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Food in doggie bags best left to people

October 2, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

We used to have a dog. I wish we still had one, but my husband is not keen on the idea. Bonji Beau (beautiful boy) was a yellow labrador retriever. Kind and loving, he was very well trained. He never ate off the table when we were looking. He only ate garbage after it was packed and tied. He only begged for food at dinner time and he didn't chew old bones in the house because he only chewed the house. Bonji was not fussy, he ate anything: shoes, toys, toilet paper, windows, but he rarely ate from a doggie bag.

I usually bring doggie bags home for myself. Most of my doggie bags get forgotten on the restaurant table. Sometimes, I put them on the hood of the car while I get my keys and they end up on Route 30. Sometimes, I leave them in my car overnight and drive around the next week to the smell of shrimp scampi. Sometimes I take them home.

In a survey by the American Demographics magazine, 62 percent of all diners leave restaurants carrying a doggie bag, with women taking one home 67 percent of the time, compared with 50 percent of men. However, more men (91 percent) than women (80 percent) will likely eat restaurant leftovers.

Yes, I am writing a whole article about doggie bags those silent carriers that transport the leftovers from your restaurant meal to your home (not to be confused with the ones used by dog walkers!) Because of the new concerns with the size of portions served and body weight, more and more customers are taking half of their meal home. Some even order food with a plan for "lunch" or a later snack (but usually not for Fido.) The use of doggie bags has become common place in most restaurants. (And grandmother's houses.)

It is important that transported food be preserved so that it tastes the best when reheated. Bad leftovers can leave a bad taste for the restaurant. Restaurants sometimes use foil containers if their food is best reheated in the oven and not the microwave. Polystyrene foam flip containers can leak and can melt in the microwave. Selection of materials - paper, Styrofoam, foil or a combination depends on cost as well as use. Large Styrofoam containers can cost the restaurant 6 to 8 cents apiece.

As with all leftovers, I am concerned with the use of doggie bags and food safety. According to the USDA guidelines, the temperature danger zone is 41 to 140 degrees - food should not be left at that temperature. Leaving food for hours in the car is "calling all bacteria." The leftovers should be discarded if not eaten or refrigerated in two hours. This is absolute. Leftovers should be thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees. Items in polystyrene foam placed in the fridge can stay in the danger zone for hours. The material that keeps the warm in, keeps the cold out. When you return home, open the container and repackage the contents.

Besides reminding the customer of the great meal they enjoyed, doggie bags can help increase sales and promote a restaurant. Restaurants pay big bucks to get flyers out via newspaper or mail. Cleverly packaged items can shout out the name of the restaurant.

At Gladstone's in Malibu, gold foil is used to create creations such as crabs, cows and birds to envelop customers' leftovers making leftovers a signature item. The guest carries this signature item out to the public, essentially saying, "I've been to Gladstone's and I had so much I couldn't eat it all." I visited a restaurant in New Mexico that used letter stamps to spell out the customer's name on the bag. Carriers/bags made out of plastic or paper can be printed with the restaurant's logo, name, website and number.

When customers at Ben Benson's Steak House in New York City ask to take their leftovers home, they are greeted with a wrinkly-faced and pleading-eyes mascot staring up from the front of a brown-paper bag with the slogan, "Please order the T-bone steak again at Ben Benson's. I'll wait up for you. Love, Rocky."

For promotion, the menu can be printed on the bag or slid inside. Promotions such as a discount to return or special event information can be heralded on the packaging. Successful restaurants promote, promote, promote, wherever possible.

The big news in doggie bags is at restaurant's licensed to serve alcohol in many states, including New York state, may now permit a customer, following the consumption of a full- course meal, to take home a partially consumed bottle of wine. The wine must have been purchased and partially consumed as part of a full-course meal. The doggie bag must hold the resealed bottle in a one-time use, tamper-proof transparent bag. Any clear plastic bag may be used, so long as its seal prevents the bag from being opened and then resealed. It must ensure the patron cannot gain access to the bottle while in transit after the bag is sealed. Clear "zip-lock" bags can be used and then stapled. Opening the stapled bag will rip the bag and not allow reuse.

On a side note, the use of disposable containers in restaurants has been an ecological concern for many years. I will serve more on that idea another time when I talk about the "green" restaurant.

Restaurant Watch: What style of doggie bags does your favorite restaurant use?




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