Dear Etiquetteer: I've recently been to two restaurants where they brought out bread and put a small dish of olive oil on the table. In less posh restaurants, they put out a bottle and you can pour some oil on your bread plate. But what does one do with the small dish? Does one dip into the dish (thereby risking that someone will "double dip," or does one pour some on one's bread dish, which invariably leads to some oil spilling down the side of the serving dish and onto the table cloth?
Or does one just ask for butter?
Few things at the table provide as much pleasure as a warm, yielding, and delicious piece of focaccia bread almost saturated with olive oil . . . except, perhaps, a warm, yielding, and delicious dinner partner saturated with je ne sais quoi.*
Oddly enough, the rules for bread and olive oil are nearly identical to those for bread and butter. When the table is supplied with one dish of olive oil, one breaks off a bite-sized bit of bread at a time to swipe through the oil, just as one breaks off one bite-sized bit of roll to butter at a time. Double dipping is never Perfectly Proper, whether from butter dish or saucer of oil. But Etiquetteer does recognize the greater margin for error with oil, since there's the temptation to treat it like dip. Incidentally, double dipping is also not Perfectly Proper with dip.
The key here - and many forget this - is that one does not butter the entire piece of bread at once, nor does one soak one's entire slab of focaccia at once, as though it were a sponge.
Pouring oil from a small dish, usually a saucer or bread plate, into your own receptacle runs too much risk for stains, and also looks awkward. If you must, ask the waiter for your own. Asking for butter when you've been served oil is really only asking for trouble.
*No, that is not the latest scent from Chanel.