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Jan 26, 2011 10:53 AM

Bringing your own to a restaurant?


I was in a quick salad/sandwich type place yesterday - the kind where they have a make-your-own tossed salad bar. There's seating (I sat yesterday) but most people just take their food to go.

So.. as I was eating lunch.. I saw a woman pop open her salad container and take an avocado out of her bag and start to slice it on her salad. It's not like the restaurant doesn't offer avocado as a topping and it's not like it's that much cheaper to buy an avocado. (It's $1.50 to add avocado to a salad and $1.50 or so to buy a whole avocado)

Am I crazy for thinking this was totally wrong?

  1. IMO, it's just as wrong of her to do that as it would be to go to a restaurant and order in a pizza for delivery to table.

    1. Harder question is what should the restaurant do?

      1 - Allow and do not say anything?
      2 - Say nothing and charge her for the avocado as an equivilent "corkage fee" of $1.50?
      3 - Ask the customer to replace the avocado in the container and if she refuses, ask her (and her table) to leave?

      I am in the ask the customer to replace the avocado and if she refuses advise her that they will charge her the equivilent $1.50 charge.

      30 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Peace-seeking person that I am, I go with #1, and then wrap her house with TP before Halloween.
        EDit: It was poor form, but it didn't deny the resto any revenue - she bought the salad but wasn't going to buy the avocado upgrade- and watching someone slice up a whole avocado with plastic utensils would have been a curious sight, but otherwise none of the OP's business. I amend my vote to #4 below.

        1. re: jfood

          I'm kind of surprised by your response jfood. I don't know what the big deal is. It's not like it's some high end restaurant or that a waiter's tip is going to be affected by the lower bill. Maybe she had an avocado in her fridge that was about to go bad. Or maybe she's ordered the avocado in the past and there was something about it that she didn't like. There's a sushi buffet place in my city (I know, I know, but my 14 year old loves it) that has several signs throughout the restaurant that say, "No outside food or drink allowed". I always wonder, "Who's bring what in here and why?"

          1. re: southernitalian

            It just seems disrespectful to me to bring food into a restaurant.

            I love caramelized onions on a hamburger and I have posted that I keep frozen caramelized onions in the freezer for them. Now it is extremely rare (found a great one last weeek but the burger was really bad) that a restaurant has true caramelized onions in the kitchen, they normally have grilled onions that are more crunchy, less sweet and definitely do not have all the sugars dancing on the tongue. I would never think of bringing them into the restaurant.

            If she did not like the avocado the last time, she should not order it this time. If she had a ripe one in the fridge, use it in front of the TV watching the snow totals over the next 24 hours.

            I am just concerned on the "where does it stop" idea...condiments, then ingredients, then apps, then entrees, then...

            Viva la difference.

          2. re: jfood

            Maybe there should be a 4th option - have a quiet word for "next time" she might come in.

            BTW, we're also assuming that she didn't already clear this with the management. Maybe she'd already asked and they said ok ...

            1. re: jfood

              As with most things I think it depends on context. In a full service sit down restaurant I'd easily fall into the camp that this is wrong.

              But this was a make your own salad place where most people take it to go and sounds like a no service, bus your own table type seating. The customer paid for the salad. What's the difference between what she did and if she had cut it up after taking it out. This is a definite gray area. Personally, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. As rworange notes below, there could be numerous reasons why she brought the avocado.

              To use your onion example, what's the big deal if you brought some with you to a favorite drive through place then just added it as you sat in the parking lot? But certainly it would be a lot more unacceptable if you walked into your local diner, sat at the counter, ordered a burger and fished the packet of onions out.

              1. re: Jase

                "What's the difference between what she did and if she had cut it up after taking it out"

                I think the difference is eating inside the doors and eating outside the doors. I agree that when I let the door hit me on the way out I can do anything I wish with the salad, but while still on premises, I think differently.

                "what's the big deal if you brought some with you to a favorite drive through place then just added it as you sat in the parking lot?"

                Great question...Let's take McD's. I think bringing in my COs is wrong if I eat at the table and OK if I eat in my car in the parking lot.

                I think different sides of the doors have different rules. Whether it is McD, make your own salad place, a diner, a mid-level restaurant or a white table cloth establishment. While on their turf, I eat their food (unless as another poster nicely pointed out, I have pre-approval).

                1. re: jfood

                  May l assume you would have an issue if l brought various condiments into a restaurant, fancy or plain, e.g. Fleur de Sel, so l do not have to consume a salt l like less; special Turkish pepper flakes to a pizza place so l do not have to use their italian seeds that l also do not like. The restaurants have no problem with this as l have asked each time.

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    I do not have an issue with anything that is pre-cleared with a restaurant.

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      I agree with jfood on the pre-cleared issue, however with this, and the maple syrup example below, I don't understand the distinction... that it seems to be ok as long as what they have on offer doesn't meet with a higher culinary standard.

                      1. re: im_nomad

                        The difference between condiments and the avocado is that the restaurant doesn't make any money off of the condiments. It's built into the price of the food. That's why I think it's OK to bring in real maple syrup if a place is serving Aunt Jemima. And vice versa. But if the restaurant had a supplement of $2 for real maple syrup and the patron brought in his own because he wanted this specific local, organic maple syrup that he squeezed out with his own bare hands, I can see how this can create a situation. If the avocado was included in the price of the salad and the woman just decided to bring her own because she liked it better, I don't think most people would find this to be an issue at all.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          How do you know it wasn't included in the price of the salad?

                          1. re: rworange

                            The OP said it was an extra $1.50 to add avocado.

                    2. re: jfood

                      Ahh since we're picking nits here, in the parking lot scenario you're still taking up space from the restaurant. I'd argue in this situation where it's mainly a take out place with a few seats, it's similar to a drive through and a parking lot.

                      I guess I'm a lot more forgiving depending on the place and/or what's being brought in.

                      1. re: Jase

                        When I pre-read my reply prior to hitting the "POST MY REPLY" button and looked at the parking lot scenario I struggled with the end result of being OK in the lot but that was where I came out but it was not a 45-3 win. Now what would Richie Fonzie and Ralph do at the drive-in with the lady on skates? :-)

                        I absolutely draw the line of bringing in an item that the restaurant sells, that to me is just disrespectful. Your own salt, or pepper or fork, is a big shrug, but food is a non-starter for me.

                        1. re: jfood

                          How about a Birthday Cake? Notwithstanding of any pre-clearing with the house.....just on the merits of bringing in the cake, although the restaurant has in house made desserts available.


                          1. re: fourunder

                            big one coming up for me in a few days. :-))

                            It still needs to be pre-cleared with the restaurant. And I expect to pay for the service (and have paid $5 per plate) to the restaurant as well as tip extra to the servers for the service based on what they would have earned if the dessert was purchased.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I appreciate you seems like the act of bringing in Birthday Cake is more often done at Chinese restaurants, than anywhere else....regardless whether desserts are available or not. All should expect a plate fee, unfortunately, most are offended. It puts the proprietor in an awkward position.

                              1. re: fourunder

                                That reminds me -- a couple of weeks ago, the table next to me at dim sum brought their own flask of alcohol and was passing it around with everybody taking a swig. Place definitely has a liquor license. I think Chinese restaurants catering to a Chinese clientele have different rules and customs.

                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                  I have been in many high-end Chinese restaurants where the restaurant actually keeps bottles that the patrons bring in, as a courtesy. If you look around, you'll probably see a locked liquor cabinet with bottles labelled with the customer's name. It does seem to be a totally cultural thing, but that being said, I have NEVER seen anyone bring their own food into a single one of these places; the private liquor stash seems to be a completely different thing.

                                  1. re: mamachef

                                    Oh my. Never have seen a locked liquor cabinet. Will try to keep my eyes open for one in the future.

                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      I should, however, note that the lady took the flask out of her backpack and it returned to the backpack after everybody took a drink.

                              2. re: jfood

                                double nickels for jfood? You will commence your 8th dog year...indeed a big one.

                              3. re: fourunder

                                That's a different thread. The consensus being that it's totally appropriate for the restaurant to charge a fee for cutting, serving, etc.

                              4. re: jfood

                                I think you've hit on the key here. If you bring in something the restaurant sells, it's bad form. Who cares if the tomato from my garden is better than what would ordinarily go on my salad? You just shouldn't bring in a tomato.

                                But I wouldn't limit it to things like salt and pepper. If you want to go to the local diner and put caviar on your scrambled eggs, then bringing in caviar is no foul. Kinda like corkage - it's okay to bring in a special bottle of wine from home, but it's bad form if the place already has the same stuff on the wine list.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  i am not sure i agree with the caviar example AB. It just seems a bit disrespectful to the restaurant. And it goes back to the "where does it stop" question. Take my caramelized onion example. Assume the steakhouse does not serve them, and i want with my P-House. Just feels wrong to bring that in. I like a clam chowder but want some fresh corn in it...can I bring? It just feels wrong. I always feel bad for the restaurant when I see bottles of wine brought in but it appears that he social contract has agreed on the addendum for that aspect.

                                  Now in the OP example the restaurant actually sells avocados and the lady decided she was better than the one sold, or did not want to spend the money or it was going bad in the fridge or some other reason. None of those reasons strike me as acceptable to just bringing that into the place, taking $1.50 (or whatever charged) out of the pocket of the owners' pockets. Taking to the extreme...the restaurant buys 12 avocados and sells none because everyone gets wind of the bring your own avocado policy. They start to rot and then the owner neeeds to throw them out...lots af money down te drain. So who is hurt...the owners for this self-entitlement.

                                  I think the social contract requires the customer to respect the integrity of the restaurant and either buy what they sell, ask if it is OK to bring in something "special" (i.e. a birthday cake or some hot sauce) or go somewhere else. Bringing a main ingredient just seems wrong IMO.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    If the owner doesn't object to a patron bringing in caviar, then what's the problem? The diner sells its eggs, the patron gets them the way s/he wants, everybody's happy.

                                    On the other hand, I come down where you do on things like caramelized onions and fresh corn. Somehow it just seems like bringing those things would be gauche.

                                    So the question is where to draw the line. We can speak in abstract generalities all we want, but I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to bringing a particular item into a particular restaurant - the customer should never presume that bringing in outside food or drink will be acceptable, and should make sure that it is before unlimbering the hot sauce / wine / birthday cake / caviar / avocado.

                                    Once the lines of communication are established, we're talking about activities between consenting adults. At that point, bringing in food may place the person who does so firmly in the "eccentric" category, but calling it "wrong" implies an ethical standard that IMO isn't present.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      Bing bing...

                                      The communications is key, that is the line that should never be crossed, do not assume that yes is always the answer, understand that no will be heard and need to decide if you still want to go..

                                      Once again it is that fine line of eccentricity versus self-entitlement. The guy with the truffle at La Cirque sure seems to be in the former and I would love to sit at his table.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Ah, yes, communication. Ask the question; listen to and honor the answer. Solves many of life's little and not so little problems.

                          2. re: Jase

                            the difference in $1.50 in the restaurants coffers

                        2. If the restaurant doesn't care, why should you?

                          There's a lot of reasons she might have done that

                          - she doesn't want an avocado that has been treated with something, even lemon juice to keep it looking green

                          - she had a perfectly ripe avocado and this was the only time she was going to eat it

                          - she was walking by a farmers market on the way to lunch and saw this beautiful avocado that was at peak ripeness

                          - her experience with the avocados at this restaurant wasn't that good

                          - they charge by weight and she is low on funds and the avocado was cheaper.

                          It's not like she sat down without buying a thing. It is not anything that would be costing the restaurant any extra money. She wasn't using extra silverware, only what came with her salad

                          How do you know she didn't ask. Or maybe she is a regular and does this all the time and the restaurant is ok with it.

                          Funny, I was just writing a restaurant report about a similar situation.

                          At an outdoor cafe, my friend's mother and aunt ordered hot chocolate. They wanted to eat a tea bread they bought at a local bakery. The restaurant has tons of desserts and probably banana bread. However, they wanted to enjoy THIS tea bread.

                          We asked the waiter. Not only was he pleasant about it, he brought utensils without charge or being asked.

                          We left him a big fat tip. Also, the restaurant is now getting a report by me about how supurb and accomodating the service is. That would have been a very different report if they made an issue of it. They have really nice memories of the cafe and went on to buy some plants at the nursery. I know they will be returning and they always talk to their friends about how much they liked the place.

                          Had they said no, these ladies would have been too polite to grumble, but they would have been unhappy, probably had their chocolate and left immeidately never to return. Their impression of the place would have been negative.

                          That was also my first visit there as well. I've since returned a few times bringing other people who have made substantial purchases at the nursery. If my friend's mom had been unhappy, I would have been unhappy and never came back.

                          Sometimes a restaurant has to look at the big picture.

                          If this is infrequent don't make an issue. At least they sold a salad and the woman will probably come back.

                          However, if it is a pattern by a lot of customers and it makes the joint unhappy, post a sign or note it on the menu as policy that food can't be brought it and if it is, there will be a charge ... just as restaurants note corkage or plating fees.

                          In the litiguous USA, I can see the problem of someone bringing food into a joint and then saying they got sick. So, that could be a valid issue for a business

                          17 Replies
                          1. re: rworange

                            Their impression of a place would be negative if they didn't get their way? I think it's pretty obnoxious to bring food into a restaurant that serves, well, food. Chutzpah, for sure.

                            I'm with jfood on this. Where does it end? If you want to eat a specific item and the restaurant doesn't offer it, there's a really neat place called home.

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              You are interpreting it as getting their own way. Just as the OP put some value judgement on the woman without knowing the whole story or even if she asked.

                              What is the difference between this and bringing your own cake to a birthday celebration? Certainly there is a precedence. You want a specific dessert. ... or you want a specific wine.

                              It cost that restaurant nothing. No one was going to buy dessert there if they said no. For the good will it generated and subsequent business created and postive comments on the web by me,, I think they got paid back in spades ... far more than any $3 dessert

                              We were two hours from home. These are edlerly ladies. It was Christmas and they were all jazzed about the special tea bread they bought. There are a whole lot of other extenuating circumstances that I won't put in because I'm sure they would get pecked to deat by ducks.

                              The point is ... which I said at first ... this particular restaurant didn't care.We asked. They said yes. The restaurant the OP poster wrote about didn't care. Why should anyone else? How is this going to effect anyone's life if there are ... um ... two consenting parties.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Ah! The infamous Rose Levy Berenbaum Quandry! Can you bring your own chocolate cake to the restaurant? As others have said, if the restaurant doesn't care....I suppose it would be good form to call ahead to determine if the restaurant DOES care. Then you can either accept it or chose to eat elsewhere. If they don't care, then by all means. As for whether or not the restaurant should care, well, I don't own a restaurant. I would hope they'd think about whether this is a good/repeat customer, or if they want this person to become a good/repeat customer. I would hope they would think about whether this is a special occasion (like when we brought our own wine for our 10th wedding anniversary - a very special bottle we'd been saving for just that purpose).

                                But to just waltz in and do as you please? Not cool. You can live without that avocado, you can have the chocolate cake bake at the office or at home...

                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                  >>> But to just waltz in and do as you please? Not cool. You can live without that avocado, you can have the chocolate cake bake at the office or at home...

                                  And why would it not be cool in your opeion?

                                  Sigh ... duck, duck, goose ... again assumptions. In our case, the cake was in the car. So it wasn't even in the restaurant when we asked. When we got permission her son went out and retrieved it.

                                  Perhaps the avocado won't make it home because it is too ripe. Perhaps someone just wants a nice avocado and doesn't need a reason. Where is this costing the restaurant anything? I'm sure if the restaurant said no, she would not have bought the avocado there as we would not have bought dessert at the cafe.

                                  It is up to the restaurant to make the determination and not the opinion of other customers.

                                  Bring a dog to a restaurant .... yeah, that affects me. Bring an avocado ... personally, I say "buen provecho". and enjoy

                                  Life's too short to be worried about other people's avocados.

                                  If you wouldn't do this. Dont. If someone else does. Who cares?

                                2. re: rworange

                                  I don't think asking the restaurant has anything to do with my opinion. I think it's audacious to even have the stones to ask. I find it to be extremely poor form.

                                  I think bringing in a birthday cake is terribly tacky and I'm uncomfortable with BYOW, too.

                                  We have no idea if it cost the restaurant anything. If one table sees another table bringing their own items into the restaurant, perhaps they do the same thing next time, and so forth.

                                  Two hours from home and being elderly do not validate your point. What if the cafe didn't have hot chocolate, or better still, not the brand they liked? They should just bring their own? Or, if it was lunchtime, could they bring their own eggsalad sandwiches/cheeseburgers/spaghetti and meatballs if they preferred a specific kind? Where does it end?

                                  Maybe it's just me, but I find it insulting, as if saying, "We know you serve X, but we like our version of X better, so we'll have ours". Restaurants sell food, period.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    I gues I just don't see how this affects you personally. Will your dining experience suffer for it?

                                    If you are a restaurant owner you have the right to set your own policy.

                                    IIf a restaurant agrees with something ... whether it is birthday cake, wine or a special request, there is no problem.

                                    I don't see how this should impact anyone else. It is not like someone chewing with their mouth open, eating with their mashed potatoes with their hands or picking their nose in public which might ruin someone appetite. Someone is just eating or drinking something like anyone else.

                                    If doing so would take some major act of bravado on your part, don't do it. If someone else is fine with it, good for them. Power to the avocado lady.

                                    Ok, time to stop playing in this sandbox and get back to writing my positive report on the cafe.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        it's even worse than just being insulting or being boorish because the restaurant is PAYING rent, taxes, utilities, license fees, salaries, etc.
                                        to have someone come in and use restaurant facilities for something other than ordering and paying for the food and drink that the restaurant serves is. to me, almost like stealing.

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          Well, she did come in and pay for food. She didn't come in off the street and just eat her avocado. She just added it. So, if the restaurant didn't tolerate the abberrant avacado behavor, it might never have gotten the money for the salad and beverages.

                                          Repeat: She paid for her meal. She used the same space to sit with or without avocado, the same untensils. This is stealing exactly how?

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Why just stop at an avocado? Maybe she has a chicken breast, or a can of tuna, or a nice filet in her purse. She can was that salad down with a bottle of H2O brought from home and end the meal with a homemade dessert. Yes she paid for her meal, she paid for PART of her meal, and robbed the establishment of the rest of it. Restaurants are in the FOOD BUSINESS and when people bring in outside food for their own consumption they are basicall stealing from them. $1.50 for an avocado, $3 for a lean cuisine, $5 for Mcdonalds, $25 for a cake - It is the wrong thing to do, plain and simple. If you want to add avocado to your salad, bring it home.

                                            1. re: rworange

                                              a salad with avocado cost $1.50 more than one without. that is exactly how

                                          2. re: invinotheresverde

                                            Invino, if I recall correctly you've posted that you are a Wine Director or Sommelier, so do you think that influences your BYOW thinking?

                                            It does seem to be a fairly common occurrence, even at higher end restos, so I'm just curious about your take since you deal with the "other side" of it.

                                            1. re: a213b

                                              Yes, I'm a wine director (on hiatus- pregnant), but for me, I think my locale has more to do with it. BYO is not common where I live and is illegal if the restaurant serves alcohol.

                                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                Ahh, that makes sense. Congratulations, by the way!

                                                Do you think your stance/comfort level would change if BYO was legal? I've always been very curious about restaurants' feelings on this. I've seen someone bring in his or her own wine many times (from Per Se to a small Szechuan place), and while I realize restaurants have corkage in place for these reasons, I still can't help but wonder how they feel "beneath the smiles", so to speak.

                                                1. re: a213b

                                                  I can only give my perspective, but as someone who has spent lots and lots of time building what I consider to be an amazing wine list, it's a real slap in the face.

                                                  I think any restaurant with corkage exceeding $30 is basically discouraging diners from bringing in their own wine. Of course, some diners will still choose to, but hopefully only those with truly special bottles. That said, it still boggles the mind how bringing wine to a restaurant that serves wine is culturally okay, but it seems to be in some parts of the country.

                                                  Thanks, btw. :)

                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                    Of course!

                                                    I definitely see what you mean, about how it can be a slap in the face when you've spent such time and energy curating your wine list. Out of curiosity, and if you will indulge me, what would your feelings be on someone bringing in a truly special bottle ... say something along the lines of a 1921 Yquem?

                                                    My feeling would be with something like this, the restaurant should not have an issue -- maybe it's a couple that has been saving it to celebrate their 60th anniversary ,for example.

                                                    Of course, were it me, I feel it would only be right to allow the WD/Sommelier to partake.

                                      2. re: rworange

                                        "- they charge by weight and she is low on funds and the avocado was cheaper."

                                        this is not a valid reason - i can get steak cheaper by cooking it at home, should i save money by going to a steakhouse and just ordering a salad and eat my own steak? i am low on funds

                                      3. I don't think it's a big deal. In a somewhat similar vein, my wife often brings her own salad dressing (to non-high-end restaurants, anyway), and it doesn't bother me toooo much ... she is doing it to watch carbs/calories rather than to avoid paying the restaurant.

                                        Maybe there's a rule-of-thumb that it's ok to bring-your-own if it's a small fraction of the value of the meal and/or if it's driven by health concerns?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: drongo

                                          Or items that are not in the building? (tho' that's not the case here). I sometimes bring my favorite hot sauce. I'm not in the same league as the gentleman who brought his own truffle to Le Cirque every night.

                                        2. If it's a fast-food, no table service type of place where you order and pick it up at the counter and seat yourself, then I see no problem with it.

                                          I mean I see people at McDonald's bust out an apple or some carrots with their Supersized Value Meals all the time. Some even bring their own bottled juice or water.

                                          However, if it's a sit down restaurant with table service (i.e. they bring the food to you), then I think she should be charged a corkage (or avocadage) of some sort.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            I agree on this take. Casual place with no table service, no stated rules and no one asking patrons not to; adding your own toppings to a salad purchased there sounds perfectly reasonable. And I'm even OK with bringing stuff when there is table service if the place is friendly enough.

                                            I live in a small town, and generally the restaurants are more than happy if you bring coffee or soup or even a salad from the place around the corner and have it along with the entree or drink purchased from where you're sitting--i.e., local businesses are supportive of each other, *and* they recognize that making all of their customers feel welcome is good for business.

                                            Of course, it's up to each restaurant to decide their policy. And I think e.g. bringing bacon to a vegetarian restaurant for breakfast is a no-go (a friend of mine was actually thinking about doing this). But in my book: in this case, no faux pas committed.

                                            1. re: guilty

                                              most places in NYC, from the diviest pizza slice on the corner to the highest of high end have explicit no outside food rules.

                                              1. re: thew

                                                This place did have a sign saying "no outside food allowed."

                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                  that's pretty clear then. and an important bit of info not included in the OP

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    I think you and I might agree that the starting point is "no outside food" this should not be the exception?

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      honestly, I totally forgot to mention it. this was a kosher place and no outside food is allowed in. all kosher places have the 'no outside food' sign, so I didn't even think of mentioning it.

                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                < a corkage (or avocadage)...>