/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Can I have a doggy bag, please?

New laws in Italy will make it easier for businesses to donate expired food to charities and for farmers to give away unsold produce. But is promoting the use of doggy bags a step too far?

Italy has just passed a bill that aims to take a huge chunk out of the five million tonnes of food waste the country generates every year, and I think that’s wonderful news.

The bill makes it easier for restaurants and shops to cut down on the food they throw away by allowing them to donate food that’s past its sell-by-date. And money will be spent improving the food supply chain and packaging to limit waste before products even get to shoppers.

It sounds like real progress.

Taking home the leftovers

One part of the bill that really appeals to me is encouraging people to ask for ‘family bags’ or ‘doggy bags’, when eating out. Apparently this is far from the norm in Italy, so it might be a hard sell.

Personally, I always ask to take leftovers home from restaurants whenever it’s practical (so, not if I’m about to go straight to the theatre after dinner, for example). I’d rather enjoy the remains of my meal the next day than try to scoff the lot when I’m already full or see it thrown away. Food is so precious to me I can’t stand to see it wasted.

I hope Italy’s bill really helps changing habits and that it encourages other countries to follow suit.

How to eat Danishly

Where I live in Denmark, we’re not really encouraged to separate our food waste, and our rubbish bags get burned to make energy and heating.

But recently I have noticed a drive to cut down on supermarket food waste – from offering food that’s close to its use-by date at crazy discounts, to selling single pork chops or burgers so people living alone don’t have to buy more than they need.

Food waste is definitely seen as a problem here, and this is encouraging people to be innovative.

One of my favourite initiatives is an app called Too Good to Go, which lets restaurants, cafes and bakeries sell off ‘lucky dip’ bags or boxes of food to app users for very low prices that they can pick up before closing time, preventing the food from being thrown away. The app started life in Denmark and is from this year also being rolled out in the UK.

Where my partner works, a warm lunch from a local restaurant is provided every day, along with bread and various toppings. Staff are invited to take leftovers home to cut down on waste, and we’re very happy to oblige. It’s one of the nicer ways to do our bit for the environment.

What do you think of the new ideas in Italy? Are you a fan of the doggy bag?

This is a guest post by Katie. All opinions are Katie’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Rather than promote doggie bags in restaurants I’d prefer to have sensible portions and order only as much as I want to eat. It’s otherwise an expensive way of eating. But I do like the idea of shops selling near-date goods at reduced prices, selling small quantities at pro-rata prices, and the “lucky dip” bag is interesting; on the way back from the weekly school sports day I passed a bakers that sold “penny buns” – a small bag of damaged small cakes. Not healthy (but it didn’t kill me) but a nice treat.

We should start using all produce, not discarding “mis-shapen” veg for example. Providing it is perfectly eatable why chuck it out in the name of uniformity?

Sell-by dates seems one of the big obstacles. How much gets thrown away because we fear that having gone past its labelled date we dare not eat it? How can we deal with this waste? Perhaps the FSA could look into this (if they haven’t).The EC have linked to some interesting initiatives:

If we are serious about decreasing waste, banning multi-buy offers on fresh food, particularly food that is unsuitable for freezing. Rather than selling two items for the price of one, just half the price.

The most ridiculous example I have encountered was Tesco selling one cucumber for 90p and two for £1. That stopped a couple of years ago and maybe I was not the only one who had complained.

I have no problem with multi-buy offers on anything that can be stored.

When I’m eating out I prefer smaller portions, hopefully at lower prices, but large portions are welcomed by many people. Apart from wedding cake, I cannot recall being offered a doggy bag.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of “banning” such things as food offers. It says that one group of people have the right to dictate how another group should behave, and to take away their choice to make their own decisions about what and how to buy. We all make mistakes in what we buy, but should learn from them and be responsible for whatever we choose to do. Those who don’t like food offers – don’t buy them. Many others find them advantageous and should not be denied their advantages. The choice lies with the purchaser.

Perhaps the groups are those who care about the environment and minimising waste and those who don’t. 🙁 It is not just waste of food but an enormous amount of water used in agriculture, pesticide and fertiliser use. If the supermarket offers a half price promotion instead of two for the price of one, then we avoid waste and everyone benefits from the price reduction.

From time to time retailers say they will behave responsibly but there has not been much progress. Sainsbury is, I believe, the most recent, albeit for a different reason: mirror.co.uk/money/sainsburys-scraps-multi-buy-deals-7350607

I do not understand how maintaining freedom of choice is conflated with not caring about the environment. Many of us eat more than we need to to sustain health, and meat uses more resources than grains and vegetables, so perhaps we will be banned from eating meat next?

Having choice does not mean being irresponsible. We all have brains and intelligence to make our own decisions. Those who feel strongly either way have the choice to follow their own path without having others’ views imposed on them

I would like to see domestic appliances more durable and repairable but would not insist that cheap appliances are banned and denied those who choose them for their own reasons. 🙂

Elsewhere you have proposed keeping conventional cars out of city centres, so it’s not just me who feels that some control is needed. I have proposed that rather than offering multi-buy offers on fresh food, retailers should reduce the price instead.

I suppose we should get back to doggy bags. I almost always eat what I am given when I eat out. If it’s a large portion I will skip the pudding.

If companies want to promote buying more than one of something they can simply reduce the price of the item. In this day and age the only way to focus the minds of companies who for too long have helped create this food waste problem is with the stick of banning.

I do not object to using a doggy bag if I cannot finish a meal, particularly an expensive one and most restaurants do not object. I do think we should do away with 3 for 2 or BOGOF, as these just encourage spending, but not saving and when it comes to fruit and such like, it usually goes off before it can be eaten, such a waste. I also think we should be prepared to eat misshapen fruits or vegetables if they are not damaged at all, it just costs the farmer such a lot and is very wrong and wasteful. If the world economy goes the way it looks as though it might, we shall all be grateful to eat, never mind the shape!

I had always assumed that doggy bags were . . . for the dog! It never occurred to me that one would take home the left-overs to eat another day. We tend to anticipate restaurant meals and go out hungry so we finish our dinners. If anything is left on the side it is because we don’t like it, not because we are full-up but want to revisit our meal for seconds.

I am intrigued to know why Italy had laws stopping restaurants from donating to charities food that’s past its sell-by date. I don’t think there is any such restriction here [Katie presumably does mean ‘sell-by’ date and not ‘use-by’ date]. When I have been out and about in city centres early in the morning I have seen lorries collecting large blue drums containing food waste from restaurants and take-aways. I assume this is for reprocessing into other food products [don’t ask] – so is all uneaten restaurant food actually wasted?

At one time (maybe still) kitchen waste was used to fatten pigs. i hope good use is still made of it.

Looking at the variety of gourmet meals on offer in pouches for pooches and moggies I wonder if our furry friends might not turn their noses up at out left overs?

If we want to tackle food waste, perhaps we could impose a ban on such pretentious pet foods? 🙁

No longer, I’m afraid. Our farming neighbours told us some time ago that they can’t even feed their own waste food to their pigs. Whether this is an EU edict or merely the result of action by NUPO (National Union of Porcine Operatives) I don’t know, but we can’t even feed their pigs, now.

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I don’t relish the thought of spaghetti bolognaise in a doggy bag but maybe the remainder of an Italian pizza might be a better option!

I have always been a slow eater and am inclined to get too involved in conversation when eating out that I have been known, much to the annoyance of other diners, to be the last and only one still eating when everyone else has finished their meal and waiting for the next course to arrive, so I have left the remainder of the meal on the plate declaring I have had sufficient. Slow eaters apparently eat less anyway as it takes the brain 20 minutes to register and tell you when your stomach is full which means they put on less weight.

I much prefer lots of interesting small courses when eating out depending on the venue and the company I am with, so no, a doggy bag if it wasn’t included on the menu I wouldn’t ask for one 🙂

The first time I encountered the Doggy Bag it flashed though my mind to ask why carry a dog about in the first place? But spare food in shops and restaurants is wasteful, and not always an easily resolved situation. Many years ago a pal and I used to take part in Charity collections, which meant we were given a list of the major food retailers to cover each evening around 10 minutes before closing time to collect their ‘donations’. The problem we encountered was that we could only collect during the very limited time before they closed, and most of the major foot outlets closed at the same time. We might make two shops but never more, so what happened to their donations I have no idea.

I think if legislation were to be proposed regarding doggy bags then really the more practical approach would be to place statutory limits on serving sizes. For many reasons that will never happen, but Beryl’s astute observation regarding slow eating is important: slow eaters do feel satiated after having eaten less than gobblers, and places like Ramsey’s take around two and a half hours to serve a simple five course meal, so you’re losing your appetite, weight and the will to live by the time they’ve finished, the end result of which is that you’re healthier, Ramsey’s is wealthier and the dog hungrier. So wins all round, then 🙂

In the UK, the use of “doggy bags” is well established at Pizza Hut. In fact my experience is that they usually offer the facility to any customers who end up with unfinished pizzas.

In most other UK restaurants, I’d be reluctant to ask for a doggy bag – but, when the servings are limited to sensible portions of tasty food – there won’t be any leftovers.

Anna says:
8 August 2016

On Saturday I went to the Toby Carvery with 2 other people where they had two new meat on trial: half a duck and lamb. I said that I would like the duck and my daughter the lamb, but they looked too much. I was told “no problem I will box up what you cannot eat”. Well, we ended up having the ‘left over’ meat on Sunday (x3) with lovely fresh new vegetables and there were enough duck left over for another meal for at least two people!!!! I agree with who said that we should not serve such big portions in the first place, but if we must, then a doggy bag is welcome, as I really hate wasting good food.

The term doggy bag has unfortunate connotations for me. For years I’ve known them as the small plastic bags that responsible pet owners carry whenever they take their canine friend(s) for a walk.

I saw this article in the Evening Standard last night: http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/too-good-to-go-meet-the-app-creators-that-are-helping-london-restaurants-to-cut-down-on-waste-a3359626.html

It looks as though Too Good to Go is now up and running in London, where I live. I will definitely be giving it a try soon.