In my experience it is quite common to be served bread prior to a meal in many restaurants. In some countries it seems almost mandatory (like in Italy), whereas in others it’s reserved only for the finer dining establishments, or it’s charged if you request it.
Back home in Oz, I have to say one of the highlights of a nice restaurant was the pre-dinner bread course – with some delicious salty butter or some olive oil – because I’m simple at heart…. And I love bread!
In Austria I would say that it’s not commonplace, even in the finer restaurants (though of course, it does happen), but don’t worry, you won’t miss out, because they replace it with something slightly different.
In the more expensive Austrian restaurants, after you’ve sat down and selected your food and wine, they deliver a ‘Gruß aus der Küche’ – this literally translates to: Greetings from the kitchen.
This is a complimentary taste you receive before your meal begins, in the same way that you might receive bread. It is the chef’s way of formally greeting you, and will usually be a small, delicate offering of something in season, or a local specialty. I love the idea of a surprise snack, and for the special feeling it gives me, that they have gone to an additional effort for their guests.
And hey, if you’re lucky you might get bread too! But no promises people!