, where it can be difficult for the uninitiated to know which plate is theirs. Refer to the picture of such a table setting in my February 5th entry, The Place Setting, to illustrate this point!

What to Do – And Not to Do — If the Guest Sitting Next To You Helps Himself to Your Roll by Mistake

  • Don’t: Help yourself to the roll on your right and perpetuate the error by forcing everyone else to take the roll or bread from the wrong B&B plate. Now that you know the right thing to do, you can put a stop to such madness!
  • Do:  When the server returns to the table or passes by, quietly ask him for another roll and place it on the left side of your plate. Above all, avoid causing embarrassment to the person who took your roll. If it appears to be too disruptive to request another roll, simply do without. Remember, it’s not about the food; it’s about the interview, business to be discussed or celebration. Ensure that others feel comfortable and remember you for your wit, knowledge and excellent table manners. You don’twant to be remembered as the person who made a fuss over her roll!

Breaking Bread Properly

A goal of dining gracefully is being able to converse while eating neatly. For example, have you ever been caught with food in your mouth when someone has asked you a question? Do you struggle to swallow your food quickly, or do you respond while you still have food in your mouth?

Don’t speak with food in your mouth, even if it’s only a tiny bit. No one wants to see partially chewed food, nor do they want to be sprayed by the contents of your mouth. Nor do you want to swallow hastily and risking choking or coughing. Instead, take tiny bites, chew thoroughly (with your mouth closed) and swallow so you’ll be ready to converse with your interviewer, client or boss.

To do this with your roll, pick it up with all ten fingers and break off a bite-sized piece, butter only that piece, and eat.

Don’t cut your roll. Neither break your roll in half, slather butter on the half, take a bite and replace the bitten into portion on your B&B plate; that would be expose a partially eaten buttered roll with teeth marks on your plate, which is not an attractive site for others to view!

Other Types of Bread

When a whole loaf of bread is served, usually the waiter or host will hold the loaf with a clean napkin and cut several slices. As with rolls, break off a bite-size piece of bread; then butter the piece, eat, swallow and repeat. The same procedure is appropriate at a breakfast meeting or party where toast, muffins, English muffins, bagels, biscuits, etc., are served, even if they have already been cut in half.

How to Pass the Bread Basket Properly

While a roll might already be on your B&B plate when you are seated, or the server may come around with a basket of rolls and place one on each plate, alternatively a basket of rolls may be passed around for each diner to help himself.

As with any platter or dish that you initiate to pass around the table, first offer a roll to the person sitting on your left, holding the bread basket while she selects; then help yourself to a roll and pass the basket on to the person sitting on your right. When several dishes are being passed, they are passed around the table to the right. However, if someone requests the bread basket when it is sitting on the table simply pass it along to him in the most direct way, without reaching in front of anyone.

When you help yourself, take one roll and don’t touch anything that you do not intend to select and eat, including breaking a roll to take half.

Buttering Up

The same is true with serving and passing butter. There may be a pat of butter already on your B&B plate or the server will place one on it. Otherwise, the butter will be passed around; help yourself to a small amount, using the serving utensil that is included with the butter dish. A communal butter dish may contain pats, a stick or whipped butter.

In the event there is no butter spreader on your B&B plate, you may use your table knife (not your steak or fish knife) to spread butter on your roll or bread. If you have already used your table knife for something else, such as to cut your salad (more about that next time), politely and quietly request another table knife from your server.

In some restaurants, olive or other oil will be served in a small bowl with a spoon or cruet on an underplate. Pour from the cruet or spoon from the bowl a small amount of oil onto your B&B plate into which you will dip a bite-sized piece of bread. If there is a communal bowl, dip a bite-size piece of bread (never double dip!) into it and try not to drip oil on the table as you transfer the piece to your plate or your mouth. For this reason, it is preferable to spoon oil onto your plate. Some establishments provide each guest with his own small bowl of oil.

Other Items on Your Plate

In addition to your bread and butter, other items that may be placed on your B&B plate include jams and jellies and finger foods such as crudités and antipasti.

The Missing Bread Plate

When there is no B&B plate, you may place your bread on the edge of your main plate on the upper left side, in the direction of where your B&B plate would have been. The French place their bread directly on the table to the left of their plate, but I don’t advise doing this unless you are in France or in a restaurant where this seems to be the custom. And, of course when dining with your college or job interviewer, boss or client, you can watch to see what they do. However, they just might be watching you, as you now know the correct way to roll!

Remembering these guidelines and practicing these techniques will showcase your dining prowess, and that’s something of which your recruiter, client, boss and everyone else will sit up and take notice!

Until next time,

Jeanne

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