Old Doggie Bag, New Tricks


Recently during a girls night out at a local restaurant, a friend I’ll call “B” asked for “a little itty-bitty to-go container.” The server looked puzzled, and so was I: All of our plates had already been collected.
     My eyes scanned the table. A small bowl containing maybe a tablespoon of salsa was all that remained. But not for long: B was spooning the chunky red stuff into her itty-bitty container moments later.
     There’s been a lot of talk in the restaurant world lately about the popularity of doggie bags. It’s not a new phenomenon but rather a case of an old dog doing new tricks in these tight-fisted times. As a frequent eater-outer, I’ve often found myself fretting that I would irritate my server—or, worse, appear too miserly—by asking for a box for a small sliver of meat or a handful of fries.
     But after ringing up a few restaurant folks and asking for their thoughts on the matter, I came away with two realizations: No, they don’t have an issue with doggie bags. And, yes, more people are requesting them these days.
     At Crepeville in midtown, server Galen Hunter has noticed customers taking home potato crumbs or a smudge of sour cream. Less waste is a good thing, in his view. “I’ve been throwing quite a bit less food away,” he says.
     Waste not, want not is a common view in the restaurant world, says Michele Whitnack, a bartender at Rubicon Brewing Company, also in midtown.
     “Most people who work in restaurants hate to see food go to waste, so we’re happy when people want to take it with them,” Whitnack says. Unfortunately, she notes, a lot of boxes never make it out the door. “About 50 percent of the time, people forget the boxes and leave them behind.”
     At midtown’s Michelangelo’s restaurant, portions run large, so a high volume of doggie bags is nothing new, according to chef/owner Lauren Barton. But these days, some customers are taking it to another level. “We’ve had people ask us to put the bread in with the leftovers,” she says. “We’ve never had that happen before.”
     But it’s all good, in Barton’s book. She’s even found a way to turn the doggie bag trend into a relationship-building tool, offering advice on what to do with leftovers. “We’ll tell people, ‘If you have a few pieces of meat left over, or a little pasta, you can use that as a basis for a frittata,’” says Barton. Maybe, she says, this will prompt thoughts of Michelangelo’s when the leftovers are being used—and maybe, just maybe, it will lead to repeat business.
     For their sake, I hope it does. Meanwhile, there’s no shame in asking for a doggie bag—even if it’s only for a smidge of salsa.