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Restaurants could soon be forced to offer “doggy bags”

The government proposals aim to halve commercial food waste, but the plans have attracted some backlash from restaurateurs.

A “doggy bag” is an American term describing disposable takeaway or “to go/à emporter” boxes that restaurants can use to pack up customer leftovers, so clients can take excess food home.

Now, the Assemblée Nationale development group, La Commission du Développement Durable, says that adopting the practice as standard in all restaurants could halve commercial food waste by 2025.

If the proposals go ahead, restaurateurs would be required to offer recyclable takeaway containers to all guests, and make it clear that asking for leftovers “to go” at the end of the meal is an acceptable request.

Commercial food waste is a problem in France: restaurants throw away the equivalent of 21 kilos of food waste per person every year. Five times’ more food is wasted outside the home than within it, at an average of 157g of food waste per person per meal.

And yet, while in other countries such as the USA or UK, it is common to ask for your leftovers “to go”, in France the practice is less favoured.

A 2014 trial of the idea by the hospitality group the Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie (UMIH) suggested that its members adopt the practice, to raise awareness of restaurant food waste.

But, according to newspaper Le Parisien, this was largely a flop: only 10,000 takeaway boxes were used and customer response was lacklustre, with some customers fearing they could come across as “stingy” if they asked to take leftovers home.

Even restaurateurs have not uniformly welcomed government enforcement of the practice.

Bocuse-trained chef Yoann Abecassis, of La Brasserie des Arcades in Lyon, rejected the idea, saying: “In the USA, where I have worked, it’s a normal practice, but in France, many people consider it shameful to go home with your leftovers.”

Yet, he said that reducing food waste was important, which is why in his restaurant, portion sizes are offered in S, M, L and XL, with clients able to choose how much food they want ahead of time, depending on how hungry they are.

In this way, Abecassis said, the restaurant saves food and the customer saves money, without the need for doggy bags: a Salade Lyonnaise in size small costs €3.50, while the large version costs €9.

Hubert Jean, president of the restaurant branch of the UMIH, was also not in favour of the idea. He said: “It is not very wise to force the whole profession to buy doggy bags in a regulatory way. This is more of an Anglo-Saxon practice that is not really in French culture.”

Food sociologist Claude Fischler said: “This is an American tradition that is linked to the [big] portion sizes over there. And the words ‘doggy bag’ suggest the extra food is for your dog, so it feels a little embarrassing to want to take the leftovers home for yourself.”

Yet, the commission defended the proposal.

Deputy Bérangère Abba, author of the original amendment, said: “It’s true that there is a psychological block in France about this, but it is also because consumers often do not dare to ask, for fear of being refused. Habits must evolve.

“The objective is to widen an already-existing practice, and reduce food waste by half between now and 2025.”

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