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Do you bring your own containers to restaurants?

I hardly think this is original -- I've been thinking for a while now about the idea of using my own re-usable containers when we are out to any restaurant where there will likely be leftovers to take home. This is usually the case when out for big family dinners. I've never seen anyone doing this and I'm sure it wil get some attention but it just makes sense to me.

Last night we were out at this place and another couple of patrons, who were probably locals, were there to order take-out and I saw they had brought their own large plastic storage bins which the kitchen ladelled food into. The bring-your-own doggy-bag container thing is radical enough but as an extension, I'd also consider this for anytime I do take-out too then, seeing as we bring food (and styrofoam) home a lot. I see this as perhaps being more problematic as chefs use the styrofoam sizes for portion control?

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  1. I think this is a great concept and is starting to gain more of a "following." We don't go out much but I do try to bring my own containers when I can. Most receptly I had my husband go pick up some ice cream and he took our mugs into the store, they didn't have a problem with that. I say go for it and as often as you can!

    1. Its brilliant if the restaurant is OK with it. To that end, ask them first and also find out what size containers they use. If you bring food home a lot, I'm betting you frequent some places and it'd be worth having containers of about the right size (you can use them at home for other things in between, I'd guess).

      1. OMG. I was just thinking if this was a tacky thing to do when going out to lunch with friends a couple of days ago. I didn't take any with me and now wish I had had the guts to do it. It was a medium scale restaurant, but I'm a recycler from way back, and I think if I had done it discreetly, explained that it's a coming trend, that it can save the restaurant $, it would have been a positive thing. Thanks, neighborguy, for giving me a push in the right direction.

        1. It seems like a good idea, less waste and expense. I'd call ahead to make sure the restaurant is cool with it. Reminds me of when I was a kid, We'd take a bit soup pot on sunday mornings to get menudo to go.

          1. Huh. I was thinking there might be Board of Health regulations against this in some places, but if it works it works!

            2 Replies
            1. re: maryv

              I also would tend to think Bd of Health might regulate this.

              Not in restaurant's best interest to sell you food in reused containers.

              That said, who hasn't had a date to HoJo's clam strip night bring a baggie in her purse.

              1. re: maryv

                Yeah, I think that there probably has to be some Board of Health issues with bringing your own containers.

              2. You just jogged a memory... The late Isaac Asimov wrote in his autobiography about how he missed his mother's Eastern European Jewish (not kosher) cooking and complained that he couldn't find food like that anymore. His telephone number was actually listed in the Manhattan phone book, so I summoned all my nerve and called him to say that such food was, in fact, available at Sammy's Roumanian on the Lower East Side. He got very excited and, after a brief correspondence, accepted an invitation to dine with my husband and me. We picked him and his wife up at their West Side apartment and she was carrying a tote bag with her. Didn't think much of it. However, after every course at dinner, she asked, "Are you finished with that?" and scraped whatever was left on the platters into Tupperware containers that she'd brought with her. My husband and I were appalled, but pretended this happened all the time. What the Asimovs didn't know was that we'd prepaid for the meal (an invitation is an invitation, after all) and Isaac was somewhat stunned when he snapped his fingers for the check. So. even though they not only got a free dinner and took home all the extra food, we got a couple of autographed books and a good story out of it.

                That was back in the 70s and I've still never seen anyone else bring their own containers to a restaurant. Pretty tacky, in my opinion.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Deenso

                  Wow - dinner with the Asimovs! Pretty cool. But very tacky with the "do it yourself doggy bag" thing. I'm betting the conversation was interesting anyway!

                  1. re: Catskillgirl

                    Yeah, it really was fun. It was a long time ago and I can't remember any of the specifics, except for one thing. My mother had told me to be sure to ask him to say something brilliant. He thought for a half a second while he chewed and then just said, "Quasar," between bites. I recall talking about Milford, PA, and the Tom Quick Inn (no longer in existence), where the Science Fiction Writers of America used to hold their annual convention. My in-laws lived in Milford and we have a house nearby, so we had a lot of stuff in common besides our love for gribenes, grated black radishes, chopped liver and schliskes.

                  2. re: Deenso

                    That was a neat story until you got to the part about being critical of your dining partner in such a way on a public forum. It could be argued that that is tackier than taking home food from a restaurant in one's own containers :)

                    I was never wild about the act of a server bringing a container out to the table to pack up a customer's left overs or worse, to leave the container on the container for the customer to pack however, since this is the way many places do it now days I fail to see how using one's own container vs. a non-reusable one provided by the restaurant is tacky. I guess it depends on one's perspective; being wasteful and excessive packaging is tacky to me.

                  3. I do this for takeout all the time, and like it for several reasons - my own containers stay closed much better than the restaurant disposables, and when you are finished you just stick your own containers in the fridge. (Where I live, takeout soup will be poured into a plastic bag for you to carry while you steam cook your fingers on the way home.) The restaurant staff seem to approve.

                    1. nope,

                      I rarely use the word never, but this is something I will never do.

                      1. I've never done this before, but for those of you that have:

                        Aside from taking home leftovers, how do you/the restaurant gauge the size and pricing if you're bringing your own containers? If you bring in a container that happens to be larger than what they would have given you, do you get extra food for free, or do you pay extra?

                        Also, just out of curiosity- does this mean you'd have to get there before the food was ready, so that they wouldn't be holding your food in another container (which I assume would defeat the purpose of the restrauant "saving" a take-out container)?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: gyozagirl

                          Restaurants know their portion sizes. For things that are cooked in large batches (soups, fries,tuna salad, etc.) there are ladles and scoops which are sized, so serving portions can be controlled.

                          And yes, for most menu items I would think you would need to be there before the dish was ready...although perhaps they could have it on a plate until pick up.

                          That said, slightly off topic, I have come across restaurants where the to-go portions were sized differently than the dine-in portions....

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Glad i'm not the only one who's ever noticed this. Usually with the something and fries variety with places that typically heap the equivalent of a pound of potatoes on the plate, but give you about a cup in a small take out container (not that I need extra fries, it's just a point)

                        2. I have done this several times, esp. for large take out orders. If I can plan ahead I'd probably do it more often for taking left over home too.

                          1. I have a number of stainless steel tiffins that are perfect for this but most places look at you like you've sprouted a third eye when you suggest it.

                            Yes, there are health issues, mostly the idea of having an outside item of dubious provenance in a supposedly clean kitchen. Given that many localities in the bay area are banning styro I'd gladly supply my own container.

                            I did have a resto in the past that would do this for me, but I'd been a customer there longer than some of the waitstaff had been alive. Very impressive to show up with a tiffin loaded up and garnished by the chef and start unstacking layers.

                            1. I haven't been doing that, but unless and until LA County mandates cardboard instead of styrofoam for packing out leftovers I just might. I'm considering bringing those nested reusables - if there are objections to filling previously-used containers, I can just hand them a new one.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Will Owen

                                Now that's a hell of an idea. I like that. Could have a few sizes of them as well to account for the concerns of the above posters about portion size. (Though I agree with the point above that most restaurants aren't using to-go containers to portion their food.)

                              2. If you can take your own travel mug to Starbucks and have them put your latte in that, why couldn't you take your own to-go containers to a restaurant? It's a great idea, but not one I'd probably have the foresight to actually carry out (I also usually forget my reusable grocery bags in the car and don't remember until I am already in the checkout line).

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: akq

                                  At least where I am, the Board of Health actually does have something to say about those travel mugs. The customer has to remove the lid, because the server is not supposed to be touching the part that the customer drinks from. Unclear to me whether it's to protect the customer from the server's hands or to protect the server's hands from the customer's possibly-unwashed lid.

                                  1. re: maryv

                                    That makes sense to me and I've always seen people take the tops off the cups. At least with to-go boxes you're not touching anything that someone's mouth has been on (except, perhaps, the food itself).

                                    1. re: maryv

                                      Board of health also stipulates that to-go plastic cups must have their top removed by the customer and that drinks with straws should either be refilled at the table or a new drink brought to the table - never take a drink with a straw to refill seems to be a big deal.

                                  2. We have been doing so far the last year or so. I am absolutely apalled that the question is even been posed so timidly and at the sheepish waiting for it to be a trend. Have some cojones, decency & self respect people! Who the f cares what someone lower on the Maslow ladder thinks???

                                    It saves the environment.

                                    It saves the restaurant money.

                                    It saves the environment.

                                    It saves you from bad chemicals in cheap packaging.

                                    Its a no brainer. Anybody who thinks its tacky needs to be smacked across the head.

                                    He Dicho.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      I'd like to buy you a drink. Well said.

                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        All of that is true, but I just think it looks greedy, the equivalent of an old lady filling up her purse with food at an all you can eat buffet. I'd much rather ask for a half portion of order an appetizer as dinner if eating at a place that serves way too big portions than come in with my tupperware in hand, I just think that's gross and tacky.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          You know where I stand... now line up for the Chompiras treatment.

                                        2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Eat Nopal,

                                          YOU GO, GIRL! (OR BOY!)

                                          All of the responses confirmed what I had been thinking about the idea for it's practicality around so many issues. If I did sound hesitant, I guess that's just another example of how virtual written communications do not completely express what is meant (insert emoticon here.)

                                          The main argument I am hearing against has to do with the local health department and getting around (the interpretation of) the rules.

                                          The other (non) point has to do with what is considered good taste, which is personal and all dependant on one's level of education and exposure to the big world out there. The anti-tackyness squad is also responsible for things like the by-laws in the suburbs (of Toronto anyways) that make it illegal to hang dry laundry in one's own backyard for fear of the neighbors seeing one's unmentionables and being offended, which leads to a decline in propery values, and then who knows what will happen to society...

                                          1. re: neighborguy

                                            wrt health dept objections: the proper way to handle it is for the customer to box their own food into their containers at the table, off the restaurant's plates. can't expect the server to take containers of unknown cleanliness into the kitchen to box the food there, so that nicety is lost somewhat. the "friendly neighborhood safety officer" should have no problem with this procedure, because the outside dish doesn't come into the food prep area, and the thrifty and eco-minded customer should see it less as an inconvenience than an opportunity to pack everything *just so* to her/his own liking. you'd do the same thing at the deli-- ask the portion to be put on a plate, and then bag it yourself away from the counter, returning the plate. i think it's getting more common, and i'd like to see delis start to use returnable heavyweight glass and stainless containers (with a cash redemption value) in the same way that small dairies use their own returnable glass bottles. that would *rule*-- i just wonder if the average joe custo would go for it.

                                        3. I haven't done this in a restaurant, but I do it each week at the farmers' market. I wrote about it in July.


                                          I bring containers to the market and have the farmers empty berries and other soft fruit into them. They save their containers, which they refill for another customer and I get my raspberries, blue berries or ripe tomatoes home in perfect condition.

                                          I think someone has to start these movements. I can remember the strange looks I received in the early days of bringing my own bags to the grocery store. Today you may be looked at oddly if you don't have a bag in some stores around here.

                                          And so I think I will begin to bring my own containers to restaurants. Not just for the environment but also for portion control. I'm trying to lose weight and become a healthier person. I would love to remove half the food from my dish at the beginning of my meal so that I don't eat more than I intend. And, so that my husband (lifetime clean plate club member) does not feel he has to finish my meals.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: BostonZest

                                            Cheers to your actions and to others who do the same.

                                            I am reminded of the time when I brought two reusable grocery bags to my then-regular Chinese supermarket, only to be stopped by the staff at the entrance to ask me to check-in my (perfectly empty) bags and to only get them back when I pay for my groceries.

                                            I felt so offended, but unwillingly obliged. I also told them that because of this requirement, I did not feel very welcome in their store and would have to avoid shopping there in the future.

                                          2. FYI... for those concerned about their image... consider the Laptop Lunchboxes. As a C-level executive who brings lunch to work a couple of times a week.... I find them to be functional, discrete & protective of my image at the company.... and at restaurants.


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              I just bought two of those, actually, one for me and one for my 10 year old mother's helper as a thank you present. She said she loves it!

                                              Better prices at


                                            2. I hope you keep them in the car and do not retrieve them until the end of the meal...

                                              1. My husband and I dine out often and we almost always have significant amounts of dinner left even when we share a meal. The amount of packaging involved with taking home left overs has always troubled me so I started taking a small container or two (something I can throw in my purse) with me for left overs when dining out. Usually when we have leftovers its something relatively small, let's say two pieces of pizza and I loathe the thought of a big box being wasted. We hardly ever do carry out but if I did I would ask if I could bring my own containers to pack up the order. I do carry out soup from time to time and bring my own containers for that. My biggest issue is that I often forget to bring a container in from the car.

                                                As far as carryout containers go, I have a friend who does a lot of carry out and he keeps a stack of the plastic boxes and lids from the carryout. When I think of it I take some of those off his hands to use at our house for leftovers for friends. We have family and friends over regularly and I'm happy to put his containers to use for our leftovers that we send home with folks.

                                                1. We hear people worrying about food being taken back to the kitchen and place in containers there - they say they're afraid that they won't get their own leftovers, or they won't get all of it. Some places have begun bringing out the styrofoam clamshells to let people box their own. The paranoia reminds me of the "They'll spit in my food" thing, but it does seem to be changing the way things are done hereabouts.

                                                  1. This may give me an excuse to buy an ever BIGGER purse to tote such things around in. :)

                                                    The thing that got me moving on the BYO-bags issue, despite the fact that i had many cloth bags hanging around the house, was when someone gifted me with a Lug bag that fit in my purse, and therefore I didn't have to use foresight when randomly shopping. I've purchased a few more of this type and it really works for me. I usually have two hanging around in my purse, therefore no forgetful issues.

                                                    That being said, I might also do this if I didn't have to use foresight to bring a container with me to a restaurant, and it was something small enough to fit in my purse. Like maybe those collapsable containers. I think tupperware makes something like this if i recall properly.

                                                    Otherwise, between my coffee cup, my BYOB's and somethng like this, I wouldn't have room for anything.

                                                    Maybe resto's should have something there, whereby the purchase of a glass to-go container would also mean a small donation to an environmental cause. They'd also make a little money on the deal, and the customer doesn't have to remember to bring a container as long as they're willing to dole out a couple of dollars for a worthy cause, and in turn, the customer gets to reuse the container for as long as it doesn't break.

                                                    I don't otherwise see it being a huge issue as long as the container is clean, but I guess you can't always trust people to do that properly.

                                                    On a side note, what would you put a pizza in ?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                                      I use those square plastic containers from Ziploc. You can take the lids off and nest more than one container inside itself and put the lids on the top one.

                                                      Re. pizza, slice or two usually fits in those short, square Ziploc boxes (we're talking smaller round, thin crust brick oven style pizza not large pizzeria style slices. By the time we're done eating the pizza is cool enough that I can put a few pieces one on top of the other without worrying about the toppings sticking to other slices.

                                                      If I were going to a pizzeria type place I suppose I would pack a pice of foil in my bag. In fact, now that I think of it I think I will keep foil in my bag in the car where I keep my plastic containers.

                                                      Funny thing- When I go to the farmer's market or my usually grocery I always remember to bring my bags in to the store with me but when I stop at a grocery that's not my normal store or when I'm at a non-grocery store I almost always forget to bring my bag in with me. I'm working on that.

                                                      1. re: luckygirl

                                                        I mean like if you were to use a container to pick up food, not take leftovers home. How then would you order a large pizza and take it home whole? I don't think there's ziplocs that big ! :)

                                                        I'm trying to get away from plastics in general though, because I don't want to have to transfer something over into yet another bowl to reheat (especially if i'm at work)

                                                        1. re: im_nomad

                                                          Oh, I see im_nomad. As far as taking a whole pizza home I would take a pizza box and then save the pizza box to re-use. I don't order take out pizza but I do order baked items from a few local places and I always save and re-use the boxes from those places.

                                                          I hear you about plastic. I prefer to stay away from plastic but I would rather use plastic containers the can be reused for some things than use throw away containers. At home I use mostly glass containers for left overs that go into the fridge but use plastic containers for freezing. I always re-heat on the stove top though my husband will re-heat in the microwave but he takes the food out of plastic containers before he does so.

                                                    2. ok, call me crumdgeny but if your so locked up by the environmental aspect of the take out container, just leave the food!?
                                                      bringing your own take out container to a restaurant is really tacky and a bit disgusting, is the restaurant staff suposed to trust that you washed that thing properly before they take it back into the kitchen and handle it(possible contaminating their utensils, work surfaces, etc....)?
                                                      the other thing you could do is only patronise those establishments that use recyclable card board containers.
                                                      sorry, but its just not good etiquette to be spooning leftover alfredo into your dingy tupperware in a restaurant.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: nkeane

                                                        How is it tacky to use one's own container that can be re-used vs. one that is not re-usable but provided by the restaurant. Also, do you really think that folks are taking in nasty, dirty old containers or are you just being crumudgeny? I think the idea of leaving uneaten food is as offensive as using styro or cardboard single use containers recycled or not). Waste is waste and I find waste poor etiquette not taking home left overs. I guess we can agree to disagree.

                                                        1. re: luckygirl

                                                          Everyone is allowed to have his or her opinion. A lot of the naysayers to the idea of byo go by their own standards of taste and responsible behaviour (or lack thereof -- I'm giving my opinion) when they categorize the idea as tacky and disgusting.

                                                          Throwing away good food is tacky and disgusting and shows a lack of thought.
                                                          Any disaproval of others seeing me take home any alfredo (which I've paid for) I just wouldn't understand.
                                                          Some people just have to follow the status quo and that's okay. If it works for them.

                                                          There has been good activity on this post and I originally came to the thought because of all the foam packaging we consume at my house for prepared food. We've been saving it as well as the supermarket meat trays for periodic recycling drop off -- my municipality does not re-claim it on a regular basis as there is no market for the recylced stuff when virgin material is so cheap. The bundle really addes up and if i just threw it away, I could easily see how landfills get to capacity in no time. I view my tackiness in hauling my plastic bin to the restaurant as my little bit to help.

                                                        1. I keep gallon-size ziplock bags in my purse and use them for left overs. One restaurant that we frequent in Morelia frowns on packaging up leftovers. Since I can never finish my meal, I solve the problem with the ziplocks.
                                                          Also in Mexico, we often eat a morning snack at a street vendor. Ziplocks are much easier to handle for street tacos, gorditas, etc. than the packaging that the street vendors use. We usually have a fresh-squeezed OJ too and I have them pour it into my to-go mug. Saves the vendor washing a glass and let's me keep going.

                                                          1. I think it's a great idea if the restaurant will allow it. However, a lot of places will package your food in plastic containers with lids, and I'm a big fan of saving those and using them over and over again. I've never had any problem putting them in the microwave or the dishwasher, and they're great for storing leftovers or taking my lunch with me to school. Makes much more sense to me than wasting zip-lock bags or saran wrap

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Al_Pal

                                                              Who wastes zip-lock bags? I re-use them until they fall apart :). I also re-use foil bit cling wrap is a waste. I never use cling wrap for food.

                                                            2. I can only very rarely finish my food at a restaurant, as the portions are so large. However, the question addressed here does not come up in my life as I either leave the food or put it in my own container when I am finished. I do not feel a need to involve the waiter in this process, so he or she has nothing to say about what I do with the food I am paying for.