I come from a family of hard working service professionals. My dad worked as a maitre d’ when he was in his twenties. My mom waited tables at night when we were little so that she could work and still be home with us during the day. She kept that up for more than 20 years- casual restaurants, fine dining, catering, banquet serving- my mom has done it all- and she can hustle like nobody’s business (I’m serious. You have NEVER seen anyone walk as fast as my mom carrying a tray that weighs more than her).
My sister worked at a fast food joint before she served fancy meals to rich old people in a retirement community, and then ran a cash register in a deli (now she teaches parentally deprived 4th graders… bless her). My other sister worked the retail end of things in a cookie shop and then for a chocolatier (jealous!). My brother works in a cool little joint called the Terrace Cafe serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and lots of wine, but before that he was a slave to one of America’s popular chain restaurants- the one with the free yeast rolls.
Once I made the mistake of working there, too. I have worked in every kind of restaurant imaginable, front of the house and back. Server, cook, manager, dishwasher–I have done it all. I have poured coffee for drunks in a breakfast joint at 3 am. I have plated salads for people that think their unlimited credit card status entitles them to treat their server like crap (for the record– IT DOESN’T). I have run in circles with tea pitchers and picked smashed cheerios out of the rug(because some mommies think that being in public means they don’t have to clean up after their children… ahem… rude). I have also made a few friends that have lasted a lifetime and have a serious appreciation for how much effort goes into a meal when you’re dining out.
Free bread in a restaurant is like a drug. It makes people crazy. You put the bread on the table… it disappears. You bring more bread and go on about your work. You think everything is squared away. The drinks are filled, the orders are in, the people are smiling. You hurry towards the kitchen to gather the plates and bring out the food and then ‘ol buddy behind you calls out, “Hey- can I git some bread?”
Or you go to greet the table and smile graciously as you ask, “How are you this evening?”
“Can I git some bread?”
Sorry. I didn’t know that was a state of mind.
There is a pretty good bit of work that goes into baking bread from scratch. Likewise, there is a lot of work, seen and unseen, that goes into your meal when you sit down to dine out with your family and friends. On the eve of Valentine’s “week”, when people that only wander out of the house once in a blue moon will be wining and dining the objects of their affection, I feel like my experience qualifies me to issue this public service announcement:
Please be polite to your server. If you need to consume obscene quantities of bread, try not to be obnoxious with your requests. Listen. READ (oh my gosh, PLEASE read- you’ll find that most of the answers to your stupid questions are right smack in front of your face). If you order extra of anything, expect to pay for it. If you eat it and don’t want to pay for it, that’s called stealing. And above all else, observe common courtesies and never tip less than 20%. That’s right– I said never.
In a large bowl stir together bread flour, sugar, salt, active dry yeast, and olive oil. Slowly in corporate warm water.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth.
Form the kneaded dough into a disc and place in in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic and then a kitchen towel and let it rise for 30-40 minutes in a warm place.
Once the time has passed, punch down the dough and let it rest under a bowl for about 15 minutes.
Dust a baking sheet with cornmeal and shape the dough to look like a loaf, about 12-18 inches long.
Using a sharp knife, cut a crease down the center, brush the dough with egg white, and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.
Italian Loaf Bread
3 cups of bread flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm (not hot) water
cornmeal for dusting the baking surface
1 beaten egg white
In a large bowl whisk together the bread flour, sugar, salt, and active dry yeast. Stir in the olive oil, then the water. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Form a disc with the dough and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and then with a clean towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and punch it down. Cover it with the bowl (like a little dome for your bread) and let it rest for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 and dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Form the dough into a loaf shape 12-18 inches long and cut a slit down the center. Brush the loaf with the egg white and then bake for 25 minutes. The loaf will be golden brown and will sound hollow when you thump it. ***If using a pizza stone to bake the bread, cut the bake time to about 15 minutes***
Recipe modified from Pillsbury Baking.
Go out. Enjoy yourselves. Eat complimentary bread to your heart’s content. And always, always, always respect the people that handle your food.