Doggie Bag Declined

I tweeted about this tale of waste over the weekend, but it’s just too ridiculous not to cover here, too.

The Consumerist tells the story of a woman (Jennifer) and her boyfriend out to eat at the somewhat upscale McCormick and Schmick’s chain. It’s happy hour, so their beers and burgers come at a discount. He doesn’t finish his burger and fries photo by stu_spivack via creative commonsand–good man–asks for a box to take it home.

Suspense mounts…or it would if the post’s title was different.

As you’d guess, he’s denied. Jennifer e-mails the manager and he responds:

It may not seem like much taking half a cheeseburger and fries home, but after many years of hosting a Happy Hour featuring food that is priced as a loss leader we have found that allowing any To Go food creates a multitude of problems.

The manager goes on to say that they’re afraid of people ordering lots of happy hour food with the intention of eating it later, at home. That’s a reasonable concern, but that fear shouldn’t apply when a customer wants to take home one item. Especially when it’s a half-pound burger–roughly two to three times the healthy serving size.

There’s also a communication breakdown here. When I hear “To Go” food, I think of ordering out, not taking home leftovers. While the restaurant does display “No To Go Food during Happy Hour” on its happy hour menu, that wouldn’t make me think I couldn’t get a doggie bag.

Based on the voting on The Consumerist, 73% think the restaurant was in the wrong. What’s your take on it? Either way, with 476 comments to date, it’s getting under some people’s skin.

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  1. Leslie
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    We have a pizza place here in Chicagoland called Kaisers. They have all you can eat pizza, but it’s not a pizza bar. You order what you think you can eat, but you can not take any leftovers home. You can continue to order more pizzas, but you have to wait for them to cook, so most people over-estimate what they will eat…then feel guilty if they don’t finish it…so they eat way too much to try and finish the pie. Crazy.

  2. Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Why don’t they just limit the number of loss leader items that can be purchased at a time, the same way grocery stores do? That makes the most sense to me.

  3. Posted March 15, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Leslie–You said it: crazy. Perfect metaphor for the American food system.

    Kristen–That makes waaay too much sense for it to happen. My guess is that they haven’t thought to limit the number of orders because that’s not what restaurants do. A compromise would be to let customers take home leftovers from one item.

  4. Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The best solution? Bring your own reusable container to slip the burger into.

  5. janes'_kid
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It is fairly commonplace for seniors to take Ziplocs to casino buffets and collect stuff to take home.

    As a skeptical and facetious old goat myself I would almost bet that the woman in the story was more indignant about having her request for a take home box rejected than she was at food waste.

  6. fireweed
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I always carry a piece of folded up foil just for this reason. It doesn’t take up much space and I wipe it off and reuse it lots of times…it also means I am not using the usual restaurant Styrofoam containers.

  7. Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Foil vs. reusable container–both are better than nothing, but which do you prefer? Compactness vs. ability to handle liquidy leftovers

    What about bringing take home containers into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Ethical? I can see both sides here.

  8. Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I sort of see the point about possible abuse if people can place outrageously large orders. But if you order a meal, and it’s brought to the table, and you have or will be paying for it, then I guess I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t get to take any leftover portion of it home with you. If you don’t take it with you, the restaurant is going to throw it away, so … what’s the problem.

  9. Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    While I can totally understand why restaurants with “all you can eat” menus don’t allow doggie bags, we’re talking about a half a burger from a bar menu here! I think the restaurant is way out of line. All the more reason to always keep a “to go” container in your bag! Or not go back to that restaurant!

  10. Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    My mother ALWAYS carried baggies with her when I was growing up. In later years, my brother would have a conniption when she tried to sneak leftovers into her baggies at a buffet. He would say that was stealing. She would say it’s not stealing if she couldn’t finish it, and he’d say she took too much on purpose. So that one is an ethical quandary. I have a humorous blog post about the baggie sitch:

  11. amyleigh
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Most policies are born from people trying to take advantage. Say a guest orders multiple items — what many would perceive as excessive — what would the response be if a server was expected to make a judgement call as to whether or not said guest was going to consume it all? That opens up a huge can of worms. The reason for the policy is that some guests will abuse the ‘deal’ as long as they’re permitted to do so. As a restaurant manager, I know that rules should be broken from time to time for the good of the guest; however, the slippery slope argument has a great amount of merit. If an exception is made for table 2, who couldn’t finish their burger, the guest at table 3 will ask why they can’t take their 6 items (ordered by one person) in a to-go container. Although it is easy to argue that there should be a happy medium, those ‘taking advantage’ guests will do just that as long as it is allowed. It’s unfortunate that this policy had to be implemented, but it is warranted & clearly printed on the menu.

  12. Neil
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I understand restaurants not wanting people to take advantage and needing some measure of control over this, but has the restaurant actually measured the cost of those trying to take advantage? As in, actually measured how much money and food is involved for those people over-ordering to take food home?

    I think of this situation as similar to when I am teaching and there may be cheating occurring on assignments or exams. I take reasonable steps to reduce the cheating (e.g., seating students every other seat, monitoring, no headphones etc.), but I am not going to pat down my students, demand that they never look up during an exam (I had a teacher who did this), and not allow them to talk to one another during assignment exercises to prevent ALL cheating. No doubt there has been the successful cheater, but they are relatively few in number–not enough for me to take more drastic measures.

    Perhaps this situation can be considered a push for more people to bring their own reusable containers for leftovers–like not providing plastic bags at the grocery store :]

  13. WilliamB
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    There’s a critical difference between an all you can eat buffet (per Jonathan above) or a bar that sells $.20 wings (per a comment at consumerist), and M&S’s burgers.

    At the buffet and the bar, the consumer is in charge of how much he gets. At M&S, the consumer is not (assuming he orders a single burger).

    Not only do I find Kristen’s suggestion of a limit on how much one can order at once, I’ve seen it in action. And at fancy restaurants, too, not just cheap ones. “To our customers: Please have a much [food] as you’d like. In order to keep the kitchen and service running smoothly, we ask that you order one dish at a time.” Or even: “All you can eat Alaskan King Crab, one crab at a time.”

    I agree with the point that the restuarant warned customers about no food to go … if the restaurant had been clear. I would think the note meant no take out also – a reasonable and common restriction on happy hour specials. I have *never* seen “no doggie bags” anywhere other than an all you can eat.

    I wonder if the policy is for all stores or just that one?

    One thing I would not do is take it out on the waitstaff. They are bound by the policy, they do not create it. It’s grossly impolite to punish them as if they did.

  14. Posted March 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    The restaurant is right. Unfortunately, there are people whose goal in life is to exploit others for their own benefit. They are in business to make money, not to feed the poor or to be exploited.

  15. Posted March 17, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Guzzo, I wouldn’t call taking home half of a burger exploiting anyone (or feeding the poor). I can see your point if someone orders a bunch of food. But not on one item.

    Has anyone heard of this policy at other McCormick and Schmick’s?

  16. Posted March 17, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Silly move on the part of the restaurant; people expect to be allowed to take a doggie bag; in other countries, it may not be a custom, but here in the States, it is ingrained in people’s habits, plus like you say, portions are huge! So, this is going to cost them in terms of lost sales.

  17. Chris G
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I think the main point is the crock of BS that this burger is a loss leader. Not in this restaurant. It might be cheaper than the rest of their menu or their normal price, but they’re not losing money on it. Just losing potential mark up on a regular priced one.

    I know the why they have this policy and understand it. I just do not agree with it.

  18. Posted March 18, 2010 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    I LOVE the McCormick and Schmick’s happy hour menu. (My husband and I actually ate there on the day we married.) Their menu is crazy cheap, and I can see that they probably had to make that policy defensively. However, I would imagine that a server would be able to use his or her judgement if someone had ordered a reasonable amount rather than over ordered.

    Perhaps that server was just having a crappy day. It happens to us all.

    Food waste bad, burger and a beer good.

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  19. Posted March 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow, seriously? I’ll remember to bring my own container if I ever go there for happy hour.

    I will admit to having stolen napkins to wrap food before when it wasn’t a situation where you were allowed to take home a doggie bag (but where I’ve had food remaining on my plate that would only be thrown away). If it were my half-burger, I’d have stolen a napkin to transport it.

  20. B-Girl
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I totally understand not being allowed to take home leftovers from all-you-can-eat places or 20-cents-per-wing nights as these are really easy to abuse on purpose; but leftovers of a burger and fries meal are not something where extra was taken on purpose. If a customer orders one normal meal, they should be allowed to take the remains home. Had the couple ordered multiple meals and asked to have a whole meal wrapped up, I would understand them being told no, as that would be going against the “no take-out” rule.

  21. B-Girl
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I tend to not be a big fan of anywhere where you have to eat more than a normal healthy portion to get your value for your dollar – all-you-can-eat, so-many-cents-each-on-certain-nights, and super-huge servings of items that don’t reheat well (1/2 lb burgers are excessive) or are sold where it is not likely that you can take your leftovers and reheat them (vacation areas, malls…).

  22. uhf26
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    what’s so wrong about people eating at home? they’re still buying your food at the price you set! Also, it’s an excuse that they are worried that people will order lots of food and just take it home. You would know if they order a ton of food. It’s on the bill. Also, the customer paid for the food. They own that food now. Now you want to impose stipulations on where you can eat your food? That is bullshit. Doesn’t that sound a lot like phone companies, isp’s, and government? Restaurant owners are dicks these days.

  23. MC
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Many months later (Thanks StumbleUpon)…..

    Well they could double the price of the burger and let you take it home. Or sell it at a LOSS, aka; you get an item discounted to a point that benefits you more than the restaurant) to generate interest in their bar (and the food they offer as a concept). I agree the policy should be allowing servers/bartenders to make judgment calls however as a couple people pointed out; the policy was probably made after-the-fact to prevent and incident from reoccurring.

    As far as McCormick and Schmick’s policy, I don’t work for them but have spent my career at a host of other upscale restaurants, to me the underlying issue is “Location.” In an upscale shopping center at the edge of a city or high-end suburb, the rules probably not necessary. Downtown in a mixed-income city or similar demographic… you’ll get burned real quick.

    It’s not a policy born out of greed or spite, it’s born out of self preservation.

    Some of you people up-in-arms over this have clearly never eaten anywhere outside of an Applebee’s styled restaurant and thus assume companies are immediately the evil-doer in the food service industry the moment they don’t comply with a guest request. A restaurant is like any other business, their number one goal is forward their concept and sales of product while pleasing the consumer. They don’t want to create abrasive situations and hostile environments and are willing to usually go above-and-beyond to please you. They try out policies that are popular and unpopular alike, just like any other business. If I had a guess, this probably isn’t an issue at that location anymore. People would have a much more pleasant dining experience if they took the time to not be solely self-focused about their situation and understand exactly what is happening and why it is happening and realize none of it is ill-intended and try to reach an amicable solution before writing it off as unfair treatment.