Turning take-home leftovers into the new dining trend

National restaurant chains such as PizzaExpress are supporting the Mail on Sunday’s campaign to make taking home leftovers a normal part of eating out.

According to charity Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) hospitality firms throw away the equivalent of 1.3 billion meals a year, a third of which stems from uneaten food ordered by diners.

Giving customers the option of a “doggy bag” has been commonplace in the USA for decades, while in France it became compulsory in July for restaurants to provide recyclable containers to customers who request them for unfinished dishes to actively reduce food waste.

In addition to reducing food waste, there are many other advantages about this practice. Juliane Caillouette-Noble, managing director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) says “Firstly, it communicates to customers that staff and the business they work for are thinking both about waste reduction and their customers. Secondly, it raises awareness among consumers about the value of food. Thirdly, it prevents plate waste going in the bin, which comes with a hefty waste collection charge. And lastly, it can highlight for restaurant staff the scale of surplus food which can prompt menu changes and adaptations to portion sizes.”

Juliane’s advice for introducing this service is to train staff to ask customers if they enjoyed their meal and if there are leftovers on the plate, whether they would like to take them home. When implementing a leftover policy, operators should consider the type of container they will be using. Juliane says “Use a recyclable cardboard box with a lining of baking parchment. Customers can easily take this home, remove the food before popping the lining into the general waste and the box into the recycling bin. For less transportable dishes such as soup, recyclable plastic containers are a pragmatic option. Ideally all containers should be provided with simple disposal signage. These can be added to any instructions about how to store, when to eat and how to heat the leftovers. Increasingly, more people now carry their own containers in anticipation of taking home leftovers.”

Staff engagement is key to the success of this initiative. As Juliane says “Front of house teams will really benefit from a briefing about the impact of food waste and simple ways to reduce it. How to engage customers in a conversation about their meal and whether they’d like to take home leftovers should definitely be part of this. Get this conversation right and there’s the potential for more open communication between front and back of house about what items are being left on plates.”

At PizzaExpress, although there is nothing formal written into staff training covering ‘leftovers’ as yet, a spokesperson for the chain says “We’re going to add it to strengthen the message. Delicious pizza should never be wasted and this initiative helps prevent that.”

Paul Foxon, owner of Foxden, a British burger restaurant in London’s Fulham, has noticed that customers taking home leftovers is becoming common practice. “Our staff aren’t specifically trained, but will ask customers if they would like to take their leftovers home at the end of a meal. Taking food home reduces food waste which is important to us,” he says.

Foxden also operates as a takeaway, so it always has doggy bags and takeaway packaging on hand. “We use biodegradable packaging and brown paper bags to offer a sustainable way for the customer to dispose of the packaging,” he adds.