For many diners in the UK, it’s a rarely heard request for us to take our leftovers from a restaurant, home. However, in the US, doggy bags are part of eating out, which is something people are campaigning for in Britain.
In Britain, we usually feel embarrassed asking for a doggy bag but there’s no shame asking in the US, where they are freely handed out by the waiting staff as part of the service or openly offered on a menu.
Charlie Wolf, an American broadcaster said “We Americans don’t have the airs and graces of Europeans.”
According to a recent survey by the SRA (Sustainable Restaurant Association) showed that 24% wrongly believed that doggy bags were against health and safety policies and 25% of diners were too embarrassed to ask for boxes.
The SRA are starting a new campaign to encourage diners to ask for doggy bags and push restaurants to make their customers feel more comfortable about it.
The campaign is called the Too Good to Waste, which will see 25,000 biodegradable boxes sent to around 50 participating restaurants in London including chains Leon and Wahaca and the Michelin starred Quilon.
With the rising cost of restaurant supplies, commercial restaurant insurance and hiring staff, the SRA are hoping it will reduce the amount of wastage in the UK as a typical restaurant throws away 21 tonnes of food every year, which, according to the government’s advisory body Wrap, is the weight of three double decker buses.
In 2009, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was one of several high profile chefs who backed a supermarkets campaign for takeaway boxes to become the norm.
It has been an uphill struggle for Britons to warm to the idea of asking for a doggy bag.
Colin Spencer, food historian, who has never asked for a doggy bag, says “It’s a shyness about appearing to be greedy. There’s a kind of nervousness which I think is quite natural.” He also explains that waste has been a symbol of nobility and wealth throughout history, where in the Middle Ages, leftovers were fed to the kitchen staff, poor and beggars.
Etiquette expert, Liz Brewer, said that she remembers being told as a child, to leave some food on the plate for “Mr Manners”.
She says, “Although it may be a reflection of the fact you obviously thoroughly enjoyed the dish, scraping the last morsel from the plate is unnecessary.”
However, she also adds that, “Common sense should tell them that food should not be wasted and that asking for a doggy bag makes sense.”
Wolf says that “There’s nothing embarrassing about asking for a doggy bag.” He remembers how his mum used to take home uneaten bread rolls and also how she made omelettes with the leftovers from their favourite Chinese restaurant.
Wolf states that, “We don’t want to see waste. There’s a sense of working hard for your money and wanting value for your dollar.”
According to the latest statistics from retail analysts, Mintel, the UK is battling against an unstable economy and changes in disposable income, despite the long-term growth of the eating out sector in the UK.
So perhaps the economic climate might force Britons into trying out take-home boxes, which many restaurants already offer including Waterside Inn in Bray, which has three Michelin stars and noodle chain, Wagamama.
In Britain, a doggy bag can be mixed up with a pooper scooper, which handles a different type of waste altogether, so maybe there needs to be a name change!