The Doggy Bag Dilemma

Diners unable to possibly fit that last delicious portion into already happy tummies may want their leftovers parcelled up to enjoy later, sometimes much later… perhaps even too much later!

The idea of the doggie bag came into popular use in the 1940’s when wasting food was a sin and belts were pulled so tight that people fed table scraps to their pets rather than buying off-cuts of meat or expensive tinned foods. To help with the war-effort, eateries offered the leftover bones and scraps to diners for their pets. The “doggie bag” was born.

A good idea catches on. Why does it have to be just Rover who gets leftovers? Surely since the food was intended for us, we are entitled to it. Should the diner not get to finish everything they purchased?

It seems to depend on where in the world you dine as to how comfortable diners and restaurants are with the notion of the doggie bag. In Australia, we seem to be hearing this delightful offer much less often. Is it time to revive it? What prevents the offering or the asking?

A few people wonder if there are laws in Australia preventing the use of the doggie bag. There are no such laws. There are, however, unspoken, fears that many cafes and restaurants are loath to risk, like the potential of food poisoning from badly stored leftovers and whispers about salmonella and campylobacter. It is impossible for the business to stop poor handling once a dish has left the building.

The diner must be aware of the providers’ concerns. The food qualities will be different once it has been refrigerated then (probably!) microwaved. A suggestion is have included a label on the lid of the container, advising customers of the best way to preserve the safety and quality of the meal, with a friendly ‘interrogation’ from the waiter, with a few questions to ensure that the diner isn’t doing more shopping and leaving the doggy bag on the dash of the car in the sun. Duty done and happy diner leaves with tonight’s dinner ready to reheat and served on toast!

It’s also something less tangible. A dish set before a diner has a history and a meaning. It has qualities that testify to the quality of the kitchen, the skill of the chef, and the business offering it. Once food leaves the premises, it is out of the control of the creators and servers. It will look a lot less delectable than it did. There is pride in the quality and appeal of their meals.

On the flipside, that delicious meal that just cannot be finished ends up being wasted. To many, still, this is a shame and unnecessary. Once food was a precious commodity, prepared and eaten with appreciation and thus the doggie bag reinstates this importance.

To ask for a doggie bag is a complement. It’s a warm, sweet gesture that says, “I really enjoyed that meal and I want to be allowed to lick the plate in the most dignified and polite way possible – to do it at home”. It is a goodwill agreement between the establishment and the customer.

If we are to value food and good meals of which diners want every last bit, it is not to be found in throwing away the half-finished meal. It is to be wise about how to give customers their doggy bag in the safest way that will increase the hospitable reputation of the business as a purveyor of good food with a social conscience.

With responsible pet ownership on the increase, more people than ever are taking their dogs with them when they go out to eat. Encourage diners with their doggy companions to stop by your café by providing:

  • A bowl of clean water
  • Dog biscuits for sale
  • Doggy-chinos
  • Free Schmakos

Check out this “Puppy Love” article in the Sydney Telegraph.

And this article about dog-friendly pubs in Melbourne.