Just because a meal has ended doesn’t mean you’ve taken your last bite. Doggie bags allow you to extend a dining experience beyond the confines of your restaurant reservation, while also helping cut down on food waste and saving you some time in the kitchen later on. The tradition began in Rome during the sixth century B.C. Banquet goers would wrap up extra food in a napkin to signal to their host just how much they enjoyed the meal. However, the modern practice – and the name doggie bag itself – came to fruition in the States during World War II, when diners were encouraged to their leftovers to feed their pets, though it soon became apparent that diners – not Rover – were the usual recipients of the unfinished meals. This new practice opened up a proverbial Pandora’s bag of etiquette issues, which are still present today. Here are six tips on how to deal with the doggie bag.
Whether you’re dining in a budget-friendly eatery or a high-end restaurant, you can always ask for a doggie bag. Some diners don’t want to ask for their leftovers when dining in four-star restaurants because they don’t want to appear cheap. They shouldn’t feel poorly about making the request. Just because an establishment has nice silverware, white tablecloths, and a tasting menu that costs more than the average car payment doesn’t mean they don’t have takeaway containers in the back. Don’t worry; the staff is more than happy to put the remainder of your truffle topped cacio e pepe in a box for you, so you can eat it later that night when you’re in bed catching up on Game of Thrones.
Sharing is Caring
Everyone is entitled to take home the remains of their own meal, of course. (It’s also perfectly acceptable to “gift” your uneaten portion to someone else at the table.). However, it gets trickier when it comes to dividing up family style entrees between two or more guests. Before simply claiming the giant rectangle of lasagna sitting at the center of the table, ask your dining companions if anyone else would like to take some home. If someone else is interested as well, either divide up the leftovers yourself or ask the staff to do it for you.
Getting home and opening your doggie bag to find that a sauce has leaked out, the bread is soggy, or a component is missing can be disappointing – and may even cause you to throw the food out. To prevent such waste from happening, politely request that any dips or spreads be packed separately, sandwiches or rolls be wrapped in aluminum foil, and be sure to specifically point out what leftovers you’d like to take home. Some restaurants will simply bring you takeout containers, so you can wrap everything up to your liking.
Unfortunately, the staff will sometimes accidentally dispose of your leftovers, despite your request to take them home. This is not done with any malice on their part; it’s simply one of the little mistakes that can happen at a restaurant when there are multiple staffers – servers, food runners, busboys, dishwashers, managers, and others – working together and sometimes failing to communicate or miscommunicating during the course of service. Unless the restaurant has thrown out a complete dish – or one that was barely eaten – they aren’t under any obligation to remove it from the bill. If they only discarded a small portion, they may choose to discount the dish or give you a complimentary dessert or drink to make up for the error, but don’t expect them to ax the entire amount.
Don’t Forget Rover…
If you order a bone-in ribeye or a T-bone steak, ask for the staff to wrap up the bones for your dog to chew on. The treat will help your pooch forget you’ve been gone for three hours when you could have been playing with them in the backyard.
…Or the Tip!
Packaging up leftovers can take staffers precious time and slow them down in the middle of service. Show your appreciation by tipping generously, especially if your server takes extra care to pack components separately, so they arrive home in the best possible condition.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.