French Diners Doing It Doggy (bag) Style

The humble doggy bag, so long ridiculed and despised by French diners is now a firm feature of the French gastronomic landscape. According to this morning’s RTL main radio news bulletin, since January 1st of this year, all restaurants have to offer their customers a doggy bag option to take home their unfinished food if the diners so desire.

Nothing about consumer rights in this, it is actually part of a government drive to curb food wastage.

Of course no one is forcing restaurateurs to foist a doggy bag on their customers, restaurant owners though must at least have the required containers, recipients, boxes, bags and bottles etc to meet doggy bag requests.

Why are the French so hard on doggy bags? It only seems right that if you have not finished what is on your plate, and you have paid for it, then you should be allowed to take it home. So this works for pizzas, burgers, kebabs and such like, but what about Boeuf Bourgignon, or unfinished lobster or anything vaguely meaty and gastronomic served in a sauce?

In my experience, when it comes to food French kids are raised “old school; meaning that you have to finish what is on your plate and if you are not sure to finish something then just don’t take it in the first place. Of course this last option goes firmly against that other “old school” maxim “it’s good to eat a little bit of everything.”

“But I don’t like cabbage,” groans the little kid as Gran dollops a serving of stinky gooey slop on the child’s plate.

“How do you know you don’t like it? You’ve never tried” replies Gran

“I have tried cabbage and I don’t like it,” protests junior.

“Well eat just a little. It’s good for you.” And gran continues to slap out the green slop.

“Mum and dad would never do this” mumbles the vexed kid darkly under his breath.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – as the saying goes, so by well- meaning elders serving up greens, we are merely causing even more unnecessary food waste.

The most flagrant food waste happens in school canteens. There is the chef, obliged to serve up “healthy” meals for several hundred kids. The kitchen crew have got to prepare and cook in triple quick time before the lunchtime rush, so, you can’t be tender with veg – it is death by boiling, and as for meat – it is the cheapest cuts all cooked to the same leathery level. You want a bloody steak? You can just f*** off and get it elsewhere.

All canteen food is always pretty awful, and in many schools I have worked in, parents pay their hard earned cash to buy their kids school lunches, the kids feel obliged to eat, but they don’t eat, they just take the plate and throw everything in the dustbin. I call this “cutting out the middle man.”

I’m not sure if school or workplace canteens are obliged to offer the doggy bag option to their “customers”, but I wonder how parents would react if their kids brought home a plastic container full of limp watery veg and leathery steak?

Would you bring a doggy bag home from your workplace?

Doggy bags in restaurants? Why not? But then to avoid the doggy bag, just don’t order so much in the first place or simply serve smaller (and cheaper) portions.

What about wine though? I suppose it is feasible that Parisian diners might bring home a tastefully wrapped gourmet package in the guise of a doggy bag, but as for wine … if you couldn’t quite finish the Margaux or the St Estephe, we’ll get the wine waiter to pour the rest in a plastic bottle and you can take it home. NO! You can’t just “decant” a fine wine into an empty plastic mineral water bottle, but you don’t want to be carrying home that re-corked glass bottle on the Métro, despite the quality of the nectar inside, people might take you for a wino; besides it is illegal to drink from bottles in public view. St Estephe or not, what happens if you get collared on suspicion that you’ve been necking your wine on the street like some vulgar “alkie”?

I am sure this being France, that the nation’s restaurateurs will reinvent or revamp the doggy bag into some new and stylish gourmet essential? Pretty soon we won’t go to restaurants for the quality of what they serve on our plates, we will go for the quality of the doggy bag, I guess some restaurants might even come up with a special “Doggy Bag menu” for those hard pressed diners who don’t have time to eat their cheese or desert course: eat your main course in the restaurant and get a doggy desert to go at half price!

Of course, once you get home, the doggy bag is only going to sit in the fridge for a few days until you trash it anyway.