Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.
I read an article about how to reduce plastic usage and one of the suggestions was to bring your own containers to a restaurant in case you get leftovers. Is this tacky? Is it acceptable?
As someone with a strong hatred of the noise Styrofoam makes when it scrapes against itself, I understand not wanting to use takeout containers. (Just thinking about that foam-scratching sound makes me shiver.) There are recycled to-go clam shells now that are made of waxed cardboard and bamboo and plant fibers, but I’m sure the Greenpeace folks will still tell you that reusable is the best option.
In all but the nicest restaurants, I don’t see how this would be considered tacky. You might get a raised eyebrow—I’ve never encountered this before, so it might be the first time other servers have heard the request—but I wouldn’t think it was wrong for a person to ask this.
Let’s think through the logistics: If you’re in a casual restaurant where they ask you to box up your own leftovers—a move I personally find tacky, if we’re being honest—then it’s hardly a problem. I imagine you could just tell them you have your own Tupperware and save them a trip to the kitchen. If it’s a place that’s going to box leftovers for you, then I still don’t see why it would be trouble to hand over the Tupperware as they’re taking your plate away. Maybe the restaurant would even be glad to save the three cents in packaging? As long as you’re not asking them to fit half a roast chicken in a container the size of a cell phone, I don’t anticipate many problems. Of course, a restaurant could wonder what the health department might say about a “foreign” container coming into the kitchen, which might be the only snafu here.
I think the only place I personally would feel uncomfortable doing this is a restaurant that doesn’t typically do leftovers at all—one of those really, really fancy places that would have a tough time boxing up a sea scallop soufflé or something. (Plus those places never give you enough food to have leftovers, anyway.)
If you’re looking for encouragement and camaraderie in your foam-free mission, look no further than the Take Out Without campaign. It’s an awareness campaign, one tenet of which is to “ReTakeYour Own Reusables,” or bring “your own containers, straws, cutlery, mugs, bottles, and even your own bag” to restaurants. You’ll find you’re in great company there.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.