The Correct Etiquette for Eating Bread

No carb-free diets here! I love warm, freshly baked bread. It’s so simple, so satisfying. Bread is a mainstay at most Western meals and is typically served prior to, or during, the first course. Knowing the correct etiquette for eating bread is a basic test of dining etiquette knowledge. In fact, I know whether or not a person has learned basic etiquette by the way they handle and eat bread at a restaurant. Having good bread etiquette will positively elevate you from those less polished, and demonstrates your personal refinement and elegance to your dining companions. So what must you know about bread etiquette? Here are seven simple rules from the modern etiquette coach!

Rule #1: At a business or formal dinner, bread should only be eaten while there is a course on the table – not before or between courses.

At formal dinners, bread is viewed as an accompaniment to the courses, and not a course itself. Therefore, you should not dig in to the bread before the first course is served. Proper etiquette states that you should wait until the first course is in front of you, and enjoy your bread with the food. The exception: If you’re at a casual dinner with friends, it’s totally OK to eat the bread first – this rule applies to business and formal dinners.

Rule #2: The bread plate is placed to the left of the main or dinner plate.

You can remember where the bread plate and glasses should be set on the table by making the letter “b” with your left hand (bread plate goes on the left), and the letter “d” with your right hand (drinks go on the right). Or, think of the acronym “BMW.” The order from left to right is Bread plate, then Main plate, then Water glass (and Wine glasses).

Rule #3: There is only one correct way to butter and eat your bread.

The only correct way to butter and eat your bread is to:

  1. Using a knife, put a bit of butter on the side of your bread plate first;
  2. Then, tear off one bite-sized piece of bread at a time and butter that piece only, right before putting it into your mouth.

Many people make the mistake of buttering the whole slice of bread and then biting into the slice. This sets the stage for butter ending up on your fingers and around your mouth.

Rule #4: All bread should (mostly) be treated the same.

Similar to Rule #3, if you’re offered a roll, muffin, croissant, etc., don’t slice it in half, then butter each side. Still only break off, butter, and eat bite-sized pieces. The only exception to the “break and butter a bite-sized piece” rule is toast at breakfast time. Modern etiquette says that the entire slice of toast may be buttered and eaten without breaking it apart.

Rule #5: Handle whole loaves correctly.

If the table if offered a baguette or uncut loaf of bread to share, the host or person closest to the bread should use the cloth napkin (that should come in the basket or wrapped around the bread) to hold the loaf while cutting three or four pieces. Your fingers should only touch the part you’re taking.

Rule #6: Pass the bread to the right.

If the bread is already cut or sliced (see rule #5!), the host or person who is closest to the bread should offer the bread to the person on her right. The bread should then circulate the table and she will serve herself last. However, if the bread needs to be cut (see rule #5 again!), the host or person closest to the bread should cut then offer a piece to the person to her left, then serve herself, then pass to the right.

Rule #7: No communal dipping.

If the bread is served with olive oil, in a formal or business dinner setting, each person should have their own plate for dipping – it’s perfectly acceptable to request separate plates from the server if this is not already done. If it’s a date, or dinner with family and friends, it’s fine to share the same dipping plate. If the bread is served with tapenade, or some other type of thicker sauce, spoon a small amount onto your bread plate, then spoon onto bite size pieces.

Knowing these seven simple rules for the correct etiquette for eating bread will distinguish you as a person who knows how to dine with decorum! For more dining etiquette tips, scroll through more my modern etiquette blog articles here!

By | 2017-08-04T08:33:11+00:00 August 3rd, 2017|Dining Etiquette|6 Comments


  1. Elizabeth McGlone August 10, 2017 at 5:19 am - Reply

    So I guess it’s bad that I break my spaghetti before I cook it and then put the cooked spaghetti right in the meat sauce, and call it good? I grew weary of watching my kids fight with trying to twirl it on a fork, then resorting to basically sucking up each individual pasta and grossing me out with worm stories. Yeah, they were very small boys then, but it’s a habit I picked up again when grandchildren came along.

    • maggieoldham August 11, 2017 at 9:22 am - Reply

      I LOVE spaghetti but it’s tricky to eat, so I only ever order it when I’m out with family/friends. I would never risk it at a business or formal dinner!

  2. Felicia October 31, 2017 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Hi. Where did you learn the rule about not enjoying bread before the main course at a formal event? I also teach etiquette and missed this one! 😯

    • maggieoldham October 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm - Reply

      That rule is taught at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu where I attended finishing school! It is covered in the course called The European Art of Dining. 🙂 They do make a note to mention that when you are dining casually with friends and family, it’s OK to enjoying the bread before the courses, but not at a formal dinner.

  3. Sherri April 8, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    How would you eat bread and dipping sauces at a station or on a buffet?

  4. cseras April 20, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    great and nice

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