This weekend, we had a family outing to a special restaurant that has been talked about for weeks. This restaurant was praised as a delicious place to go – one that had the best bison burgers and unbelievably good freshly baked bread. Three of us had never been the this restaurant before, so after a day of negotiating, trying to convince kids that they weren’t hungry yet, and dealing with traffic, I was ecstatic to learn that we’d be going to the restaurant for dinner on Sunday night. At around 8:30PM, we pulled up to the front of the restaurant and walked in to Ted’s Montana Grill in Sterling, Virginia.
Before I go into our experience at Ted’s Montana Grill, I think I should share with you a conversation that was had in the car ride to the restaurant. One of my friends, who I’ll call GM, was sharing how he and his family had been to Ted’s Montana Grill numerous times – it’s one of their favorite restaurants. They’ve always enjoyed their meals and their experience save for one minor detail. For some reason, he said, it seemed like the waiters were reluctant to give him the free bread. He said sometimes they wouldn’t even bring out the free bread at all! Since their bread has a reputation for being yummy, I hoped that this wouldn’t be the case on our visit.
So we’re walking into the restaurant and the seven of us are seated at the table. A very nice waiter comes up and places the little cup coasters all around the table before taking or drink order. The first thing I notice – no bread. I don’t know about you, but usually when I walk into restaurants that have freshly baked bread, that’s one of the first things they bring out – Macaroni Grill, Bugaboo Creek, Outback Steakhouse, even Cheesecake Factory, they all bring bread to the table within a few minutes of sitting down. “Well, maybe he’ll bring it with the drinks,” I thought, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. The drinks came a few minutes later. There was no bread.
Finally, after we placed our dinner and appetizer orders, we asked, “We’ve heard great things about your bread. Could we please have some?” And do you know what he did? He PAUSED! That’s right, when we asked for some of their famous bread, he paused and almost looked as if he was going to say, “No.” Finally, after considering that bringing us the free bread wouldn’t cause the universe to implode, he quickly said, “Sure.” I settled back into my chair thinking, “Great! He got the message – we want bread!”
Five minutes pass by, eight minutes pass by, our appetizer arrives, and still no bread. Again, hoping to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, I thought, “Well, if they’re baking the bread fresh, it’ll take some time.” And that might have been the reason until the waiter brought out the bread. Now normally, my experience with free restaurant bread is that they usually provide you with more than enough for everyone at the table to enjoy. Not the case at Ted’s Montana Grill. That’s right – they didn’t bake (or bring out) enough bread for everyone at the table to have their own piece of bread. Two of us had to share. What? Share free bread? What in the world is going on? Not only that, but as soon as he brought out the plate of bread, he booked out pretty darn quick – like a cat that had accidentally walked into a dog convention. Maybe he knew that he didn’t bring enough bread and maybe he didn’t want us to say anything. But we caught the shortage immediately (hello! we can count!) and called him back.
We asked him for another batch of bread and he paused again before saying, “Sure, I can bring some out in the middle of your meal.” Wait, what? You gave us six pieces of bread for seven people and you didn’t even think to start baking another batch of bread? You didn’t anticipate that we just might want a piece for everyone and you didn’t think that after telling you in advance that we’d heard that Ted’s bread was so good, that we might want more than half a piece?
Now, I must say that after biting into the bread, my friend was right. The bread is DELICIOUS! So much so, that if more bread was there, I would have eaten it and eaten it happily. Sadly, I couldn’t since within a matter of seconds all six pieces of bread were devoured. When the waiter came back, we again raved about the bread, now being able to speak from personal experience. I boldly told him, “Whatever you have in the oven – double it! That bread is so good.” He politely laughed and said, “Sure.”
As promised, about midway through our wonderful bison burgers (again – top notch!) the second round of bread came. Just to recap, the first batch of bread came about 20 minutes after sitting down, and the second batch of bread came about 40 minutes after arriving. The second plate DID have enough bread for everyone, although just barely. He brought out eight pieces. Doing some quick math, he either ignored my “double it” request, or he actually did double it and only had four in the oven from the start. Either way, when a customer says, “Keep the bread flowing,” you’d expect a little more generosity with the bread.
I imagine some people will say that I’m making a big stink about something that’s free, but I do believe that many restaurants that serve bread (if not all of them) actually have the cost of the bread built into the menu price. Meaning the price of your bison burger is also covering the cost of bread. If that is true, then free bread is really my right as a customer since I’m actually paying for it with the rest of my order. As I’m retelling this story, maybe I’m missing something. Has the cost to bake bread gone up? Are restaurants making an effort to enforce the Atkins diet by prohibiting carbs? Are they boycotting free bread to reduce waste? Or is Ted’s Montana Grill just stingy with their free bread? If it’s the latter, it’s such a shame because it really was the only blemish on an otherwise wonderful dining experience.