/ Food & Drink

Doggy bags are in – leftovers should go home with you

Taking home your half-eaten food from a restaurant – ew, right? Well, actually this ‘doggy bag’ tradition has made its way out of America and sneaked its way in to top London restaurants. Will you join the craze?

Doggy bags aren’t just for Americans and Pizza Hut. They’re for Brits and posh joints.

Sure, the stereotypically huge portions that American eateries offer may have a greater need to take uneaten food home with you, but we’re wasting a hell of a lot of food on our shores too.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association worked out that most diners waste around 30% of the food on their plates. And on average one British restaurant throws away 21 tonnes of grub every single year – the equivalent of three double-decker buses.

Afraid of doggy bags

There’s no denying it – there’s a stigma that comes with asking a waiter whether you can take home your leftovers. In the past I would much rather overeat to bursting point than ask to take food I’ve paid for home in a doggy bag. Foolish, I know, especially when I’m known for eyes being bigger than my stomach.

But I’m not alone – when I took the question of doggy bags to Twitter, Mark Hatten (@fabfabfabregas) replied:

‘Funny the only place I have felt comfortable doing that is at an Indian or pizza place.’

Liz Phillips (@fizzyphillips) shared the same sentiment, but did leave open some hope:

‘Too embarrassing to ask, but if they offered… then I might accept.’

To that end, there’s a campaign that’s trying to get restaurants to offer an option for diners to take home leftovers. Too Good To Waste, backed by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Giles Coren, has created a bio-degradable ‘doggy box’ for London restaurants. You’ll find them in chains like Feng Sushi and Leon.

Not just chains

But you needn’t be limited to chains if you have a habit of over-ordering, as journalist Priscilla Pollara found out. Writing in The Evening Standard, she tracked down a number of posh joints that let their diners take back uneaten grub.

Grosvenor Square’s 34 restaurant offers doggy boxes adorned with a Tracey Emin drawing – I can see scores of people deliberately leaving food on their plates just to get their hands on one! As Priscilla told us on Twitter, it’s ‘suddenly very cool not being able to finish!’

And then there’s the Michelin-starred Benares, Gaucho restaurants, Battersea pizzeria Bunga Bunga and many more. The latter’s co-owner, Charlie Gilkes, told The Evening Standard:

‘We love the idea of people taking home in a pizza box what they can’t eat. After all, it’s a fun and important measure to ensure sustainability.’

Doggy bags are in vogue. And why not – it’s about getting what you’ve paid for, rather than shoving it in the bin and contributing to the piles of food restaurants throw away every year.

So, would you be happy to ask for a doggy bag in a posh restaurant? Or is it too embarrassing to ask a waiter dressed up to the nines?

Do you ask for a doggy bag if you have food left?

Yes – I don’t want to waste my leftovers (53%, 206 Votes)

I always finish the food I’ve ordered (29%, 112 Votes)

No – it’s too embarrassing to ask (19%, 74 Votes)

Total Voters: 394

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Simon says:
17 February 2012

This is a great idea! Far too much food is wasted each year by restaurants. However, I would much rather restaurants get into the habit of asking their customers ‘would you like me to box this so you can take it home with you?’: more civilised and less ’embarrasing’. Indeed, such an option should probably be noted on the menus “Don’t worry if you can’t finish your meal: just ask your waiter to box it for you”.

Tom@thesra says:
17 February 2012

Michelin star restaurant or high street chain – any chef will tell you they’d prefer you ask for a doggy box than see their handiwork end up in the bin. If you’ve enjoyed your food and paid for it, why leave what you can’t finish on the plate when you can take it home and enjoy again tomorrow – its’ common sense. Love those leftovers, don’t leave them!

Apart from mayonnaise and cabbage (and therefore coleslaw) I will eat everything on my plate. I was brought up to do this. If I have the opportunity to choose what goes on my plate then I tend to eat less.

To help us avoid overeating and waste of food, the best answer is let us choose how much we want on our plates and forget the doggy bags. That will cut costs and these should be passed on to the customers.

Simon says:
17 February 2012

Interesting comment. I too was bought up to eat ‘everything on my plate’ (including coleslaw!).

However, that was within the ‘home’ environment and not professional restaurants. Implementing customisable portion size control within a busy restaurant kitchen is just not practical. It also introduces complex pricing issues: if I’m a light eater and only want half the portion of my fellow dinners, does the price I pay get adjusted also? Probably not.

Let’s keep things simple and adopt ‘doggy bags’. A well managed restaurant will soon notice if most clients go home with a doggy bag and adjust it’s portion size accordingly over time (in an effort to reduce costs/waste). It also enables the ‘lighter’ eaters to not be penalised on price.

I completely agree that it is not simple, Simon, but with a fair proportion of the adult population overweight or obese, there is a definite need for portion control. We are not the only ones who eat everything on their plates.

I’ll take the remains of the bottle of wine home if no-one wants it, but not a lot of that seems to be wasted.

Would you like my coleslaw? I hate to see waste. 🙂

Colin says:
15 December 2015

Portion control starts at home, not in a restaurant that a person eats in less than a few times a year. People are not obese because of restaurants. They (we…) are because of the rubbish food eaten in between meals, and the types of food chosen.

Sophie Gilbert says:
17 February 2012

I joined this “craze” a long time ago. There should be stigma attached to wastefulness rather. And asking for a doggy bag is a compliment to the chef!

Well… I never leave anything when eating in restaurants – Two reasons – One, rarely get enough on the plate anyway – Two, used to be caned at boarding school if I didn’t finish all the food I’d chosen) two excellent reasons, there was a war on and we helped ourselves from the dishes for as much as we needed) so we controlled greed – only caned twice for this.

But I do often ask restaurants if they have spare old food left for the dogs (have three at home and many others at the kennel) Several local restaurants I use will often supply surplus bones and veggies – One hamburger joint at the market will usually let me have hamburgers they cooked and didn’t sell on Saturday. Sometimes have enough to give each of the 50 plus dogs three or four each plus buns! Saves a fortune! 🙂

Doggy bags to feed the dogs. What a brilliant idea, Richard.


We’ve been doing it for years – started when we noticed the sheer amount of food dumped in the bins at our local market we simply asked them to dump the waste food in separate black bin liners. The only drawback is the amount varies widely so can’t really rely on it completely for Sunday meals.

The other restaurants usually first gave us the food when they knew we adopted out dogs.

I think it’s a great idea that people are being more concious of the impact of their wasted food. Anyone that has worked in catering knows that food waste is suprising a lot more than you think it is! Some of us forget this when etiquettely putting our fork and knife together on the plate to “save some room for desert”. I have never been afraid to ask for a doggy bag regardless of what country or class of restaurant I am in. This might be a symptom of the way I have been brought up – “waste not want not!”

In this tight economic time it makes sense to be more frugal with what we spend or sometimes waste our money. It would be interesting to see if this trend actually changed the portions and types of foods on menus that actually are more suitable for taking in a doggy bag. From my experience working as waiter and having asked for doggy bags many restaurants insist that they are not allowed to give you food in a doggy bag due to food health and safety laws. Nonetheless it would be interesting to see how this pans out and to see how restaurants could take the embarassment out of requesting a doggy bag. Ivy doggy bag anyone?

>>> … many restaurants insist that they are not allowed to give you food in a doggy bag due to food health and safety laws. <<<

Yes, I remember a business meeting at a rather snooty golf club. The buffet lunch arrived and they had catered for the room capacity of 12, even though there were only 4 of us at the meeting. Their error, but they expected us to pay for the food. Apparently there were no other meetings that day, the kitchen staff had already eaten and any of our leftovers were going to be binned.

So before we started to serve ourselves, I asked if they could wrap up some of the plain rice, grilled chicken legs and sausages, and put it in their fridge to take home for my dogs after we finished for the day. They refused on H&S grounds.

This explanation rather put us off what we were about to be served. Assuming we didn't eat up the hot food within the next few minutes, there seemed to be a good chance of us also coming down with some form of dog-debilitating food poisoning by teatime.

I'm not sure what the golfing equivalent is of an "own goal", but we never ate there again.

In Oz, they don’t allow this doggy bag thing for fear of
a lawsuit on their hands, you see reheated food if not
properly or adequately done can lead to stomach upsets
or diarrhoea as self have personally experienced. Or
something worse.

I have to add that my US friends actually get doggy bags to take their uneaten food home for the doggy – not for human home consumption. I have never taken any uneaten food home to eat later.

Sue Farr says:
15 December 2015

Well, you should try it. So long as it’s stored properly, curry, for example, can be even better the next day, as the spices do their work on the other ingredients.

Christina says:
21 February 2012

As an American, I find this article hilarious just because in the US there is absolutely nothing weird, embarrassing, or “ew” about taking food home from restaurants. I’m sure it has a lot to do with our huge food portions, but it’s a pretty standard practice that no one thinks twice about here. In fact, when I get food at a restaurant I usually plan to only eat half of it, saving the rest for lunch the next day. This is a pretty common practice, and the fridge at my work is usually filled with leftovers from the night before. Besides, with our portions, it’d downright unhealthy to insist on finishing one’s plate — it’s simply too much food. Also, most waiter will ask us when they bring the check if we’d like a bag or box.

Also my family (back when we had a dog) would often take home to leftovers like fatty parts of steak that we wouldn’t eat and give it to the dog. She was very happy when she saw a little styrofoam container.

Sue Farr says:
15 December 2015

I feel so much better if I can take away any leftover food. I hate wasting food but it’s not good to keep eating when you’ve had enough. Pizza, curry, Chinese food – all delicious next day! And NO WASTE!