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Jan 6, 2009 11:14 PM

To Box or not

Sometimes I see people leave a good chunk of their meal behind and I think it's a waste of food.

Does boxing your meal say you're cheap or that you conserving food for a later time? Presumming that the meal was good in the first place.

If you take a "doggie bag" home do you let them box it or do you box it yourself. I had two waitresses from two different resturant say to me that they do not blame me for boxing up my own food. What do they do with it when they take it away to box?

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  1. Some food is at best mediocre when reheated. For example, lots of fish, pasta and grain dishes. They are not worth the calories.

    1. Always box. Food waste is a social crime. Doesn't matter who boxes.

      39 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Agree with Sam. Only once was I refused a box. It was at the restaurant in Neiman Marcus near Miami. I was so shocked I asked to speak to a manager. It was their policy. No doggie bags. And they had such nice popovers too.

        1. re: givemecarbs

          I would have informed them that your policy was no tipping. That they wouldn't box your food is outrageous.

          1. re: bnemes3343

            It's probably department store rules. I tried to once get something to go at a cafe in Lord and Taylors. They told me no because the department store wouldn't allow it as they didn't want people to be carrying food around their merchandise. It kind of pissed me off at that point but it's not the cafe's rules. And, yes, I can understand the stupidity of this rule as there's no rule forbidding somebody from entering Lord and Taylors with packaged outside food. But it's not the servers' faults for these policies, and it's probably not fair to penalize them for enforcing these stupid rules.

            I take things to go unless I'm traveling in a non-city or there's literally a couple of bites left and it's not worth the trouble and disposable resources for them to pack it. If I'm in my hometown, my leftovers can make a very nice meal the next day. If I'm traveling in a city, I leave the stuff near a trash can so homeless people can eat it if they wish -- DH hates it when I do that because he says it's like littering. But I have seen homeless people pounce on my meal a few seconds after I leave it around. I have to admit I felt guilty about not asking for things to go in countries where people are not as affluent because I probably seem like the spoiled wasteful American. But I generally don't stay in hotels where there are kitchen facilities, and I'm not going to force myself to eat something. I really wish more places would have different size servings. In general, women eat less than men, and portions out there are generally geared so that the average male is satisfied. And at higher end restaurants I don't ask for things to go because portion sizes tend to be more suitable for me and this type of food generally doesn't work well to repackaging and reheating.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Maybe the lesson is that when you go to a high end department store restaurant, tuck a few zip lock bags in your purse before you go! '-)

              1. re: Miss Needle

                Miss Needle, do you ask the server to pack plastic utensils and a napkin if you"re leaving the food for homeless people? Just asking in a nice way........

                1. re: neverlate

                  It's a very good question. When I get food home to go in my hometown (where it's for myself), I find that some people do pack napkins and utensils and some don't. I don't check my package when I'm out of town and get food to go. Thank you for bringing this up, and I'll make sure to tell the waitstaff.

                  1. re: neverlate

                    If I know in advance that I will be giving my leftovers to someone else, I do ask for plasticware and napkins. I also do the same if I know I will be eating the leftovers somewhere besides home.

                    1. re: neverlate

                      I was a bit blown away by the homeless/trash concept- then cracked up by neverlate

                      wow and thanks

                      1. re: neverlate

                        We were in SF a few months ago and were carrying home leftover Chinese food. Came across a homeless man bedding down in a doorway. I offered it to him and apologized that I didn't have a fork for it. He was happy to have it.

                    2. re: bnemes3343

                      You shouldn't punish the servers for a stupid restaurant policy.

                      1. re: bnemes3343

                        The server has no control over the resto's policy.
                        Nonetheless, it's asinine.
                        I think it's better service if they 'wrap' your food, and I think you should take it, and I also think if you don't want it, you should give it to a homeless person.

                      2. re: givemecarbs

                        Would need more information to figure this one out. I'm going to guess that the popovers were provided as an item included with the meal (or coffee or what-have-you) and that they don't let people carry out the leftover popovers because then people would request a fresh basket (or whatever) of popovers so that they could then ask for them to be wrapped to go.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          When it comes to the bread basket, doesn't everyone know at least one person who always fills their purse with its contents, regardless of policy or propriety?

                          1. re: Caralien

                            Probably most everyone does know such a person, yes.

                            1. re: Caralien

                              yes, but the popovers at NM are not exactly breadbasket items. They serve you only one on a plate, warm from the oven.

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  no, at least not the sopapillas I have had, which were fried. see attached link, with a pic of them fresh from the oven. They are like an extremely light dinner roll, almost hollow inside from the amount they rise when they bake. They really need to be served warm as they "deflate" as they cool.


                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    Popovers and (individual) Yorkshire puddings are closely related. Best when eaten hot from the oven, but hey, if you paid for it, why can't you carry it away? Take a zip lock bag with you and eat cold deflated popovers later if that's what you like! '-)

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Yorkshire Pudding! The last time I made it I was living in New Mexico and could afford a standing rib roast!

                                2. re: Caralien

                                  Filling their purse with bread from the bread basket?
                                  No...I've never known anyone to do that.

                                  1. re: Caralien

                                    In El Paso, I had an elderly friend who did that. "Elderly" meaning her age fell somewhere between my age and God's. She used to not only take home all of the bread (and anything else left) at a restaurant, but would also ask for a doggy bag when she was a dinner guest. Bless her heart, life had slam dunked her from from comfortably well off to abject poverty through divorce late in life. She and her husband lived in San Juan Allende, Mexico, she came home from a trip to NYC to meet with her publisher, found her husband bedding her secretary, picked up the suitcase she was travelling with and went as far as she could on the money she had on hand. Turned out to be El Paso. She died a couple of years ago and I miss her still. She had many redeeming qualities! '-)

                                    When I was a kid, my grandmother used to embarass the life out of me. Didn't matter how upscale of downscale a restaurant was, once we were seated she would dip her napkin (cloth or paper!) in her water glass and wash all of her silverware! I soon learned to head for the ladies room so I wasn't present for her ritual! AND she packed bread and crackers away in her purse too. But oh my, I loved her! She was my most favorite relative, but just had to remember to go to the restroom as soon as we were seated in a restaurant!

                                    I think everyone deserves at least on eccentric friend and relative. Makes life a lot more interesting and helps you polish your ability to love! '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Thanks for sharing those, C1.

                                      I definitely take leftovers, even bread, even French fries. Depends on if I'm at home or staying in a hotel. We go to great little Italian place in SF that has the BEST tapenade. The first time we had it, the server packed us up a little container of it and some focacia. Made a great snack in our room with cocktails. I hate waste and do not believe that restaurants re-serve leftover bread, tapenades, etc. If they do, they shouldn't.

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          What a great, endearing story. I'm with you...everyone deserves an eccentric friend or relative....they're really missed when they're gone, aren't they?
                                          They make life so much more wonderful

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            Caroline, I used to have a neighbor like your El Paso neighbor. Not only did she take home leftover food from restaurants, she would also take wads of unused paper napkins if she could. No one said anything bad about her -- she was a Holocaust survivor.

                                            1. re: neverlate

                                              We're all shaped by the twists and turns of our lives. The curious thing is how the same twist can result in different turns. What's more interesting than people?

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      AGREED!!! Even if the final consumer is the cat,dog or out of doors birds.Waste is just so irresponsible and offensive to me.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Sam, ever since Bolivia where we would take leftovers outside, on the flatware, to the poor outside, I don't leave a grain of rice to be thrown out. Great breakfast, leftovers or midnight snack. Shame on bottled water too.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            while i agree with you in theory, sometimes i can't justify the wasteful packaging that will inevitably be used to box up the few remaining bites of food on my plate - particularly if i'm planning to give it to a homeless person (which i used to do all the time when i lived in NYC...these days, not so much).

                                            many of the local places i frequent package leftovers in reusable containers which i find other uses for at home..and if i remember, i'll sometimes bring one back to the restaurant with me and re-use it to take home the leftovers from that meal. my mom washes them & gives them to her housekeeper, who uses them to pack her kids' school lunches.

                                            the OP asked if boxing your meal says you're cheap...who gives a hoot? if i'm going to eat the rest of it, i'll absolutely take it home - i couldn't care less what others might think of it. the other issue is that i typically order small portions, so i frequently don't have anything left to bring home anyway. steak seems to be the only thing i can't order in a restaurant in a portion size that's sufficiently small for one meal.

                                            anyway, this thread is very timely - i met my folks for dinner last night, and as we were waiting for them to bring us our boxed leftovers, the conversation turned to the subject of my mom's friend. apparently she was taught as a young girl to NEVER eat more than half of what was on her plate! to this day, it doesn't matter what she's having or how small the portion is, she only eats half - and since she & her husband eat out 5 nights a week, she never brings home the leftovers because they wouldn't get eaten. it made me sick just thinking about all that waste!

                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                              yeah but is the "waste" the patrons fault or the establishments? and on a side note, in a country of such great obesity, do we really need to pressure people to eat everything? I would much rather throw a part of a meal away then eat it all and get fat.

                                              1. re: nkeane

                                                it's not about placing blame for the waste of either the food or the packaging. it's about doing our part to minimize wastefulness in any form.

                                                re: your obesity comment, don't get me started - i did my Master's thesis on the relationship of increasing portion sizes to the obesity epidemic in this country, so you're preaching to the choir. however, i feel compelled to point out that this is NOT about "pressure" to eat everything, in fact, one of the benefits of taking home leftovers is that you don't have to either eat it all on the spot or feel guilty about wasting food - it's a compromise that addresses both sides of the issue. and in the case of most restaurant dishes the portions are often too large or calorie-dense to begin with, so you really shouldn't polish them off in one sitting.

                                                as far as your concern about "getting fat" from finishing one meal...well, that's a whole different thread :) but briefly, besides the fact that it's not physiologically possible to "get fat" from one overindulgence, you might also consider ordering smaller portions (e.g. half-portions or appetizers) or sharing a dish with a fellow diner, or occasionally ordering something that's not quite so rich that you think a few extra bites of it will mean you need to buy a larger belt.

                                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                  well of course youre not getting fat from 1 meal. but look at it this way, if you over eat by 500 calories at just one meal a week, youll gain almost 8lbs in just 1 year.

                                                  but what if I know im not going to eat it? what if the idea of reheated food 12+ hours later doesnt appeal to me? btw, Im not so idealistic to pay more for a smaller portion just to have the self gratification of not throwing part of it away.......give me the normal size portion and what I dont finish can go on the compost heap.

                                                  btw, does everyone that is so appalled by a half eaten cheeseburger also get irrate about the daily culling of produce at your local megamart? how about the same thing going on at a farmers market(because trust me, a whole lot of stuff goes in the bin at the end of the day). face it, there is going to be waste when it comes to something as perishable as food. Your half a cheesecake isnt a big deal.

                                                  1. re: nkeane

                                                    You ask if we're appalled at the food wasted by markets and stores. I can honestly tell you, at least for myself, that yes I am appalled. That's why I buy "ugly tomatoes" at the farmers market when I'm making something that doesn't need pretty, or the very ripe bananas at the grocery store if I'm making banana bread or restocking the freezer for smoothies. If you want more information about exactly how appalled some of us are at food waste that happens at all levels of the system, check out

                                                    1. re: nkeane

                                                      You get the math on overeating just one meal a week and how that little bit adds up over the course of time. A little here, a little there and eventually you've got a big result.

                                                      But then you dismiss exactly that reasoning by declaring that the little bit here and the little bit there on the part of individuals doesn't matter because something else will be going on anyhow.

                                                      If each person makes choices about how they buy, order and consume food (not huge changes, just a little here and a little there) it adds up.

                                                      I can't, by myself, prevent all of the food waste going on in my town. I can alter how much I, personally, waste. If I'm eating out I can do that by taking home my leftovers and making use of them or I can order differently or I can finish all of what I order. If finishing all of what I order would be unhealthy then I'm left with take it home or order differently.

                                                      The answer to your question in your second paragraph "what if I know I'm not going to eat it? What if the idea of reheated food 12+ hours later doesn't appeal to me?" is order differently.

                                                      1. re: ccbweb

                                                        on the surface it may seem like the same reasoning in both of those examples but it really isnt. When you are deciding to eat or not eat something, you are the only input into the equation. When you are trying to cut down on waste in your own life, so that there is less waste in the world, you are but 1 input of millions(billions maybe). You as an individual are much less effectual when it comes to global food waste then you are about the size of your thighs.

                                                        Also, i cant get over the feeling that taking my food to-go is more wasteful then not. Oil to make the plastic container, oil to make the electricity to run the plant they are made in, oil to transport them to the isnt just waste vs. non waste.

                                                        related tangent: is it more wasteful to not eat a piece of streak that was produced/transported through the Macro agricultural machine, or a locally produced, organic head of bib lettuce? where do we stop questioning ourselves?

                                                  2. re: nkeane

                                                    But if you are ordering a regular meal then you're going to get the same size as anyone else. Maybe they should order a half size.

                                                    1. re: chewy_bakah

                                                      well, that's my theory too - i do it all the time myself in establishments that are willing to accommodate the request (and yes, if there's a fee tacked onto the half-charge, i'll pay extra for the convenience) - but not everyone goes for the idea, or would ever even think to do it.

                                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              I concur..... food waste is terrible. Whether it is consumed byme or the dog or some homeless person... at least it is not wasted.

                                              Even better.... I think I will bring my own tupperware and bypass the disposable boxes and styrofoams.

                                            3. When I see someone leave a large amount of food behind, I always wonder just how bad it tastes! I do normally take home leftovers. Well, unless I'm not going straight home and the food would spoil before I get it to a refrigerator. Wish I had room in my car for one of those car refrigerators. '-)

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Caroline, I have one of those so called car refrigerators. They have no condensers, just a fan so they only cool to about 10 degrees below the ambient temp.

                                                I take leftovers home. I keep insulated bags in mt car for things like that and for keeping cold or frozen groceries in when I have a number of stops to make. Indiana summers can be quite hot and humid. Those insulated bags are great.

                                                1. re: Candy

                                                  For me it depends on what it is, hunk of nice meat or piece of chicken, yes box and eat later but something like tacos, burger and fries, no because they do reheat well to me...and if I have a bunch lelt because I didn't like it....well, then I never box.

                                                  I do try and curb waste at places that serve GIANT amounts of food by telling them upfront, "Look charge me the same but don't bring me two chicken breasts, I won't eat it and I don't want to waste it" not always easy to get them to understand as I think they are worried that you are going to want a reduction on the check, (talking about chains like Islands here....they have a low carb plate that I love but they give you two huge chicken breasts or two giant burger patties...just need one)

                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                    I live in the Dallas area, where internal car temps can easily get to 125 degrees in the sun while parked for much of the year, it is always a good policy to keep a small cooler in the car, or at least one of those insulated bags that you get from the discount stores. It can keep the food at about the same temp that you were eating at for a short period of time. I use them for cold groceries too.

                                                    If we know in advance that we will be carrying food home, such as when we make a 30 mile run to the neighborhood with the best Chinese Roast Pork or other dishes, we plan ahead and take cold packs or ice.

                                                    1. re: Candy

                                                      I also have a car cooler/heater that plugs into the power source. It was a gift, and I I've been wary of using it because I thought it might drain the battery. How long have you left yours plugged in and running?

                                                      1. re: Candy

                                                        I often find myself in a situation where I'm going to be trapsing about the city for the next several hours. Bringing along a doggy bag is often impractical in those situations.

                                                    2. Depending on local regulations, food may be boxed by the customer at the table or back in the kitchen (the idea is that served food should not be returned to the kitchen due to possible contamination from the guest). Some places still take it back anyway, but I've had to learn how to quickly box my own food at the table when taking it back to the kitchen wasn't allowed.

                                                      At TJ's in Brooklyn, we always had food to go because they served so much food on their fixed price menu--half of each entree and desserts to go, without fail, when dining as a couple. It was practical for us to have leftover steak, duck, pork chops, spinach...all which were fine reheated or eaten cold the following day (they were located 1 block away from our apartment).

                                                      We've gotten better at not ordering so much food because the servings are so large everywhere and we don't want to waste food. I'm not a big fan of rice and beans, so I request my Mexican dishes be served without food I wouldn't eat or take home for shame (or half noodles in Pho because I really can't eat that many noodles and they don't taste good reheated).

                                                      There's another critical CH post about non-trees, diners who order appetizers instead of full entrees (with the premise that diners are cheap, not overwhelmed by too much food).

                                                      1. wait - there's food left over?

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: thew

                                                          True, this isn't a problem I personally encounter very often! :)