Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I take the extra condiment packets from restaurants?

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Photo: Jeff Greenberg (Getty Images), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty 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.

Hi Salty, It is common for places like Cracker Barrel to bring stuff to your table with your meal. They bring packages of butter, jam, and if you order pancakes they bring 2-4 tiny bottles of syrup. I have always wondered, what happens with the stuff you don’t even touch? Is the restaurant required to throw away everything for sanitary reasons?

If that is the case I would prefer to take them home and use them. I have done it sometimes but I always feel like I’m stealing cute little bottles of syrup from the restaurant.

Thanks, Luis

Hey Luis,

At the restaurant where I work, if a packet of butter or creamer or whatever isn’t opened, we’re told to pick those up and put them back in the main supply. Sure, each packet costs the restaurant, what, a third of a cent? But owners love to remind us that every penny counts, and no one likes to waste perfectly good food. Now obviously, if anything looks like it’s been opened or handled or dirty, it goes straight to the trash—easier for us anyway.

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Hey, that’s just the way we do it, though. So I called up Cracker Barrel HQ and talked to a very nice gal named Heidi and she sorted it out their stance for me. She said that, first off, restaurants have to follow local health department codes. Those codes do allow Cracker Barrel restaurants to reuse things like sugar packets, creamer, etc. when the seal is unbroken and the item is in good condition.

But just because that’s the way it’s supposed to work doesn’t mean I don’t see bussers get lazy and just dump unopened jam packets and Sweet’n Lows in the trash. When condiments are in a caddy, it’s easy for the bussers to just pick those up and set them aside, but when we’re busy, yeah, sometimes the bussers are just going to sweep everything—napkins, straw wrappers, unopened butter packets—into the garbage bin. It’s not that we hate the environment, we’re just too busy to pick through every bit of your leftovers searching for one pad of butter.

Restaurants don’t make you pay a la carte for coffee creamer cups or syrup or whatever because they’re considered part of the meal. So go ahead and take them home—within reason. If you didn’t open the little syrup bottle, I highly doubt a police offer is going to slap handcuffs on you the minute you drop it in your bag. Ditto an individual jar of ketchup. But if I start to see you stuffing 10 packets of jam, four syrups, the entire butter dish, and the napkins into your fanny pack, well, I might pipe up. We’d all like to reduce waste, and if you’re jazzed about using a mini bottle of the Cracker Barrel syrup later, I don’t see why anyone would stop you.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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