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Doggy bags for saving leftovers in restaurants are extremely common in the USA, especially as portions sizes are usually too large to consume in one meal.

But I have read in various forums that it isn't socially acceptable to ask for a box for leftovers in France, and that some restaurants don't even have take-home boxes available. Is this true? If so, are there alternatives to having uneaten food thrown away and wasted? What do the locals do if they can't finish their meal?

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    This is true for most of Europe, as far as I know. At the very least it's fairly uncommon in UK and Italy as well. – UncleZeiv Dec 3 '12 at 16:38
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    28-year old Belgian here - last week was the first time in my life I ever asked for a "doggy bag", and only because I'd seen it on TV and thought I'd try it once. The waiter was real friendly and went out of their way to accommodate me, but one could easily see they were not used to doing so very often - they didn't have any special boxes or bags. Still, asking after you finished can never hurt - and if they do, a tip (or atleast dessert+coffee) is appropriate. If they don't, well, ask for the bill, pay it and don't tip. Tipping is not expected in Belgium – Konerak Dec 3 '12 at 19:15
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    It would be considered very inappropriate in most coutries other than the USA. – R-traveler Dec 3 '12 at 20:53
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    Portions should be manageable in French restaurants so usually people don't "waste" anything :) A typical French meal in a restaurant would consist in a starter, a main dish and a dessert, but when you're getting full, you're just skipping the dessert and don't end up throwing away anything. (Or if you're not too hungry, just don't go for the 3 courses). – Fanny H. Dec 4 '12 at 2:02
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    @R-traveler it's common practice in Canada as well. – Vince Dec 4 '12 at 7:40
47

As a French native, I discovered this practice in North America. I never asked for a doggy bag in France, nor have I seen someone do it. So it is likely restaurants don't even have boxes.

You can obviously take out food from fast-food restaurants but for regular restaurants I don't think it is correct behaviour. I usually finish my dishes, I only order what I can eat. I believe that is what most people do. Sharing your dish with your friends/family is also common practice. You can still ask to have a small portion if you eat really little, I did not see this that much but I guess the waiter will do what he can.

You can still try to ask, if you are not in a very classy restaurant or a restaurant you go to every day, the worst you risk is an awkward atmosphere when the waiter says no.

EDIT: There is a recent article from the New York Times on the topic, Lyon (a city in France) and the Rhône-Alpes region introduced the doggie bag (called "gourmet bag") in order to reduce food waste. The article describes how the French have a hard time using it. I think it develops an interesting argument that in France, eating out is not seen as "feeding", but more as enjoying a meal, for the fine food and for the place: "Dining out is thus a rare experience, to be enjoyed in situ, not bundled up in plastic foam containers and reheated in the microwave.".

So if you go to Lyon (and you should go ;)), you should be able to ask for a "gourmet bag" without the waiter being too surprised.

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    Anyway, in classy restaurants, portion sizes tend to be too small rather than too large. – mouviciel Dec 3 '12 at 16:02
13

I live in Paris in France, and I never saw anyone doing that, so I'll advise you to avoid it, because you'll probably create quite an awkward atmosphere, even in a "not very classy" restaurant.

11

Don't even try it, it may send an already obnoxious Parisien waiter over the edge. He'll likely pretend to not understand what you're saying.

European portion sizes tend to be manageable for most normal people unless you go to an American themed 'restaurant' that engages in the likes of rib eating competitions.

  • 3
    Funny, but I've never had an obnoxious waiter in Paris. But here in the states, I've had some lazy ones that hide out in the back, away from the summons of a customer. – boatcoder Mar 4 '14 at 23:02
  • In my experience (from UK) in France the portion sizes tend to verge in the other direction. I know it marks me out as a barbarian, but if ever I'm invited out for a posh meal in France (which always taste amazing), I usually make sure I know where a late night McD's is for later in the evening when I'm hungry again, and I'm not a particularly big guy. – Dan Sheppard May 28 '18 at 22:01
  • @boatcoder In US English "obnoxious" means "doesn't behave like an American". – DJClayworth Jan 9 at 20:51
8

The concept of ”doggy bag“ doesn't exist in most of Europe. It's a North American thing. Why would a restaurant provide boxes for people to take food home? Restaurants serve food for eating on the premises. Furthermore portions in France are typically a lot smaller than in the US, for a number of reasons: people are smaller on average; you aren't supposed to have food left over; quality over quantity; you're supposed to have room left for desert.

France doesn't even have a word for “doggy bag”. Québec as emporte-restes, but if you use this term in France you'll probably get a blank look. Since a few years ago, the government has tried to promote “gourmet bag”, with little success. The practice is neither popular with French restaurant owners (yet another constraint, and will people now expect to get bigger portions so that they have leftovers?) nor with French restaurant goers (if I go to a restaurant, it isn't to get leftovers).

This is slowly changing, however. Even though the concept isn't very popular, it's at least becoming known. Furthermore it's getting more traction because it's environment-friendly at negligible cost. It should become a lot more widespread over the next few years because starting on July 1st, 2021, restaurants will have to provide doggy bags by law. Until then, you can ask the waiter, explain if necessary, and they may or may not accommodate you.

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    There is a law in the Netherlands that restaurants have to provide appropriate packaging for left overs and assist people in taking home the left overs. And it is not new, I restaurant I used to use in the 1980's did it regularly and the first time I came across it was in the 1970's when my siblings brought left over pizza home, restaurant offered. So not just North America. – Willeke May 28 '18 at 20:21
  • @Willeke Source on the law would be very informative. – Patrick Hofman May 29 '18 at 8:41
  • Sorry, said it from memory and I can not find the law in a search. – Willeke May 29 '18 at 15:44
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    @hippietrail Amended to “Europe”. Is the concept commonly known in Asia? – Gilles Jan 10 at 8:44
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    @Gilles: Here's a question on the topic on Quora where it seems it's definitely common in Taiwan and Thailand. People also mention India and the Philippines. – hippietrail Jan 11 at 2:46
3

It can happens, but most of the time, the waiter (or more probably the owner) will propose it to you.
Tell them it was very good (they will ask), but it is a shame that you are stuff and can't finish.
If it's possible, they should get the meaning, and propose it to you.

It happens multiple times with my parents. My parents even got some bones for the dog (the real doggy bag^^).
It happens mostly in independent, family-owned restaurant.
Additionally, i don't think I remember it happens in Paris, or in big cities, it was more frequently in country restaurant.
It never happened in Branded restaurant.

My advice : feel it before asking.
If you have a good feeling with the Waiter, the owner, if they are not overbooked, if you talked with them (in french, in their native language, or in your own language if they seems fluent in it).
if you make them laugh, if you learn about them and if they learn about you/your country.
Basically, if you befriend them, you can go (and yes, it is "allowed" to "befriend" the waiter/owner of a restaurant in France, that's the French spirit).

PS : for obvious reason it is FORBIDDEN in all-you-can-it buffet (and yet, I'm sure you can get it in reasonable amount if done properly).

3

I just tried asking for a box in a pizza and tapas restaurant in La Plagne, France. It was no problem at all, worked just like in the US. They brought me a pizza box for the leftover pizza. Maybe this is different than other places in France because La Plagne gets a lot of tourists -- but it's never unreasonable to ask to take food with you that you paid for. You can ask, they will figure it out.

1

Honestly I don't think it's so uncommon to ask for a doggy bag also in Europe, in my case in Italy.

I saw it a lot of times, and no problem at all for the restaurant to give you a box for the food you paid for and that will be garbage anyway. Usually the portions are smaller than in the US, so less likely you will ask for a doggy bag, but if that's the case I don't see any problem in asking for it.

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