Why we should adopt doggie bags for our leftovers

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

As a food writer, I take advantage of a lot of free food. It is a privilege, a joy and a major source of guilt. Because wherever there is tasting, there is a lot of food waste. But the idea of ​​asking for my barely eaten food to go to such events always seems like a “sticky” thing to do. I often find myself trying to find a balance between discovering new flavors and saying no to overabundance.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the current attitude around “dog bags” or leftover packaging. There’s a long history of high-end restaurants scoffing at the idea of ​​take-out leftovers. Certainly, times have changed, I tell myself. There are far more important things to deal with than bad manners.

Yet even still there seems to be this slight residual shame surrounding the practice. Or else I’d have no qualms about throwing an extra piece of table bread into my purse for the next day’s breakfast toast. I could ask for a takeout box without a sheepish smile. I would leave the restaurant, shamelessly, with the rest of my overpriced bottle of San Pellegrino in tow.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a take-out container at any restaurant, even if you’re a fine-dining restaurant,” says Christin Gomes, co-founder of Common Courtesy, a lifestyle coaching company designed for millennials. “The only exception to this would be if you were invited to an event at a restaurant or if the service was buffet style.”

Dog carriers weren’t always socially acceptable. According to Smithsonian Magazinethe concept originated in the 1940s. As the United States became involved in World War II, food shortages were common and pet owners were encouraged to feed their pets table scraps.

In 1943, cafes in San Francisco offered restaurateurs Pet Pakits, boxes that could be requested to carry leftovers home. Around the same time, hotels in Seattle provided diners with waxed paper bags labeled “Bones for Bowser”. Eventually, the practice became a way for humans to secure their own late-night snack, much to the dismay of columnists on the label.

Through its history, the doggie bag has developed a resolutely American identity. “It’s a cultural thing,” says Shaun Hergatt, the Australian-born chef behind Vestry, a Michelin-starred New York restaurant. “We don’t necessarily do that in Australia, but the one thing I learned very quickly about America is that a lot of restaurants are quite generous with their portions, and sometimes you just can’t eat it all. on the plate.”

Asking for a doggie bag in Europe might seem like a faux pas, especially in Italy, where there’s a strong make-to-order mentality. Asked about the prevalence of take-out containers in Italy, chef Michele Casadei Massari of Lucciola, an Italian fine-dining restaurant in New York City, replied, “I’ve never seen them.

In fact, in 2009, when Michelle Obama was seen leaving Rome’s restaurant, Maccheroni, with a doggie bag full of leftover carbonara, she caused a stir. But Italian farmers’ association Coldiretti called the move progressive, calling on Italians to follow its lead in reducing food waste.

“The one thing I learned very quickly about America is that a lot of restaurants are pretty generous with their portions, and sometimes you just can’t eat everything on the plate.”

France, another country with a long history of sophistication, passed a law in 2016 requiring restaurants that serve more than 150 customers per day to provide doggie bags upon request.

But for Massari, asking to take food home isn’t about etiquette — it’s more about allowing the chef to create an in-the-moment experience for you. “In Italy, we approach the table differently. First we order antipasti. Then we stop. We are chatting. Maybe we go outside, drink some wine. Then we return to the table and order the first course, which we call primo. We talk, and more food comes to the table. Other friends join,” he explains. “It’s not about using the restaurant as your own kitchen because you haven’t had time to cook. It’s about going out to experience something different.

The Italian chef honors this approach at Lucciola, allowing guests the luxury of lingering and serving portions that are measured to move seamlessly with each dish. Massari’s waiters are trained to encourage customers to order exactly what they’re going to eat, being mindful of any loss of appetite. When part of the conversation is lost, they even offer to reheat the food that is left on the table.

Massari believes that when customers take away leftovers, they run the risk of giving up on food safety. Bacteria grow quickly, especially with acidic foods like tomatoes. “How can you have good pasta with a simple tomato sauce — nothing added on top — if it’s not based on temperature, consistency, and freshness,” he says.

Ryan Schmidtberger, executive chef at Hancock St in New York, has no problem with customers bringing food home. And if there is a level of decorum involved, it falls into the hands of the servers. “We fully accept customers who take home unfinished meal portions, but please make sure staff refrain from using the term ‘dog bag,’” he says.

Of course, the pandemic has changed just about every way a restaurant operates, including the packaging of leftovers. “We make sure to ask guests if they would like us to put the leftovers in a container to take home rather than bring a box to the guest and have them take care of it themselves,” says Schmidtberger. . “This practice has emerged more with the reopening of restaurants during the pandemic, but I find it very corny for a customer to do it themselves.”

Even before the pandemic, California passed a new law establishing guidelines for restaurants to safely allow reusable take-out cups and containers brought in by customers, in an effort to reduce reliance on single-use plastics. Restaurants often object, due to concerns about cross-contamination, but the bill simply outlines how to safely allow reusable products.

kissaki omakase takeout boxes

Then there are the restaurants that have found interesting new ways to approach takeout. “I know a lot of Michelin-starred restaurateurs and chefs who have started doing delivery,” Hergatt says. Kissaki, for example, opened 45 days before COVID hit New York. The Japanese tradition of omakase may be the most difficult dining experience to replicate at home, but restaurateur Garry Kanfer saw an opportunity.

“I designed boxes that made the consumer feel like they were at the omakase counter,” he says. “It gave you the same feeling of unboxing a nicely wrapped box, maybe a shoebox or one containing a handbag, except the box was filled with sushi.” It was the dog bag reinvented.

Kanfer had discussions with Kissaki’s chef, Mark Garcia, who felt the omakase-at-home concept might downgrade the restaurant. But the restaurateur has invested a lot of money in food-grade and eco-friendly packaging, and the response has been overwhelming. Customers have loved the boxes and the delivery model continues to soar.

When it comes to freshness, Kanfer made sure to limit delivery to just a few miles, allowing customers to receive their omakase box approximately 45 minutes after preparation. “Fortunately, cold foods travel well,” he says.

What COVID has perhaps made clear is that there are no rules. While some meals are best enjoyed at the restaurant table, the desire to prolong that experience at home a little longer – or replicate it completely – should never be considered bad taste.

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Jessica Sulima is a writer on Thrillist’s Food & Drink team. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.