Can a fine-dining guest bring their own plastic to-go containers?

Plastic containers
It's OK for guests, even at fine-dining establishments, to bring their own to-go containers, Advice Guy says. | Photo: Shutterstock


Dear Advice Guy,

One of my guests brought in her own Tupperware containers and packed up everything on the table—from the bread basket to a half-eaten pork chop. We are a fine-dining restaurant, though not a stuffy one. Do you think I should have a policy against this?

– Manager


I spend a lot of my time fighting against food waste. Food waste is bad for the planet, the bottom line and employee morale. About one-third of food that is produced is never eaten. Estimates are that between 8% to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the effort put forth in growing, harvesting, transporting, storing and discarding food that is never eaten. It is heartbreaking to see skillfully and thoughtfully produced food end up in the trash, especially where it is preventable.

My answer would be different if you were a buffet, but for an a la carte environment, not only do I not think you should have a policy against guests bringing their own reusable containers for leftovers, I would recommend a policy to encourage it! By bringing reusable containers, your guest may be inclined to order more food, knowing none is going to waste. Further, you are saving on the financial and environmental costs of a single-use take-out container for a “doggy bag.” And you are modeling sustainable practices—treating your food as precious. From a food-safety perspective, once the food hits the table, it is in the guest’s domain. While I would be reluctant to fill a guest’s containers in the kitchen, there is no problem with them doing this at their table.

Be sure that this guest’s creative solution for their leftovers does not point to a bigger problem of overproduction or wasteful practices in your operation. The best method of reducing food waste is prevention—some ideas include serving complimentary items like bread on request or encouraging your servers to ask if the guest would like these items; serving smaller portions or using smaller plates in buffet or all-you-care-to-eat environments, letting guests know they can always request more; and offering a range of portion sizes.

More on food waste prevention and minimization here.