Doggie Bag Dilemma: When is it acceptable to bring home leftovers?

by epi on August 17, 2012

Q: My coworkers and I  get invitations to many fine restaurants from vendors frequently. The question is, when being taken to dinner is it proper to take the leftovers home? I was always taught when someone else is buying that it is not proper.  Several coworkers not only take their own leftovers home but ask for others as well.

A: When you have food left over that you don’t want to go to waste, it’s usually acceptable to ask for a doggy bag. When not to request one? First, at most business meals. (If you’re dining with a business associate who is a close friend, it’s fine to request a bag if you’re splitting the bill– but if s/he’s the host, leave leftover food behind.) Second, at a wedding reception or other function.

It is never appropriate to ask for other people’s leftovers to take home, unless they are your intimate family members.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Country Girl August 17, 2012 at 4:37 am

Forgive my naivete, but can someone please clarify for me the reason for not taking home one’s leftovers if a business associate hosts you? Is it that they will perceive you as cheap? Or they will think you took advantage of them by ordering too much? Something else? Being that I have a fairly hearty appetite I rarely have leftovers, but I am curious. :)

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Chocobo August 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Country Girl, I think it is partially for both the reasons you stated. You may be perceived as taking advantage of their hospitality and cheap at the same time. There is something that seems a little weak about taking home your leftovers for later, and an image of weakness just isn’t good business strategy.

You really should be concentrating on the primary reason for the meal, the business at hand, rather than the food. Anything that is distracting from the meeting, like requesting special orders that take a long time or doggie bags, is just not in good form and makes the business seem secondary to food. I often will get a salad at business lunches just because they are easy to eat, less filling, and not that distracting (e.g. no digging into finger foods, no dangerous sauces to stain my attire, no awkward sandwich bites, no risk of underdone or overdone meat that needs to be sent back). Maybe people think I’m some sort of diet fiend as a result, but that’s probably better than them remembering how the catsup squished out the sides of my hamburger onto my face.

I know it stinks to waste food, but when it comes to impressing one’s clients or colleagues, it’s probably best to just leave it.

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Mariette's Back to Basics August 17, 2012 at 10:14 am

Guess we should start at the beginning. If it is a business meal, the focus should not be on ordering a lot of food (too much for eating all) but on the relaxed business meeting so to speak. It is a friendly gesture by those vendors and it should be treated that way. One can always order a starter for that sake and thus being able to handle it. Personally I hate to see any food going to be wasted. As international consultants we’ve traveled the world and have therefore seen lots of poverty, mainly hunger. The USA is a very bad example in that regard for leaving way too much on their plates! But as said it starts with ordering. If you know that portions are that huge, try sharing with a colleague and request two plates. That is far better and leaves also a very disciplined impression to the generous host!
This was a worthwhile subject for posting!
Kindest regards,
Mariette’s Back to Basics

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Chocobo August 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I understand offering to share with a close colleague at an informal lunch, maybe. But I can’t possibly imagine offering to share with a client or vendor, how unprofessional. As much as I do not like wasting food, it is not worth appearing unprofessional or shocking one’s business associates.

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Elizabeth August 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I agree wholeheartedly. It isn’t good to appear extravagant, but you also don’t want to come off as a penny-pincher either.

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Country Girl August 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Thank you all for your thoughts. Again, I’m not disagreeing with the advice just wondering what the implications were as the only experience I’ve had with this was on the opposing end at an expensive business lunch with an associate. As Chocobo you mention, I typically order what I know I will finish, but on this restaurant there were no small options, so I’d ordered an open faced crab sandwich that came with a salad. I had a small part of the crab sandwich left over and a bit of the salad (salad covered with dressing and crab covered in mayo) and my associate nearly insisted I bring my leftovers home after I turned down having it boxed by the waitress. His insisting made me feel as though he thought I was being wasteful of what he’d paid for. So the opposing implications are kind of interesting to me.

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Elizabeth August 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm

CG, that’s really weird. Perhaps the guy has a weird depression-era mentality for some reason. I would not like someone to insist like that. Most people don’t like salad that’s been sitting around dressed for hours, and how was he to know if you would have access to a fridge anytime soon? Plus, there are people who just don’t like leftovers. But, for every person like that guy, there’s probably another one who would think it odd if you took it home. What can you do? I would just proceed according to my own inclination. If I had a big portion of something left that would keep, I would take it. Anything else I would leave.

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