What Does Bread-and-Butter Letter Mean?

Bread-and-Butter Letter Meaning

Definition: A handwritten thank you note to someone who has hosted you, for either an evening or overnight visit.

This phrase is a turn-of-the-century expression that means a letter of gratitude is expected after hospitality has been given. Usually, etiquette requires that it be sent within two weeks of the visit.

As implied by the name bread-and-butter, it does not often contain interesting or exciting information; it is usually filled with formalities such as “I had a lovely time,” or “Thank you so much for your hospitality.” Because of this, it is more often noticed in its absence than for the content it contains.

Origin of Bread-and-Butter Letter

The bread and butter letter The origin of the phrase was around 1900, when etiquette rules were strongly enforced and there was no technology to do anything but write a note by hand.

It is said that it is called bread-and-butter because it is something that was always done; just as the host must always put bread and butter on the table for guests, the guest must always write their gratitude.

In Lillian Eichler Watson’s Book of Etiquette, Volume 2, from 1902, we can read,

  • Within ten days after her departure the guest should write a bread-and-butter letter to her hostess.

Examples of Bread-and-Butter Letter

bread and butter note In the modern day, it is less common to hear this phrase, as it is also less common to do the practice. With technology, thank-yous are often expressed via telephone, email, or sometimes text.

Many people don’t wish to see it fall out of practice, but the expression itself is disappearing over time. It can be said, however,

  • I sent my aunt a bread-and-butter letter after she hosted us for the weekend in her Vermont home. We had such a lovely time I wanted her to feel our appreciation.

More Examples

  • The bread-and-butter letter must be saved from going the way of the chivalrous hand kiss or the visiting card – it would be a shame if posted thank-yous became an eccentric anachronism. –The Spectator
  • It doesn’t matter though, because every bread-and-butter letter Beckett writes has that distinctive voice, with its considerateness and sidelong irony. –The Sydney Morning Herald


A bread-and-butter letter is a short expression of gratitude from a guest to someone who has provided hospitality in the recent past.