Would you ask for a doggy bag?

As of last weekend, I am another year older. I am definitely greyer but, as for wiser, I very much doubt it. Unusually, my parents were over from Ireland to help me mark my birthday, which was very enjoyable. Normally it’s just me, DJ and our small army of pets assisting in the festivities, so it was great fun having a real family birthday celebration for a change. Fortunately they got their trip in before the nightmare of the Icelandic volcanic ash began, or otherwise they would still be stuck here.

I can’t say that my birthday was a wholly frugal affair, though. My folks treated us to a lovely meal at a local Chinese restaurant, which was delicious. It’s a great place and well known in our area for its tasty ‘all you can eat’ buffet. The rare occasions when DJ and I visit, we usually fill up on the delicious starters and crispy duck course and struggle to order any main courses. But, interestingly, at the bottom of the front page of the menu it clearly states that ‘uneaten food cannot be taken home’. The sentence always used to make me chuckle – presumably it’s there to prevent people from deliberately ordering more than they can eat and taking it home with them. But it raises a serious issue.

My late grandmother often used to ask for a doggy bag if she couldn’t finish her meal. When I was 14 it used to embarrass the heck out of me (don’t most things at that age?). But, given she had a smaller and smaller appetite as she got older, asking for a doggy bag made sense, especially if she had ordered something expensive, such as steak. If she didn’t finish it herself at home, then Rusty the cat usually got to enjoy it.

I was at another restaurant a few months ago when the waiter asked me if I would like a doggy bag. At the time I was a bit taken aback and automatically said no. To be honest, I felt that familiar British embarrassment take hold of me. But afterwards I wondered why I’d let something as stupid as that stop me from taking home the food I had paid for. My neighbour told me that she and a friend ordered an extra bottle of wine in a restaurant recently which they couldn’t finish and, perhaps bolstered by Dutch courage, asked if they could take it home. Apparently their waitress looked at them as if they’d crawled out from under a stone, despite the fact they’d paid £15 for it. But they got the cork back and succeeded in their mission to take the wine home with them. Good for them.

People often complain that portion sizes in cafés and restaurants are far too big nowadays, so it makes sense to ask for a smaller portion or take leftover food home if you can, as people often do in the USA. After all, it’s only going to end up in the bin anyhow, and it’s time we cut down on what we waste, both at home and away. Many of us will happily eat leftovers at home, so why should it be any different because we’ve been eating out? The next time somebody asks me if I’d like a doggy bag I will take them up on their offer, and I intend to overcome my reluctance to ask for one myself, too.  

Do you ask for doggy bags in restaurants or cafés or are you too embarrassed? Do you think food outlets should offer them? Leave a message and let me know.

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20 Responses to Would you ask for a doggy bag?

  1. Kerri says:

    I totally agree that if you have paid for something, you are fully entitled to take it home if you cannot finish your meal in the restaurant – although I am not sure I would fancy half eaten fish and veg the next day but a re-warmed plate of pasta would be very nice for lunch. I have visited the States several times and restaurant staff activly ask if you would like any leftovers boxed (I was somewhat dumbstuck in typical British fashion the first time I was asked but quickly learned it is the norm). Of course, American portions do tend to be considerably larger than most in the UK so it\’s hardly surprising that people can\’t manage their meal at one sitting. My only concern would be how the item is pacakged, most times I have seen polystyrene containers used (the kind you get from burger bars and kebab shops). If the UK were to adopt this more commonly, I think consideration should be given to enviromentally friendly packaing.Along the same note (and something that struck me watching Ramsey\’s Kitchen Nightmares USA) – how often do you hear a British person when asked \’How is your meal sir/madam?\’ …Ohhh yes delicious – then as soon as the waiter/waitress is out of earshot lean over to their friend/partner and comment \’this food is awful, I\’m not coming back here again\’. Why can\’t we just say when we don\’t like something or it isn\’t how we ordered it (nothing worse than expecting a med/rare steak and getting one chargrilled!). After all, we wouldn\’t buy a jumper with a hole in it and then say \’oh yes, it\’s fine, it\’s exactly what I wanted\’ … food for thought?

  2. Emmeline says:

    I used to live in New York and regularly embarass my boyfriend by asking for a doggy bag back home in the UK. I eat little but often so this works for me – as far as I see it the food has been paid for.

  3. Sarah says:

    We\’re getting better at this in the UK. In the US it\’s seen as the norm. I would hope that there are very few restaurants now that would find a doggy bag request unusual and not be ready to cater for it.

  4. Piper says:

    Yes, I think it does depend on the actual food and whether you\’re happy re-heating it etc. and what they use to wrap it up in. Good for you Emmeline & Sarah. Kerri, you are so right about people in the UK saying they like the food to the waiter & then complaining about it behind their back. I too am guilty of that but I am getting better about complaining about things! Why are we so embarrassed by it?!

  5. Bill says:

    In the seperated Germany of the 70\’s, 80\’s, & 90\’s, even the capitalist West, most restaurants etc. had menus for "Senior Citizens", which simply meant smaller portion sizes, @ lower prices. I oft saw parents ordering these for young children, & oft ordered such fer me\’sen, although I was only in me twens back in the glorious 70\’s.The catering personnel never flinch, as unlike in UK, they are not dependent on the leftovers off plates fers personnel meals. They never drink slops from our bottles either. They do not like waste, & much prefer ter see a clean plate, which silently signifys a happy punter.Some Brits who ate with me on rare occassions, were possibly embarrassed the fust time they saw me order a "Senior Citizens" meal, but they soon recover from it. Local natives, oft sharing the same table, never flinch, although they mostly boast an American size appetite, as also pocket book, \’emselves.Despite the portions being expectedly smaller, the food, & service, was always spot on. It was never a case of me ordering, but of enquiring politely, if it were possible. I was never refused in almost 2 decades, & it beats doggy bags. I only did it spasmodically, normally eating full normal portions.

  6. Pratab says:

    >>But, given she had a smaller and smaller appetite as she got older,Some restaurants do Child portions of food as well as regular "Adult" portions. Perhaps they should add "Senior Citizen" portions too.

  7. Pratab says:

    …we did have a female customer that used to ask for a "doggy bag" and literally meant it, i.e the excess food was for her two dogs.

  8. Pratab says:

    As a young man, I used to work in an Indian restaurant (I was also a student at the time), we were always happy to package up un-eaten food and wine for customers. Sometimes, we\’d make the move and offer a "doggy-bag" before our patron asked.However, if more and more customers request a doggy-bag should the Restaurant be allowed to make a small charge….maybe not for un-drunk wine but foil-containers do have a cost?

  9. Flo says:

    Working backwards, the half drunk bottle of wine left in many restaurants is recycled either in cooking or into the house wine (oh yes, it is known as a way of using up dregs). So the waitress may have been trained to make use of the left overs so that more profit could be made.However, Mrs Green Piper, friend of the environment consider for a moment how restaurants dispose of their food waste. In the bin to landfill with the associated emissions? Does the council have a scheme for collecting food waste and disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way? But even more basically, how come we are all ordering more food than we can eat? It\’s bad for the environment in producing unwanted food, bad for the wallet and bad for those who are short of food elsewhere in the world. OK – mini rant over she says laughing. Just leaving some food for thought.

  10. Kerri says:

    Flo…can I have a doggy bag for some of that food for thought please? lol! 😉

  11. piper says:

    Maybe it\’s just me but I\’m sure that portions in some UK restaurants have got bigger over the past few years, although it does depend where you go. Some pub lunches I\’ve had no ordinary human being could finish! Perhaps they are following the American model, where the portions are huge, but it seems uneconomical and wasteful as you say. Again, maybe we should get better at asking for smaller portions, as Pratab and Bill suggest. Our local council is starting a \’slop bucket\’ recycling scheme for cooked food later this year and I\’m looking forward to it starting. I think some other councils around the UK already operate them. Pratab – that\’s interesting to hear re the Indian restaurant you worked in. Don\’t see why the patron couldn\’t pay a small fee for a container to take it home in. Would you mind paying 50p or something for a container? Would be better if it was a recyclable one though. Or maybe we should even get in the habit of taking our own containers along – as we have with our shopping bags – when we go out to eat. What do you think? Is that a step too far?

  12. Pratab says:

    @ flo Hewitt>>how come we are all ordering more food than we can eat?Sometimes people don\’t order more food than it\’s just that a standard portion is too much for that particular individual, with no option to downsize.Portion sizes vary from place to place. In the past I\’ve been to a Chinese restaurant and was overwhelmed by the portion size, in my experience previous to this restaurant the portion size was smaller.Not all undrunk wine is used as "house" or in cooking as it is unsuitable for both these applications, I say this from experience. Often we\’d offer the customer the option of taking their wine away with them. As for the remants left over in glasses, that must not be used for reasons of health and hygiene.

  13. Pratab says:

    @ piper terrettI for one would not mind paying a small charge for the container, though 50p would probably get you 16 containers :-). So, that\’s why they don\’t charge for doggy bags at the moment the containers are quite cheap. But I think taking our own containers with us is a step too far…for the moment anyway.I recall, as a small boy (33 yrs on I\’m still small but a man now), going to the green grocers with our old egg boxes to buy eggs. We used to get a discount of 1p for reusing the old boxes.

  14. Bill says:

    In Germany, at least up to my return ter Blighty in \’95, many restaurants, bakeries, & butchers who serve hot snacks, donate their leftover hot cooked food, also fresh salads etc. to local charities & soup kitchens, as they close their expensive shops & cafes, each day.Last year, until the final collapse of the Lighthouse Project, a charity with 5 centres in Sandwell & Dudley, local supermarkets were donating pre-pack sarnaus, & other food, chilled, frozen, canned, also fresh fruit & veg, as it reached the sell by date. The charity sold most of the sarnaus same day ter various paid & voluntary personnel, also service users, at only £1 each. Other materials were consumed by cookery classes in the charity kitchens, the end products were then sold to all & anyone, as hot lunches, all day breakies, etc.Why can the Red Tape factories in Whitehall not force the entire catering industry to donate their clean healthy waste food to local charities?The windfall kindness of the supermarkets saved many of us a few pence, with a hot lunch costing only £1, or a £2.50 sarnau also costing £1. It also helped ter keep a fantastic, extremely useful charity on it\’s feet a few more days. Sadly, being £60,000 in the red, with no hope of a new sponsor after two local councils pulled out, Sandwell MBC to the tune of £250,000/annum, the end was inevitable. The tireless, also fearless Chief Exec, built the entire 5 center empire from scratch over 12 years, aiding & assisting 12,000 "service users" en route. I estimate that at least 1,000 were left stranded at the collapse.Just a sign of the times, maybe?

  15. Kerri says:

    Bill, I am fully in favour of the idea of supermarkets, cafes, restaurants etc donating food that is at it\’s date or left over from that day to soup kitchens etc…unfortunately I seem to recall watching a programme along a similar line…where our dear government put in place legislation where this was not allowed (or there were so many forms/checks/applications that it made it virtually impossible) due to a risk of H&S, food hygiene etc etc etc..just in case someone was to fall ill and sue. If I\’m not 100% accurate in that, it\’s deff along the jist of what happened. madness…total madness

  16. piper says:

    Interesting to hear, Pratab, from somebody with experience about what really happens to leftover wine etc. in restaurants. Of course, health & safety would stop people from chucking half a leftover glass of red wine in their saucepan. Makes sense. But I\’m with Kerri – all this government legislation preventing companies from donating leftover/out of date food is a nonsense. I temped at a media company years ago which was often sent items from company press offices to woe the journalists. The official line was that everything had to be thrown away so as not to biase the journalists. Often this meant that whole bags of perfectly good food were thrown away (this was before the days of recycling). I remember though one day, when the editor had gone out, everybody fishing the M&S ready meals out of the bin and taking them home…

  17. Bill says:

    I have seen many good charities strangled by enough Red Tape ter send the QE2 under, in recent years. I am currently involved with two, both offspring of the one which collapsed, after 12 years, last October. The one has a manageress on reduced pay, with only volunteer assistance, she was the manager previously, with one paid assistant. The other "new" charity has two ex managers, previously on full pay, now both voluntary, on full dole.Both "new" charities are struggling, the demand (market) is there, but the funding has gone. They are both restricted by Red Tape. A part time volunteer cook was sacked last summer, after several years in the post, no longer allowed ter make a brew, or even toast, as he did not have the relevant \’elfandsafety stickifoot, a simple 6hr course that could not be funded. He could not even claim Grandfather Rights. His voluntary work was his hobby, his pride & pleasure, it provided him with a social life, contact, & existence. His paid & unpaid colleagues, also the other "service users" (new speak fers charity cases???) were his nearest, & possibly, his only useful familly.I also attempt ter run me own charity, & am still yet able ter give free driving lessons, but cannot gain any funding, as I do not have dual controls. The coversion kit would cost £500. Since 05 April, 2010, I can no longer take anyone ter the driving test, as I do not have the dual controls. At the moment, I only yet have this problem with the fust driving license, up to 3.5 tonnes. Adding a trailer license does not yet need dual controls, or any goods vehicle above 3.5 tonnes. Any bus of 9 seats or more (PSV/Hackney Carriage), including Black Cab, is also yet devoid of this Red Tape.

  18. Bill says:

    Fergot ter mention, some of the local, large multi-national supermarkets who were donating food, also did some recruiting at the charity. They "poached" management personnel from head-office, some paid, others voluntary, also poaching checkout, stackers, & wharehouse personnel from the shop-floor. Some of these were volunteers, others were "service users". The charity management were always delighted ter see both personnel, & consumers move on ter fully paid employment, both part, & full-time. They found it easy ter replace charity personnel, both volunteers & paid, from the costant tide of service users. The motto was to give every service user some measure of responsibility, some role ter play, be it clearing tables half-day/week, or a weekly gardening spell. The same motto is still in play at the two "new" charities, where most service users are encouraged ter become volunteers asap.

  19. Bill says:

    Kerri,Very few people fall ill or die from food in UK since the WW2, far more die form mugging or nicotine, booze or STD, or even RTA.Supermarkets do take back duff food every day, on a money back, or full replacement guarantee. It is an inherent problem of mass production & pre-pack. Almost no one ever sues. If such food were accidently donated to a charity, it would simply be thrown out, at no loss to anyone. or do they believe that all those in supervision at charities are completely imbecile?

    • Paul says:

      Last night, an Indian restaurant in Bolton tried to charge £2.00 to take home a portion of uneaten curry. £1.00 for the foil tray and £1.00 for the brown paper bag! I would probably have paid 50p even though that would have been more than double the restaurant’s costs. If you ask for a doggie bag before you have paid, check your bill to see if they have added a ‘small charge’.

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