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restaurant holding your leftovers?

I am curious about something. I went out with a girlfriend on Saturday for a spa visit. We went to a restaurant first and had a leisurely lunch, then walked over to the spa next door. We ordered too much food and were too busy talking, so we ate less than half the food on the table. Most of it wouldn't keep well, but I asked the waitress if it would be possible for them to hold my leftover lobster ravioli dish for me for two hours while I was next door getting my nails done. She refused and said they weren't legally allowed to do that because I had already purchased the food. Now, this isn't something that comes up often (one of the few times when our cool NY weather 9 months of the year comes in handy) but I know that I have asked at restaurants a few times in the past (usually when going somewhere before a movie or play) and never encountered a problem. Anyone hear of this before? I am curious whether my expectations were too high or not. It certainly broke my heart a little to have them throw more than half a plate of lobster ravioli in the garbage.

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  1. First thing, Yuck, heck, the only thing, yuck.

    I would never ask a restaurant to hold left-overs, that's just plain wrong; Me think most "respectable" chefs will throw it away since they should promote "fresh" cooked foods, not re-heated leftovers.

    I can just imaging/see the scene, me coming to a restaurant and asking for my left-overs !!! that's just plain wrong.

    anyway, it's probably illegal or against regulations in most civilized places.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien

      Just to clarify, I wasn’t looking to come back, take a table and eat more of the dish! It was already packaged up. It was too warm to safely leave them in the car for a couple of hours.

      1. re: meg944

        I knew what you meant. I was a co owner of a restaurant, but a smaller upscale diner and most not all but most were people we knew. Yes I would do it. Many restaurant will and do not. It may be there own rule. Some states may have a rule. FL doesn't as far as I know. We did it because we were small enough. But a couple of other restaurants I worked it. No they would not. I side with both. I would want them to, but understand it is their policy. In most restaurants ... they certainly have room so that isn't an issue, but keeping track of things if they did it for everyone would be hard so they draw the line.

        1. re: kchurchill5

          You are right, Florida has no rule on storing food.

          We did it if we had fridge space. if the boxes were voluminous, maybe not. But one while they went to the movie or slipped to the bar for a after dinner drink. No prob.

          What is the fuss? Would you refuse to hold a "To Go" order if they were running late? Would you refuse to hold a birthday cake in the walk in for birthday party guests? Not if you want to be a place where people feel welcome and wanted.

      2. re: Maximilien

        how is it wrong? meg bought the food, it's hers.

        should a restaurant also refuse to give a doggie bag, as it isn't "fresh cooked"? or take out?

        i don't get it

        1. re: thew

          A restaurant is a food serving establishment not a storage facility.

          And then the food was left behind and therefore abandoned. Maybe the State will contact the person in a few years and make them fill out 23 forms to reclaim the abandoned property.

          1. re: jfood

            the restaurant has every right to say no. my befuddlement is at people who seem to have a problem w/ the OP asking

      3. I can kind of understand their policy.
        You ask them to hold it and it isn't there when you return?
        You pick it up later and maybe handle it improperly and get sick?

        I'm the kind that never lets them pack my leftovers because I'm worried about the person's hygiene packing it or they won't pack everything I had left over.

        I once saw a waiter picking up plates from a table and just before he was ready to dump the plate into the bin he grabbed a half eaten lobster tail off the plate and polished it off.

        1. I don't think restaurants have the room to store leftovers for customers, even for 2 hours.

          1. Thanks, all.

            FYI, I asked my local restaurant blog about the issue - so far there's no indication that it would be illegal, and it's interesting to see the various responses.


            This particular scenario is not something that has come up very often in the past, but it actually is pretty common for me to have some of my appetizer or other early course wrapped up for me so I can try more dishes. This is especially true with tasting menus - even with the smaller portions it is simply too much for me. Occasionally restaurants will pack the food up and then leave it on the table but most places take it away and then bring everything back out at the end of the meal – I am not sure why this scenario would be so different, as the amount of time it would be stored would probably be close to the same. But this will definitely make me think twice before requesting such a thing in the future. I actually quite enjoy leftovers, as a rule (obviously many dishes don’t reheat well) and I don’t have much of an appetite, so I have a tendency to over-order.

            I have had my leftovers lost by the staff perhaps once or twice over the years. It was a small disappointment but no big deal. That, or worry over the hygiene of the staff, doesn’t bother me. If I trust them to make and serve my food in the first place, I don’t worry about how they will deal w/ my leftovers. I actually find it just slightly off-putting when they bring containers out to the table for me to fill, though I know it is obviously a matter of house policy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: meg944

              don't think twice meg. ask away - if they so no, it's no.

            2. I've never asked a restaurant to hold leftovers in the refrigerator and wouldn't expect them to, but I was pleasantly surprised at Craft in Manhattan when we had ordered a prix fixe and wanted to save room for dessert but couldn't quite finish the main course, that they offered to wrap up our leftover Bluefoot chicken and hold it in the refrigerator, and we could pick it up on the way out. I thought this was an excellent service that contributed to food safety rather than detracting from it.

              43 E. 19th St., New York, NY 10003

              4 Replies
              1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                Did they really specify that they would hold the chicken in the fridge until you were finished? I've had a lot of mains wrapped to take home that weren't brought back to the table until we'd finished dessert, but I've never had any resto specify that they would hold them *in the refrigerator* specifically or that we could pick them up when we were done.

                I think there's a big difference between the resto holding the wrapped leftovers for you while you finish eating there vs. putting them in the fridge for a couple of hours while you leave and do something else. It would never have occured to me to ask them to do this.

                1. re: akq

                  Yes, they said they would keep them in the refrigerator and we could pick them up either at the coat check, if I remember correctly, or perhaps it was the maitre d' station, and I remember that the person who got them had to go back to the kitchen to get them. It seems to be their normal procedure, and they're a fairly large restaurant, so perhaps they have a separate refrigerator for this purpose.

                    1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                      Craftsteak at Foxwoods in CT did the same thing for us - it was a nice touch. I think we took a more leisurely approach to dessert and after-dinner drinks because we didn't have the doggy bag staring us down, saying "It's time to leave now."

                2. You purchased a meal, they served it to you, you want to leave. End of contract/obligations.

                  Why should they babysit your leftovers? I really don't get the sense of entitlement and expanded obligation many customers/diners place on restaurants.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: chow_gal

                    If it makes any difference, I actually had an extra $5 already in my hand to cover the extra work involved in holding them – I completely recognized it as a favor to me, though I didn't think sticking them in a cooler for two hours on a quiet afternoon would be THAT much of an imposition. I was just surprised to hear that it would be against the law.

                    1. re: meg944

                      I'm sure the health inspector would be delighted to find your half eaten lunch in the cooler with the food for the rest of the weekend.

                      1. re: Sister Sue

                        That is why I mentioned smaller restaurants are a bit different. In a smaller restaurant where you know the clientele it is a bit different when they say they will be back in a hour and they really will. We didn't mind, but we also had to be careful. Not always easy. Do it for one and then do it for others. It was hard. Big cities are much different and would never ask. I hate eating in big cities anyways. I avoid them whenever possible. And no offense, there are many good restaurants but I like the smaller diners smaller home town places. Personal touch for the clientele I find.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          Hmm, Craft is in a big city. Go look at David A. Goldfarb's post. It contradicts your entire premise about eating in "big cities".

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            I think restaurants that in the city usually have a much larger clientele base and don't always know each person by their first name or know their kids or work together or are in the PTA together. My point being smaller restaurants have a much tighter community bond and I wouldn't hesitate keeping the food their and I think they are more apt to do it for the person. That is all. As far as eating in big cities. That is just me and I avoid it. I feel that overall they are very impersonal and feel more comfortable in smaller type of towns. I'm sure there is a personal touch, but I just prefer a smaller home town environment vs a larger city type of restaurant. And the smaller town restaurants I would think could handle the left overs easier than a larger downtown city restaurant with a much larger turnover rate. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. I just meant overall I think smaller restaurants in smaller towns would be able to do it more often as all. There are many great city restaurants which I am sure offer excellent service.

                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              Wether it's a small town or a big city I think the policy should be no. A half eaten sandwich in a cooler of fresh food has the potentail to pass some airborne transmission of germs or a virus. Not a good policy wether you know the people or not.
                              I'm sure it happens, but it's just wrong.
                              If someone brougt a few eggs to your restaurant and asked you to cook them for their breakfast would you?

                              1. re: Infomaniac

                                i agree with the entire first part of your post, up until the period after the word "wrong".

                                but there are some instances where a customer can get away with bringing in food and asking the restaurant to cook it-- lots of fishing resorts do this with customers' fresh-caught fish, for instance.

                                dh and i often hit a local farmer's market before (hungrily) hitting one of our brunch places, & sometimes we'll pick up some small-farm bacon or sausages, bring them back to the kitchen at the restaurant, and ask to have it grilled up to go with our breakfast. . . the key of course, is to share the bounty with the kitchen staff (write off 1/2 or more of the goods), and not get cheap with the restaurant's regular menu when you bring in your own premium foods. to answer the question you pose-- sure, i'd cook a "good, regular" customer's eggs (from their own hens or their preferred farm) for their breakfast. they'd pay the regular menu price, no discounts for this type of stuff, obviously. a total stranger, well, maybe, depending on my mood. . . i get cranky, though. . . but refrigerating somebody's bag of food, in my walk-in or true doubledoor-- gets into the "did you pack your bag yourself? have you been in possession of your bag the whole time?" territory. i would freak the *&^# out if there was suddenly a to-go bag of unknown provenance in my all-certified organic fridge or my all-vegan fridge, for instance. what the heck do people expect the restaurant management to tell the (surprise) health inspector? why should we put our livelihoods on the line for your pedicure, when we're working class folks who've never had one? privileged/entitled, much?!?

                                (off soapbox now)

                                i've bent over backwards for people though-- including packing leftovers in ice in wet-box produce cases for them to try to drive multi-states away. wonder if they made it okay? restaurant folks will generally try to help people who are nice about asking. i've worked in places that maintained a fridge for the employees' own brought-in food-- most places don't, though. it's a very weird thing to ask a restaurant to hold one's leftovers. i'd much rather be asked to reduce a portion of a menu item (even for reduced price). i do this routinely for regular customers who have had gastric bypass surgery or other health issues.

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  so where does jfood bring these items for you to cook?

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    sorry Jfood, i won't tell. i'm super-paranoid about accidentally "outing" myself on chowhound. dh would *kill* me. and i'd have to go away. . . :( though i suppose it's inevitable that i get outed eventually when somebody puts the pieces together, i won't rush anything. not to worry, i'm nobody special/famous in msp, though i'm also not as anonymous as i used to be when i first started posting a few years ago. maybe you've already visited me, and neither of us knows it! in any event i've loved reading all your reviews of my beloved little midwestern food scene. i think that the msp hounds will refer to your impressions for years to come, when rec-ing to visitors and in-town folks alike :)

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      drats but jfood understands.

                                      Funny story...someone walked into a restaurant that jfood likes claiming he was jfood. Imagine having such low esteem that you have to impersonate someone who has his dog writes posts on a food blog.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        you're kidding! though i think you are being too modest. how did you find out?

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          it's a small local place that jfood is friends with the owner...he now keeps a picture of jfood on his i-phone in case the yutz returns.

                              2. re: kchurchill5

                                I think this whole argument can be eliminated with a little pre-planning. If I think I will have leftovers I bring a small cooler with some blue ice to keep it cool for more than a few hours. The last two examples I can think of were a baseball game and a festival; places I don't want to go to hungry because the food usually looks better than it tastes. As far as dining in a large city, and I live in an exremely large one, most of the places I go I am well known, and I would never under any circumstance ask them to hold food for me. These places are not impersonal at all, if they were I wouldn't go. There is a small out of town place I go to, and a roadie usually follows, and again, no way would I ask them to hold food. I think it puts them on the spot, you're a regular and they don't want to offend you, but they may not wish to hold your food. Plan ahead, chunk it, or feed it to a stray animal. I'm not kidding, I've done that.

                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  Great thought!! It is hard, I've been a guest with leftovers and been a co owner. So I understand both. Small town restaurant where everyone knows everyone and you are a regular is a bit different that I upscale city restaurant or you said Just passing through, but it is a hard call either way.

                                  One restaurant I worked in NO WAY, another yes.

                      2. re: chow_gal

                        I do not think I would ask a swanky place to hold my food, but a place that is local? Sure as sugar I would. They can say no. Sometimes going out to dinner is more than a contractual obligation for both the diner and the restaurant.

                      3. A restaurant did this for us one time.

                        Do I expect it from restaurants? No.

                        Is it a nice touch for restaurants to offer if asked (assuming it's kosher with the health dept)? Absolutely.

                        Would I be offended if a restaurant declined when asked? No.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I was about to post the exact same thing. A restaurant offered this to me one time and I happily accepted. It was an unexpected nice touch. I don't expect it and would not be offended if a restaurant declined.

                        2. I really wouldn't feel comfortable asking. If they asked if I wanted them to box up the leftovers, I might say something like "no, because I've got an appt right after this and they wouldn't keep". If they felt like offering to hold them I'd be thrilled, and appropriately thankful, otherwise I'd just let it go.

                          1. customer leaves leftovers with restaurant that agrees. At what point is customer not returning because they plain forgot? Should resto hold onto leftovers until closing late evening in case you return?

                            Americans and leftovers - sorry it's a big bugbear of mine. Eat it or throw it out. Too much packaging going to waste over the smallest (and largest) amount of food people can't manage. I know it's a tradition over here (as a Brit I just can't understand it and do not partake unless it literally is a doggie bag for my 2 (Chow) hounds at home) but in Europe they would think you were nuts bringing home leftovers to reheat.

                            Maybe it's time to look at portion sizes?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: smartie

                              I thoroughly agree with you, but that's really a different topic and one that's been done to death elsewhere.

                            2. Why didn't you take it packed up along with you to the nail place? Properly cooked initially and propoerly re-heated at home, it would have been OK.

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                You've ever had your nails done?
                                After 2 hours the last thing you want to do is grab a styrofoam box with your new nail job.

                                1. re: monku

                                  sam is astonishingly wise in many ways. i wouldn't be surprised. anyway, it sounds like the OP would've been willing to go back to the restaurant and grab a takeout container or three, so no prob there.

                                  boccone, a true hound would've skipped the nail job and ferried the food to safety (uphill both ways in snowstorms, etc...)! ;)

                                  OP, i guess in this case, i would've either done what sam suggested (taken the food home with me, nail job or no) or the miss needle thing of leaving it within easy access of hungry, homeless folks. (lots in NYC, maybe fewer where you are.) it would also pain me greatly to throw out lobster ravioli!

                                  1. re: monku

                                    I actually carry more than a styrofoam box every Saturday after having my nails done.
                                    You're supposed to dry your nails before leaving the salon so there's no threat of damaging them.

                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    i am also not a refrigeration freak, which drives my b/f crazy. (i have yet to kill him though, ya know?) it would never occur to me to ask a restaurant to do this. even though i live in a big city, i have done it for guests, who sometimes remember to pick it up and sometimes they don't. here, it's technically against health codes, so we're not supposed to do it.

                                    one lady called the next day looking for her left-overs, which i had chucked when we closed up the night before. she was livid. are you kidding me, lady?

                                    if my day is arranged that i'm going someplace after my meal, i don't take left-overs. i don't have a car and so have no desire to be carrying something like that around. and no, i rarely finish my meals, because, yes, american portions are way too big.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Yes, if we're doing dinner and a movie, we don't bring leftovers to the movie or ask a restaurant to hold food until after the movie.

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      agree completely, it won't spoil in two hours, and the nail place is probably air conditioned. I'm not sure I would want to eat it if it had been sitting in the back window of the car in the hot sun for two hours, but even then, it's more about what happens to the quality of the food in such a situation (essentially a warming tray) than worrying about getting sick from it. still, i would bet that 80% of americans would refuse to eat it after two hours plus the time it takes to get home.

                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                        You and sammy kno that jfood is one of those 80%ers.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Jfood knew you would appreciate that. jfood struggles with the concept of leftovers, then you reduce the data set to doggie boag, then reduce further to leave unrefrigerated for 2 hours, then further reduced by remembering to take it out of the car when he gets home, only to be further reduced by remebering to place in the fridge when he gets to the kitchen. Not much of a chance.

                                            Good news that there's always the dumpster for Cali-friends.

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              jfood, I thought of you last week.

                                              8AM: friend picks me up with a bag of deli sandwiches. We drive from Berkeley to Davis. Noon: I eat half the sandwich (ham and Swiss, with sprouts, tomato, lettuce, mustard). We walk around Davis in 90 degree heat for three hours, then drive home. 6PM: back home, finding no dinner awaiting me, I eat the other half of the sandwich. No problem.

                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                Glad to help with some color to the story.

                                                But did you not forget to add the part where you kept the sandwiches in a cooler with an ice pack? :-))

                                              2. re: jfood

                                                That's exactly why I don't want you to leave the ravioli at the restaurant.

                                        1. It takes me 1 hour from butt in chair to key in ignition for an acrylic fill- 2 hours??!!? Wow. Anyway, I'm sorry to hear about your lobster ravi's - a true hound would have choked them down, standing up while the nail tech fed them to her...

                                          I'm KIDDING!!!

                                          I've never, ever dreamed of asking for such a favor. But maybe her reply was just a spur of the moment thing to soften the 'no'.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                            We went for manicures and pedicures - it actually was less than two hours but I told the place two hours to be safe. I love your idea of having the nail tech feed them to me though - too funny! Now that would definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty!

                                          2. I guess if it was a sufficient amount of "left-over" that I wanted to save, I'd carry a zip-lock bag with me, get the waiter to fill it with ice, and put it into the to-go container to attempt to preserve it for a couple hours. I've done similar things when transporting barbecue from KC back to Wichita without the aid of a cooler. Call me frugal, call me cheap, I just don't like to waste food.

                                            1. Would you ask the spa/nail salon if they could refrigerate the leftovers for you? I am not really surprised the resto wouldn't do it - no actual science or health code cites to back me up, but it does seem a little icky to put someone's leftover into the resto fridge with all the fresh food.

                                              I had an experience where I was going to a movie but had a little time to kill before showtime. I was starving so I went across the street and got a burrito. Time flew by and I only ate half the burrito, so I wrapped the other half to go figuring (yes, horrible) that I could just eat it during the movie. I tried carrying it inconspicuously into the theater but they saw it and said "sorry, no outside food allowed...but we'd be happy to put it in our refrigerator and you can pick it up on the way out." That was nice of them, but I didn't really trust the teenage theater workers not to mess with the food, so I just tossed it.

                                              1. I kind of lean towards taking it to the spa with you. Particularly depending on how high-end the place, was but even not then, an awful lot of spa type places go above and beyond, and some even bring in catering and such, i'm sure they'd hold your lunch in the fridge.

                                                Do you really get THAT much in an order of lobster ravioli where you are?