“My friends and I are running late to a party at a bar in SoHo. Would you mind wrapping up these leftovers and holding them here for me overnight? I live nearby and will pick them up tomorrow afternoon.”
It’s not often that a question regarding a restaurant’s food comes as a total surprise to an experienced server, much less one that leaves her completely flummoxed. Especially in New York City, a seasoned waitstaffer has usually heard it all before. And yet that’s the exact position that my friend put our server in last Friday night at a popular restaurant in New York City.
In fact, the unique nature of my friend’s doggy bag–storage request took even me aback. And I’ve heard a good number of unusual food and drink queries in my four years as an editor here at Food Republic. It left me genuinely stumped — I had no idea how the server would ultimately respond, and I highly doubted that there was an existing process in place for such a situation.
Doggy bags are, of course, a long-standing and common practice at most establishments. (Heck, in France, waste-watching lawmakers want to make it the norm.) Save for self-service venues and perhaps some fine-dining institutions, it’s become almost routine for servers to ask patrons if they’d like to take any remaining food to go. But for these patrons to then ask the restaurant to hold the leftovers overnight? That’s a whole different ballgame. Is my friend a genius to think of this innovative idea? Or is he an idiot for even considering it a legitimate possibility?
Let’s break this one down:
The customer is always right…right?
On the surface, storing a doggy bag in a large restaurant-size refrigerator doesn’t seem like a big deal — there’s really a minimal amount of effort and upkeep required. Best-case scenario: The diner returns the next day, picks up the leftover food and probably has a higher likelihood of revisiting, thanks to a positive customer-service experience. If the consumer never comes back for retrieval, well, just throw it out! There’s also the issue of food waste — think about how many times you’ve decided against leaving with leftovers because you weren’t headed directly home. That food was more than likely discarded the same evening.
This is a restaurant — not a storage unit!
Think of the potential liability for the restaurant. Imagine the diner falls ill from consuming the leftovers the next day and blames the restaurant for improper storage. Then there’s the space issue, which is always a concern in a big city like NYC. Once a restaurant says yes, the precedent has been set. And can you truly envision a bunch of leftovers sitting in a refrigerator for days on end, Sharpied with diners’ names for identification and destined to either eventually be picked up or be forgotten for good? What a mess!
So what ended up happening at the conclusion of that fateful dinner? After excusing herself to discuss with management (which she did at some length), the rather harried-looking server returned to inform us that she would be unable to honor the request. She mentioned that the leftovers might be misplaced and lost, and that the kitchen would not be the ideal place to store them.
Do you think the restaurant made the right call? Industry folks, avid diners, feel free to chime in. Just be sure to give us credit when Uber begins to offer a service specifically designed to take leftovers home for you.