My aim with this post is to make you feel uncomfortable. And to rally you to a cause.

Image via wisuella tumblr
Image via wisuella tumblr

For reasons I can’t comprehend, much of the planet (America aside) gets weirded out by the idea of asking a waiter for uneaten food to be put in a container to be consumed later. So much so they’ve got it into their heads that they’re illegal or unsafe.

But you know what? It ain’t any of this. It’s vanity. We think walking out of a restaurant with a little bag is a crook look. We think leaving food on our plate is a mark of sophisticated restraint. We think scraping together food for seconds is scabby.

My response? Get over it, get real and get responsible.

  • Australians toss $8 billion worth of edible food every year.
  • Food waste is a bigger pollutant than cars and industry.
  • Consumers are the biggest contributors to food waste. Because we’re vain. This is unfathomable and unforgiveable.

Worse yet, apparently less and less of us are asking for doggy bags, with Gen Y tagged as the biggest food wasters – 26 per cent say it’s too embarrassing to ever ask for a doggy bag.

Most people I know don’t even save their leftovers at home. It’s easier to scrape them into a bin than to get creative and re-purpose for lunch the next day. All the while, they’ll complain they don’t have time to make their lunch! The lack of logic astounds me.

I’m anticipating some backlash. So, here’s my ready-to-go responses. I’d apologise for being so blunt. But I’m feeling the topic warrants a sharp edge.

But aren’t doggy bags illegal?

In Australia, absolutely not, as outlined in the various state and territory Food Acts. If you want to nerd up, you can click to the respective Acts for Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Victoria and South Australia.

Overseas, here’s the deal.

1. In the UK, it’s totally legal to ask for a doggy bag, but almost never done. A survey by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) showed 25 per cent of diners were too embarrassed to ask, with 24 per cent wrongly believing the practice was against health and safety policies.

2. In South Africa, it’s very much the done thing. Restaurants will usually offer you a doggy bag before you even ask. And some get fancy in how they present your leftovers. You might head home with your leftover steak wrapped in the body of a tin foil swan…

3. In much of Europe, like the UK, asking for doggy bags is frowned upon. Again, it’s not illegal, but Europeans do expect you to eat everything that’s on your plate at that particular meal. Also, serving sizes don’t tend to be as enormous. In Stockholm, Sweden, in an effort to get more people asking for doggy bags (surveys showed 80 per cent were reluctant to ask), the Stockholm Consumer Cooperative Society (Konsumentföreningen Stockholm-KfS) made an informational video offering tips on how to make food last longer and to cut waste, featuring Swedish rap star Dogge Doggelito. Read more here.

4. In America, it’s legal and happens all the time. Stats from 2002 show 91 per cent of Americans take leftovers home at least occasionally, and 32 per cent do it on a regular basis. Mostly because serving sizes are too big and people know they can get two meals from one.

5. In China, home to about 20 per cent of the world’s population, taking home and reusing leftovers is very common. Readers tell me there’s even a special term for a “leftovers stirfry”.

What about food poisoning?

Seriously? Four words: Americans do doggy bags. Americans are the most hygiene-phobic (and litigious) folk I’ve met. If they deem the practice safe, then I reckon the rest of us can sleep easy with a gullet full of day-old lasagne.

Second, if you follow these guidelines, you won’t land in trouble:

  • Keep the leftovers covered. (Take them home in a sealed container or wrapped up in a paper bag.)
  • Refrigerate the food below 5 °C as soon as possible. (Two hours unrefrigerated is generally OK as long as the food is not sitting in the sun.)
  • Food poisoning bacteria grows at between 5-60 C. If you’ve gone home from the restaurant and stored your leftovers correctly in the fridge you won’t have a problem.
  • Eat the leftovers within 24 hours.
  • Reheat refrigerated food for at least 2 minutes to steaming hot (above 75 °C) before eating.

But my restaurant down the road won’t allow it!

OK, in Australia, individual businesses can choose (ditto in the UK) to deny a doggy bag. They’ll claim it’s because they fear getting sued for food poisoning. Some allow them, after making the consumer sign a form, protecting the company legally. But know this: once you’ve paid for the food, it’s legally yours and you have every right to take it. The restaurant may refuse to package up your leftovers for you – which they are within their rights to do – in which case you’d need to provide your own doggy bag. I know regular eater-outerers who always take a container to restaurants for this purpose (to save on plastic!).

But I don’t know what to do with the leftovers…

OK, you can simply reheat and eat. But don’t reheat in the plastic container – transfer to a BPA-free dish (the ceramic bowl or plate you’ll be eating from is best, saving washing up).

Or you can chop the entire meal coarsely, heat in a pan and toss through an egg and cheese to create bubble and squeak.

Or tear up the heated meat and toss through some steamed veggies or over a salad.

Can I ask for your help? I’m thinking about starting a campaign to educate restaurants on the matter, so that they encourage doggy bags. Feel free to share your thoughts – what hinderences do you see, what do restaurateurs need to know, what positive initiatives have you spotted? And would you support me if I did put the effort in?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Cheryl

    Absolutely! Absolutely! As I started to read your great post, I was thinking why don’t restaurants offer the remaining food to “get around the embarrassment.” Such a logical, hospitable, generous, way of interacting with the “people” who prepared and cooked your food.

    • Now there’s a concept for a campaign. I like it.

    • Gabriella

      Why should there even BE any embarrassment about asking to take left over food home?? I mean, you paid for it…

  • meghann

    I think this is so important. I was so disappointed earlier this year when a restaurant denied us a container to put leftovers into. Equally I was so impressed when the local pub I went to last night offered a container for leftover food. I think education is key, for both restaurants and guests.

  • my two cents

    I live in Canada. Most of the time the waitstaff will ask if you want your leftovers ‘wrapped up’. Also, there is no shame involved in asking for a container. From my side of the doggie-bag-culture-fence, I find it a bit odd that people would pay for a good meal and then throw some of it out 🙂 My mother-in-law carries small ziplock bags in her purse for this purpose. She is an odd one though, generally speaking! All that said, I don’t ‘always’ take my left overs home, say when it is summer and I won’t be going straight home.

    • I like your MIL

    • My American in laws are also the same, and because of the huge portion sizes, they end up with at least two meals for each of them! My MIL is a tad OCD about cleanliness, so I am surprised she hasn’t thought of the ziplock bags, given that apparently she used to bring her own sheets to hotels because she didn’t trust the way they cleaned their bed linens! 🙂

  • krey

    Pazar in Canterbury, Sydney is fantastic. Both times I have been there, they have offered a container to package up leftovers before we could ask.

    • leontine

      Good to know!! I live around the corner and have driven past a few times wanting to try it!!! Is food good?

  • Christy

    I live in Germany but I cannot tell how traditional German restaurants handle a request for a doggy bag as we mostly go to Italian or Asian Cuisine restaurants. There it is no problem to have the rest of your dinner packed for you. Often these restaurants also have a take-away service, so they also have food containers to give away. Our portions may not be as big as in the U.S. but they are still much to big for me to eat in one go. If I order f.e. a pizza I cut it in two halves before I start eating and eat only one half. Most times the waiters immediately offer to pack the other half – and I always say that it was delicious but just too much (and the next day I reheat the other half in the oven and enjoy a real Italian pizza again). In my experience the restaurant people are always happy to help – and they are happy that I like their food so much I want to take it home…

    I suspect it would be difficult in a traditional German restaurant to have the rest of your meal packed up as they do not have the right boxes etc. I don’t think I would dare to bring my own Tupperware (and either ask for them to fill it or fill it myself). To be honest, this is one of the reasons I rarely go to these restaurants – I know I cannot eat their hugh portions but I don’t want to waste the rest. If I have to go there I try to find something on the menu I can share with someone (in combination with a side-order salad or so).

    It would be great if in Germany doggy bags were as “normal” as in the U.S. – in all restaurants!

    • THanks for the German update.

      • JK

        To add to the German update: even in “traditional German restaurants” you won’t have any problems (as a rule) when asking for a doggy bag. Well, maybe in those places where you only get defrozen stuff full of additives – but who would want to eat there anyway?!
        Many places offer smaller versions of their regular dishes, too (officially for senior citizens, hence called Seniorenteller). I don’t see doggy bags as often here as in North America, but I’ve often been asked whether I would like to take the leftovers home, and I don’t think it’s frowned upon.
        I used to work at a farmer’s market (where we sold the most wonderful antipasti, various kinds of olives, dips, feta, etc), and many of the regular customers brought their own containers. My boss was very strict about health regulations (and rightly so!), but he totally supported this and often actively encouraged people to bring their own containers.

        • Monika

          Just reading it now… yes, I second that. 😉

  • Christie

    I feel a little embarrassed doing this (particularly due to the looks from my table companions) but am doing it more and more. I had a great experience recently at chiswick. We ordered the beautiful slow road lamb and there was quite a bit left over. I decided I’d pluck up the courage to ask for a take away, but before I could the waitress asked if I would like it packaged to take home as it was such a shame to waste food! She packed it in a little takeaway container with the sides and sauces left over AND put it into a calico chiswick bag. I thought it was such a great attitude and I didn’t feel self conscious at all. Made a great lunch the next day too.

    • I’ve found the same there. They were good about me asking them not to change plates between meals (to save washing up)

    • YourLocalMarkets

      I have taken that lamb home and there is NO WAY I would have left it behind: it was so freakin’ big and delicious. No shame. My friends and I negotiated who would take what. It was win-win.

  • Jane

    Change the name from ‘doggy bag’ to something more (re)eater friendly! I know the original concept was to take leftovers home for a dog, but nowadays it’s about paying good money for delicious food which is too good just to throw out if we can’t finish. Plus it’s a compliment to the chef 🙂

    • August

      Yes! ‘Doggy bag’ is an awful American term. I hate it. Surely most Australians say ‘can I get the rest to take away’?

    • Genna

      It’s more common nowadays in the US to ask something like “could I have a box?” – or if a significant amount of food is still on the plate, waitstaff will often independently ask something like, “do you want this boxed up?”. I haven’t heard the term “doggy bag” used in a very very long time, and it is extremely rarely a bag. It is certainly ok in all restaurants, except maybe the fanciest.

  • jo

    Go for it. A very worthy cause. Usually nothing left at our table. I have to squirrel away some lunch for the next day when I dish up or my two pre teen boys inhale the lot..

  • Mairead

    In France my hubby and I would ask to share the set menu between the two of us. They never said no, even though they were slightly surprised! Great article..anyone who is trying to take the embarrassment out of trying not to waste food gets my vote..we have also tried sharing mains and starters here in Oz and the restaurants have been pretty cool about it!

  • Jill

    I’ve asked before and been denied on the whole “legality” argument!! I live in Victoria & noted you don’t have a link to the Acts for that state – is it a different deal for Victoria? Would love to know and “nerd up” for future debates with wait-staff who pull the whole it’s “against the food safety laws” argument on me.

    Regardless of the rules, the whole thing really pissed me off – it was a perfectly good quarter of a pizza that was about to be tossed in the bin, that I would have happily eaten for lunch the next day instead!! Such a waste. It has made me not want to go back to that particular establishment for that reason alone…

  • cris

    I LOVE ordering the pork knckle at places like the Bavarien Bier Caffee, I can never finish it in one sitting … I take the leftovers home and have lunch for 2 days after.

  • Brybry

    My local restaurant/pub won’t allow doggy bags so I’ve heard one guy made a plate out of drink coasters and took his huge pasta home.

  • KG

    I have no problem asking to “have this to takeaway”…. but I HATE the word “doggy bag”….!

  • pixiedust8

    Yes! I’m American and I sometimes eat half of our large entrees. There’s no shame in taking food home. You pay for it and it just goes to waste if you don’t. (I’m thrilled that Americans actually do something relatively environmentally friendly for once!)

    • Teresa

      American here too! My husband and I have made a habit of sharing our meals when we go out, as do our daughters. I never realized that sharing and take home containers were such a “no, no” in the rest of the world. Glad to know we do something right once in a while!

  • Caryn Horner

    Doggy Bag or just order smaller meals, or share, nothing wrong with Entrees as a main meal. The shame is in wasting food.

  • kim

    I guess I’ve never felt shame or known/seen anyone else who does either…

  • Cynthia

    LUUUUUUURV doggy bags! Get them whenever I can – in fact had one from my bought lunch for a 3 hour train trip the other night – sure beat the Vicrail canteen options!! So many good reasons to do this. I don’t give a bugger what people think!

  • KJ

    I grew up in South Africa so I’m used to taking home doggy bags; and I even pluck up the courage to sometimes ask for one in Australia too. Great idea to educate restaurants about making this practice more socially acceptable/encouraged. I agree with Jane that a better name than doggy bags would help.

  • Kim

    I completely agree. I went out to breakfast the other day, to an inner city cafe in Brisbane, and asked to take home half of my omelette and they were totally fine with it. It’s the first time I’ve done that at breakfast, it does feel a bit stranger than with dinner. I used to work in a cafe that had little stickers to put on doggy bags, with the date written in, and advice to refrigerate everything straight away and eat within 24 hours. Maybe more places need these stickers to avoid the whole food safety argument?

    • Bronwyn Turner

      The stickers are a fabulous idea

    • do you know the name of the cafe Kim?

      • Kim

        The cafe where I used to work with the stickers was The Coffee Club, as far as I know they all have them. And the cafe that was so lovely about boxing up my omelette was Merriweather in South Brisbane.

  • Peggy1975

    Last year I travelled to my mum’s seaside village in Greece on my own. I usually ate the same beach restaurant every day and I always had food left over. Traditionally, eating is very sociable in Greece so there are always several people in a group who can finish off the dish, but when you’re on your own, it’s impossible to finish a massive plate of wild greens, calimari, moussaka etc. The waiters would always ask me if I wanted the leftovers “paketo” and they would store it in the fridge for me while I continued swimming. At the end of the day, I’d pick up my ‘paketo’ and head home with my dinner for the night before heading out again. It was awesome. Saved me money and it also respected the cook. The veggies were always locally picked and I couldn’t stand the thought of throwing out food that was so lovingly prepared by the local people.

    I have no shame in asking for a doggy bag in Melbourne either – although I do agree with other people on this post that we need a new term 🙂

  • Amanda

    Hi Sarah great article but I’m not sure you can claim these attitudes are across the “much of the planet” as your examples are quite Euro-US-centric (South Africa aside). I live in China, home to about 20% of the world’s population and here, taking home and reusing leftovers is very common, there’s even a special term for a “leftovers stirfry”! Although wastage is becoming a problem here too, especially in the big cities, sadly…

  • Caroline

    This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry says (I’m paraphrasing): ‘if you’re a man on a date, and you ask for the doggy bag, you may aswell wrap your genitals up too, you won’t be needing those’. Thus implying it’s masculine to inish your food. Personally as a woman I couldn’t care less if a dining companion asked for a doggy bag. Also I’m shocked people think it’s illegal! I’m often asked whether I’d like any leftover food wrapped up to go. Often the waiter will just gesture toward the plates as he or she clears up and I’ll nod. I don’t see it as a big deal at all. I agree with comments belie, doggie bag is a silly name and I’ve often wondered about the origin of this term. Pardon my ignorance but would people take the food home to feed their dog? Lol

    • Suzy

      Yes, that’s where the term came from! Years before anyone thought it a good idea to take home leftovers & eat themselves, anything edible left on the plate was packed up & sent home for the dog (it was mainly just meat way back when, but we’ve progressed a lot!)

    • Alison Dalleywater

      Although I don’t eat meat, I might be tempted to ask my fellow diners if they left a huge piece of chicken that my cats might like. But I certainly wouldn’t let the waiter see me take it – I’d be afraid of disapproving looks! I still have that stigma of ill manners imprinted on my brain. I’d rather have the chicken messing up the insides of my purse than be seen to ask for it to be boxed up for me to take home! British table manners etiquette and funny old notions still run deep I guess…

  • melanie

    I usually ask for my uneaten portion of my order to take with me. Back in the day I remember respectable restaurants offered to wrap your leftovers as they cleared your table. Campaign away Sarah Wilson, somebody worked had to prepare that meal and somebody else paid good money to support that effort and to enjoy that meal… the whole meal, not just what was consumed in the eaterie.

  • Last time I asked (in QLD) they said it was illegal because they didn’t have a takeaway licence. it pissed me right off but since I didn’t have my own packaging there wasn’t anything I could do. Yes, that MIL is a star 🙂

  • Kirsty Pfeifer

    I also live in Germany and the traditional Bavarian restaurants will nearly always offer to pack up leftovers.

  • Lisa

    Great article. I’m all for taking home leftovers but the latest trend of restaurants bringing the container to the table so the customer has to scrape the leftovers in themselves and risk spilling it all over themselves and the table is appalling. I’ve had this happen in QLD and NSW. The excuse is that it transfers the liability to the customer but if you ask me it’s to shame the customers into not asking.

  • Liberty

    I was surprised to learn that the Vegie bar in Melbourne doesn’t let you take half eaten food home (the last time I asked was like a year and a half ago, so things may have changed). Seems to go against the environmental ethos of being a vegetarian (which I am), and seems a shame as their portions are huge. I actually think they probably say no because it’s so busy there and they don’t want to create extra work.

  • Great overview and campaign idea Sarah! I live in the UK. Afternoon tea was something I did as a treat before I quit sugar (understand: sandwiches, scones, crumpets, patisseries, cakes… and tea). I once went to the Ritz where there was loads of food left on the table when we were done because the portions were ridiculous. All cakes so super limited food poisoning risk, but they refused to give us a doggy bag for health and safety reasons. There was a homeless man just outside the Ritz which was a sharp reminder of how much food we throw away when so many go hungry. It badly tainted the whole experience for me, which was meant to be a celebration with my parents.

  • Nat

    Call it something different- too much negative connotation in movies and media around doggy bags….and the fact that lots of people can’t / won’t think about the waste factor. Call it the ‘ no waste chefs compliment ‘ lol or something catchy . 🙂

  • Leontine

    Yep, definitely nothing wrong with taking away your leftovers and any restaurant refusing to package it should then be expected to reimburse you portion equating to portion not consumed!!! That’s what I say…and simply don’t understand how some would consider this poor social etiquette when millions are starving with some being right at your own doorstep! Sarah, as you write, people need to come to their senses and get a grip of todays’ food reality. Aside from ‘all you can eat buffets’ there should be no restaurant denying you your leftovers!!! That in itself should be illegal from a consumer’s point of view! I also cringe at people (they exist!!!) who adamantly refuse to have leftover for dinner one night, be reused for dinner the next night!! Again, pull your finger out of your backside, get off your high steed and ENJOY your food.
    Thank you for your post. Leontine

  • Michelle

    You have totally hit the nail on the head. Us Brits are far too stuck up for our own good and get all coy and embarrassed about asking to take the leftovers home. Blunt is best and as a nation we need to pull our heads out of our backsides and get over it. Restaurant food is expensive so why not make the most of it and it prevents stuffing your face until you feel sick just to make sure the food is eaten. I really hope this campaign gets traction!

  • Miranda Simpson

    There’s usually nothing left on the plate when we eat out, but earlier this week there was – reading this makes me so glad I did buck up and ask to take the leftovers home!

  • I love this post!!!
    I hate seeing people waste food and I rarely ever throw food out of my fridge. There’s always a way to use up leftovers.
    I think it’s completely normal to ask for a doggy bag for leftovers and I do it all the time when I’m out with family and friends.

  • Wendy Oman

    Absolutely sensational post. I am a small person who does not eat very much. I will generally only eat half of a normal size meal. Not only does it irritate me when I cant get an entree size of a main meal, when they then say that I can’t have a doggy to take home what I was unable to eat – phhhtttt!!! Such a good idea to take a container with me when I next eat out!

  • San

    I always take a doggy bag when I do not finish my food (and excuse it with being reasonable), if I do not finish. I love leftovers! I actually sometimes find it embarrassing to order only as much as I eat, especially in Indian/Pakistani restaurants (“No starter, thanks, no extra naan bread, thanks, no sharing platter, thanks, I am unable to eat that much, and no dessert, thanks, I am full”), but as I hate throwing food away, I stick to my principles.

  • Patty

    Absolutely! As an American living here I’ve been shocked & saddened by the wasteful (& illogical) refusal to offer doggy bags – let’s find a way to make them the done thing!!

  • Leonie

    I’m in with supporting you 100%. I also think we should be encouraging restaurants and cafes to offer half-size meals. I hate seeing leftover food on a plate but so many places do huge “100kg-man-sized” meals and my 50kg self can naturally only eat half of it! Sure, the man who eats there is super happy, but for the rest of us we end up wasting food or grossly overeating. I was so impressed when I was in the UK last year and a menu had a notice saying “we do all our meals half size if you want a smaller portion”. I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my 150gm steak instead of 300gm steak!

    One of the biggest reasons I don’t eat out is because of the large portion sizes that I feel terrible about wasting.

    As for doggy bags – it would be incredible for Australia to adopt the American way. I noticed in the US they never actually refer to them as ‘doggy bags’ either. Let’s make “Do you want the rest of that to go?”part of every waiters vocabulary in Aus.

    • Leonie

      PS – the other week in Melbourne I rode home with half a pork roast from a beautiful restaurant in Fitzroy wrapped in alfoil and sitting in my basket! There was so much left on it I got lunch and dinner the next day from it.

  • Sharni

    Doggy bags are the best! I asked for one the other day in Melbourne and the restaurant had to put a big sticker on the front to say “not for human consumption” Plus once, also in Melbourne I asked for my gnocchi to be put in a bag to go and they had clearly never been asked because they gave me an actual hard plastic Tupperware container! Hilarious & ridiculous! I would totally support your cause Sarah! I can’t stand people leaving so much (or even little) food to go nowhere.

  • Mia

    In Western Australia most restaurants will not allow you to take food home due to OHS laws. If someone gets food poisoning from food they’ve taken home and not properly stored, the restaurant can be sued. I’m sure it’s the same elsewhere too. Makes things difficult.

    • pixiedust8

      I live in the sue-happy US, and I’ve never heard of a lawsuit here like that here. I mean, theoretically, you could sue a grocery store if you stored food improperly, so I don’t get the difference. (Both should be thrown out of court.)

  • I was recently denied this and was absolutely fuming. I mean, I paid for my meal and I hate the fact that millions are starving and I am given giant portions I can’t finish in one sitting. In the UK I used to do it all the time, but I’ve had people here in Oz say it’s illegal. It’s incredibly frustrating! It’s also embarrassing to ask, and it shouldn’t be,

    • pixiedust8

      I don’t understand why they can’t slap some sort of disclaimer on the package and be done with it. (Although even here in the sue-happy US, we don’t need to do that.)

  • Bronwyn Turner

    This is a fabulous idea. I generally don’t eat out and when I do I try to order small meals to prevent food wastage. BUT when I get one of those enormous meals that seem to be happening in more restaurants and eateries, I would love to take the leftovers home.

    I have not done so because I was one of those people who thought it was not allowed in my state (due to working on mine sites and being told by the chefs that it was against WA food hygiene and safety laws for people to take hot food away from the dining room as it could cause food poisoning) so thank you for the education. I think it would be great for the education to be targeted at restaurants and other catering services to offer the leftovers be bagged or boxed up.

    I agree consumers need to be educated too but to make this less daunting, maybe restaurants could put on the menu that leftovers can be taken away if you asked the wait staff.

  • Virginia

    Nup. Nope. Never cared about how it looks walking out of a restaurant with a takeaway tub. I’ve even brought already-opened bottles of wine to a BYO restaurant, rather than buy a full one I might not get through! (But I’d ask for the cap/cork in that case…) I’m Gen X and my parents made us comfortable with the idea.

    At home, our dogs help us use up leftovers – or we compost what we can.

    Perhaps more restaurants can offer 2 serving sizes of certain dishes, to avoid waste.

    It’s preposterous that people would put their perceived social standing above preventing waste. And I don’t think your post is harsh or blunt at all. Those who do really need to take the blinkers off!

  • Philippa Lucas

    I would absolutely support this! I ask for doggy bags in England and don’t feel embarrassed asking. Philippa Lucas, London

  • Monika

    That’s no problem in Germany, as far as I know. Some places even ask you if you’d like to have a “doggy bag”. Like you mentioned already the fact is that you paid for the food already.
    I totally support your idea in creating a campaign to change it in Australia!

  • brittanyr91

    I didn’t know that this is even a problem in some cultures/restaurants. Im from America and the portions are always way too large, and they always offer a box. Olive Garden has even had a special that they do, where you buy a meal and get to take a 2nd plate of the meal home for the next day. I never knew people were emabarrased to have a doggie bag.

  • Ellie C

    Wow. I had no idea this was embarassing for people!! I feel way more uncomfortable at the thought of wasting the food! Heck, I’ve been known to cart a doggy bag from Sydney to Melbourne, after freezing it overnight in the hotel bar fridge/freezer! Definitely think more people should be made to feel comfortable to take home the food they’ve paid for. Bringing your own containers is a great idea – I come up across many restaurants who are against packaging up leftovers. Absolutely, I would support this!!

  • Ellie C

    An after thought, maybe the name ‘doggy-bag’ puts many people off. The concept might need a makeover!!

  • Allison

    As an American I actually laughed aloud at the “Four words: Americans do doggy bags” part. Americans can be a pain in a lot of ways but I must say I feel a tiny bit of pride in setting a good example in this regard. Of course I personally toss way too many foods from overspending at the grocery store which I think is less of an issue in Europe and UK with smaller kitchens and whatnot. Currently I would guess the waste balances out, but I am with you Sarah, we can always do more to lessen our waste. I promise I’m working on being more mindful while shopping!

  • Deb Chandler

    Interesting, i’ve had restaurants give you a container (but they won’t put it in the container themselves “so they’re not responsible” maybe?) other restaurants say “its illegal – Food Health & Safety blah blah blah” and I’ve had others OK with it. Whats the regs for Victoria though, you gave links to the others but not Victoria?

  • I really don’t understand why this is such a big deal. We rarely ate out when I was growing up, but when we did and there was leftovers, my mum and dad always asked for a doggie bag. It just made sense. I currently live in the US and my American husband has been doing this for eons (in fact his parents only ever ordered for themselves when they went out to eat as a family and shared that my husband and his brother. They didn’t know what a kids menu was until they were almost 12!), as has pretty much everyone here, regardless of what kind of restaurant you’re eating in. No one thinks it is weird. Having said that, portion sizes here are way too big, so that might make it more common (unfortunately it seems like most people prefer humungous meals and consuming them all in one sitting). The one problem I find is that we order a doggie bag . . . and then leave behind on the table when we’re finished!! 🙂

  • Carrie

    Totally agree! I’m all for re-using leftovers, often ask for doggy bags and NEVER throw out food! I would totally support your campaign to increase doggy bag use in Australia: well done!!

  • Alice

    Most people you know don’t save their leftovers from home… really? Wow.. that floors me! I went to a fancy restaurant and had a slight argument with my boyfriend coz i couldn’t finish the huge pile of pasta i had on my plate. I asked for a doggy bag (I think i probably called it something else) and they were fine with it. My boyrfriend found it embarrassing for some reason. Weird!

  • Sandra

    Hi Sarah, I have worked
    for over 16 years in restaurants. I think the biggest resistance from the
    restaurateurs would be they are too busy/overwhelmed already with running a
    business that incorporating any more initiatives that would require effort, is
    undesirable for them when they can’t understand the return on investment. This
    kind of short-sightedness is everywhere, although perhaps not in your circles. Many people
    are ignorant toward doing their bit when it comes to the environment, they are
    detached from the fact that it is the environment that they live in, where they
    take holidays, where their food is grown. “Come on in, sit down, order your meal, enjoy the view, but don’t tell
    me to do anything which may preserve the beautiful view”
    . I witness this kind of thinking all the time – and not always with regards to food waste or environmental issues. I have witnessed terrible food
    waste, restaurants who don’t recycle (yes even wine water bottles) but they don’t
    care – its not affecting their bottom line. Or they are ignorant of the big
    picture. I wish people would realise the impact of their action or inaction, its their own children that will be swimming in putrefied water and breathing toxic air.
    Eventually it will affect their back pocket too.

  • anna

    I think cafes should make doggy (recycled paper) bags available for customers to pick up themselves from a stack near the counter, for instance like cafes that provide glasses and a water fountain. I personally have no shame and have no problem asking but it would help the people who are embarrassed.
    Also, can we please campaign against food wastage by the said cafes and restaraunts themselves?! I have had many hospitality jobs where I am disgusted by the wastage at the end of each day. Hundreds of giant muffins going in the bin at the end of the day when they could be donated to the soup kitchens or given to pigs and chickens!

    • Lynda

      Well said Anna. Oz Harvest is one of many who do a great job servicing those in need in the community with left over food. I have witnessed the smiles on the young homeless people being the recipients of this food and being so grateful. It really puts things into perspective. We could do so much more and conversations hubs like this really help.

  • Tegan

    I will support you wholeheartedly! When dining, simply witnessing others leave food on their plates makes me uncomfortable. I agree with Cheryl, removing the awkwardness would make many I know who are too embarrassed feel better about it.

  • Lynda

    Love the sharp edge! Let’s continue to name and promote the restaurants doing great work and the staff helping pave the wave by anticipating a doggy bag is the new normal. An option maybe to voice those leading the way on Trip Advisor.

  • Nicola Crago

    My husband and I just travelled in Canada and they were so happy to give you a doggy bag, even offering at the end of the meal! Leftovers are the best often tasting better the next day! Our family has leftover nights where we use up all the odd bits and pieces from the week that aren’t enough for a meal. We call it ‘if it’s’ as in if it’s there you can eat it!

  • disqusnomad

    The shocker: Vegie Bar in Fitzroy, Melbourne gave the same “no doggy bag due to health regulations” shonky excuse when my young son (5 yo) picked at his food for a bite or two and declared that he wasn’t hungry. When we explained that this was unreasonable, and they would be happy to sell us a takeaway portion to reheat at home, got the eyeball roll and “piss off mate” attitude. So we did and haven’t been back. So Vegie & friendly don’t necessarily go together…

  • Beth

    I’d support it, and thanks for the article – change starts with the conversations we’ll hopefully now have with fellow diners about the issue.
    I think restaurants should offer the leftovers so the customer only need say “yes”, rather than feel awkward about asking.
    To allay concerns of food poisoning/litigation, perhaps restaurants could attach a little note to the container suggesting how soon it should be refrigerated, to eat within 24 hours, etc.
    Might be time to coin a more attractive term than ‘doggy bag’ too, something that makes the diner and chef feel good about perfectly good food not going to waste and excited about an easy and delicious lunch the next day.

  • Anzjuli

    I ALWAYS do this. It just seems stupid not to! (I’m an ex-south african – you’re raised to be grateful for your food – eat everything on your plate or take it home!) Maybe I’m cheap too but I payed for this whole damn steak or whatever and no-one’s gonna stop me from eating it all! 🙂 My parents and I once went to this ‘fancy-shmansy” restaurant in South Bank, Brisbane. I just ordered a salad as things were already overpriced. I couldn’t finish the salad so asked to have a container to ‘take-away’ the meal, the waiter was so snobbish about it, ‘oh we don’t do that’. So when she wasnt looking with the help of my Mum I made a little napkin bowel and stashed my salad in my handbag! MOAHAH. Its my damn salad and I wana eat all of these overpriced pine nuts! I’d back you all the way Sarah! I hate seeing so much food wastage, as if its some kind of ‘chic’ thing to do! PFfftt! 😀

  • Elle

    I usually eat all the food! Otherwise I do this but sometimes feel embarrassed or awkward like I’m so stingy/cheap even though I know it’s crazy to waste the food. I’d love you to publicize it so there is less stigma.

  • merliyn

    thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! … I love your blog sarah! … always working for a good and worthwhile cause! … good on you!
    it’s about litigation with food poisoning! I’m thinking is the major problem!
    the last time I asked for a doggy bag, we were on a road trip and it was pizza, but they were still hesitant and reluctantly said ok!!! but I had to handle it and pack it into a foil container! … all good! pizza for breaky!
    mind you not my normal diet! but hey. we were on holidays!;0
    I hate waste! can’t abide it! always recycling everything in my artworks etc. definitely stir people up for a cause! love m:)X

  • Colleen Farrell

    Hi Sarah, I recall being shocked at being asked – by children – for my leftovers when I was eating al fresco in Mexico. Then I had the epiphany of the insanity of throwing away completely edible food. it made no sense to them and now makes none to me.

    I’ve tried to share food with people in bars and restaurants but people are so suspicious. You know the deal: you order a bowl of hot chips and it’s way more than you can ever eat, coming in a fashionable bucket size serve. Strangers won’t partake though – they think they have to buy their own. Two half bowls of chips hit the bin. It’s a sin.

  • K.

    I would 100% support this idea. It needs to happen. Just like your canteen initiative.

  • Tess

    Hey Sarah,
    I’ve even done the opposite and bought my own pesto to add to the dish! No doubt this is illegal too? But at least it’s home made with no nasties added, and ensures I like what I’m paying for. I agree with the embarrassment thing though, some wait staff aren’t that friendly, and I wouldn’t ask for left overs to be wrapped from allot of them. It just depends who serves you 🙂

  • kdkdownunder

    Great post! I’m American and live in Melbourne and the first time I asked for a doggy bag I was shocked when they told me they couldn’t pack it up. In American when servers see food left on a plate they automatically ask if you’d like to wrap it up. I find it more embarrassing saying no to a doggy bag as it implies you didn’t enjoy the food!

  • Deborah

    Culture does have a lot to do with ‘permission’ for dealing with leftovers; I grew up in Canada, it’s just the done thing that you take food home with you. Last year, I had an argument in Canberra when I was not allowed to take home quite a bit of duck ragout pasta, it was to do with hygene- rubbish (Bicicletta- try offering smaller portions so people waste less) Big contrast to growing up in a Jewish family; everyone shows up at holiday dinners with their own Tupperware as left overs are assumed!

  • Sarah

    I’d 100% support a campaign.

  • Sharmaine

    Am with you all the way with this. I also think that it is snobbery for some who are more concerned about how they may be perceived for asking for a doggy bag. I always ask politely and most places are happy to oblige – perhaps it is because we don’t frequent Michelin rated restaurants?
    On another note, our family have been using glass jars as water bottles when we go out (the Pasata ones are particularly good). I always have a tall skinny jam one in my handbag, often empty and fill up whenever I pass the water fountain. The other day I used it for my cup of tea at a seminar (bit hot so I must think of something to hold it. Also my son just wrote his last uni exam on Thursday and had a 600ml glass jar as his water bottle. When he left, he heard a girl exclaim to her friend that she just saw the most “bizarro thing eva” – and it was this guy with a “like jar for his water”. Matt actually smiled and showed them (strangers) the offensive bizarro thing – and the girls were so embarrassed. He explained the health traps/wastage/pollution of purchasing bottled water to them. Proud of him even though they probably thought he was weird.

  • I take a glass jar and just put the food in there without asking
    now. One time I did ask and they said no without a good enough reason, so now I don’t bother asking. I probably look a bit naff doing it but hey, better that then wasting food, my money, the hard work of the chefs that prepared my food and the farmers that grew it.

  • guest

    It’s not so black and white – all for it (and have done it plenty of times) but doesn’t work for everyone – I’m pregnant and I can’t even eat my OWN house leftovers (after 1 day), let alone something I haven’t cooked.

  • Zoe

    This has been such a bugbear of mine for SO LONG – thank you for writing a piece about it.

  • Nic

    Every time I have requested to take away the leftovers, (in various cafes/restaurants in Australia and NZ), I’ve been refused with the reason ‘it’s against policy’. Such a waste.

  • arianek

    Totally standard practice here in Canada, but when I asked for the remnants of a HUGE and delicious salad to be packed up in Berlin last year, the woman stared at me as if I had a sheep standing on my head. She said “we don’t do that”, and I had to A) lose the rest of the great food I’d paid for, and B) waste all that perfectly good food! Made me want to carry a tupperware with me wherever I go…

  • Mel Maddison

    Just spent over $500 for a lunch meal in a lovely restaurant that is on the central coast. We were polite diners with well behaved children that sat quietly in their seats despite waiting up to 45 minutes between courses. By the time the main meals were served we were full and pretty over it. The entire restaurant had left except for us due to the slow service of our main meals and I felt quite justified asking for a plate of 6 sublime rib eye beef fillets to be bagged up for us to take them home. This is a restaurant that prides themselves on their sustainable food, bills themselves as eco friendly and green yet had no problem arguing with me at the table in front of the children for over 10 minutes about the need to throw away the just cooked incredible beef. I explained that I did not want to see such food thrown away and that there was no one around to see me walk away with some leftovers. I also didn’t ask for the whole barramundi to be taken home due to their strict “prospective food poisoning” policy, ie I negotiated around their point and tried to be fair. To civilised diners its disgusting to be treated as though we don’t understand proper food hygiene and particularly when you are local and frequent a restaurant regularly you should be given some respect that this is not just an opportunity to sue someone. I’m actually disgusted and it ruined for me an otherwise lovely meal with my wonderful family.
    5 star dining is about service and if they cant get that right then they may as well hang up their aprons particularly in an off season coastal small town environment that is relying on local patronage.
    Next time Bells I’ll spend 500 on food I can eat after Ive paid for it.

  • cara

    Hey is it possible to include the laws in the ACT you missed us off when listing the links for other sates 🙁

  • Jay Bloor

    I’m 43 and years ago it was a regular occurrence to not to be asked if you would like a doggy bag but I found in a lot of cases they would automatically do it without having to ask. I don’t often leave food on my plate and if I have I will ask to take it home. So far I have not been met with resistance but I can understand why people would feel awkward asking. I feel we have become so judgemental over the past years we are afraid of being judged. I feel it’s a huge compliment to the kitchen if you have enjoyed you meal so much but are unable to finish it that you want to take it home. Please these are just my thoughts only.

  • Alison Dalleywater

    I know I am going to be pelted with restaurant leftovers for this point of view but here goes….
    I suggest that doggy bags are a horrible idea!

    I have heard people, in particular Americans, say “If I’m leaving a plate full of food I want to take it home because I’ve paid for it”.

    Why, if the food is good, would you need to leave a plate full? It suggests to me that either:
    – you have arrived at the restaurant having recently eaten and are not hungry, which is disrespectful to the restaurant and its staff. Learn to stop eating between meals!
    -you have been greedy and ordered far too much food which, again, is unnecessary and crass. Many restaurants now offer the option of a smaller portion. Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants do this which is a fine idea. I found plates in American restaurants dauntingly overloaded which is far less common in Europe.
    – you are penny-pinchers and want to get your ‘money’s worth’ which is also bad form. Would you go to dinner at someone’s house and ask to bring home your half-eaten meat? I should hope not.

    I would argue that, no, you haven’t just paid for the food otherwise you would buy it and cook it at home.
    What you have done is buy the whole dining experience – the pleasant surroundings, the nicely laid table, the personnel to serve it to you, the beautiful presentation of the meal and most importantly the skills of the chef who has the food delivered to you at the optimum temperature, perfectly cooked, not hanging around in a cardboard box ! You have bought a service, an experience.

    To want your half eaten, cold food, scraped off your plate and jumbled into a cardboard box sounds horrible. Order less, arrive hungry and enjoy the experience without showing yourself up at the end of it…. Just my opinion! Let the food flinging in my general direction commence!

  • Frith Moore

    i did this up in hervey bay alot when living or visitind the pears there in the past. You have paid for your meal so it is yours to take, and what a bloody waste to leave it for the trash. I am pretty sure the staff on a couple of occasions even offered this service. Pretty cool stuff. Yea we need to stop giving a damn how others perceive us. The little steps all add up.