Eco-Minded Diner Has a Bone To Pick With Doggie Bags

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dear Miss Manners:

Over the past few years I, along with many other people, have tried to do simple things to live a more ecological lifestyle, like reducing my use of disposable and plastic products. One area that continues to frustrate me is restaurant dining.

I view it as wasteful to take my leftovers home in a container that frequently cannot be used again or is of limited usefulness. In addition, many restaurants insist on wrapping the container in a paper or plastic bag, which, of course I can reuse but would prefer not to take.

My idea would be to take along a clean container inside a clean brown bag with string handles and discreetly hand it to the server along with my half-finished plate.

Perhaps a restaurant would view this as non-sanitary, but it seems more sanitary to me than menus that servers pass around between people without regard to who has washed their hands and who hasn't.

Unfortunately, I tried this strategy without checking with you first and was lambasted by my dining companion, who described me as socially inappropriate. He says he questions whether our values are really that similar.

Is he right or am I? Note, I would not do this in a very fancy restaurant or at a business meal, which means perhaps I should have not tried it in front of a special friend.

Here is a radical idea in keeping with your concern about waste, which Miss Manners shares, and your friend's objection, which she shares only to a point:

Why don't you learn to order the amount of food you expect to eat?

Yes, yes, Miss Manners knows about oversize restaurant portions, diets, sudden satiation and whatever else may thwart such an attempt. But you don't seem to be trying. And yet your admission that you would not bring your feedbag to a fancy restaurant or a business meal indicates that you have qualms about its being seemly.

You could call restaurants beforehand to inquire whether they would allow you to order appetizer-size versions of their main courses. You could order only appetizers. You could ask dinner companions whether they would like to split a course. You could find restaurants that offer tasting menus. You could buy takeout and portion the food at home as you like. And so on.

Restaurants are, after all, dependent on pleasing their customers, and since you like to go out for half a meal, it would be worth your trouble to find those that are willing to cooperate with you.

Yes, there would still be the exceptional occasion when you found you had ordered more than you could eat. In a food court, you could sweep it into your own bag and no one would care. In a restaurant, you could respond to a waiter's offer to wrap your leftovers by saying, "Thank you," and asking if he could please use your container.

Surprised that Miss Manners came back to the private container, after all? How the food is wrapped does not interest her so much as how the question of taking it home is handled. You must promise her to behave as if the possibility of another meal from this comes as a pleasant bonus, not as if you had schemed to stock your larder.

Dear Miss Manners:

I'm one of two employees at a lovely local boutique that has, unfortunately, become a victim of our soured economy. We have officially been going out of business -- hideous yellow signs and all -- for just over two weeks now.

While we appreciate that customers routinely express their condolences, we have already dealt with the emotional side and moved on. It seems that many customers are dismayed or confused when we don't echo their pouty faces or saddened shrugs.

We don't want to seem ungrateful for their well-wishes, nor do we want to look cold and uncaring. But we also don't wish to put on a dramatic show for every third visitor to the store. What should we say?

A surprising number of people ask us each what we'll do when the store closes. These are not regular customers with whom we've grown close, and often are people who are visiting the store for the first time, so it feels particularly intrusive.

The simple answer is, we're both doing what many people across the entire country are doing -- searching frantically for new employment. I understand that the question isn't meant to be patronizing or rude, but it feels that way.

Am I wrong in feeling that this is an inappropriate, overly personal question? And what is the best way for us -- and the many who are in our predicament -- to address it?

Rule 1 when you are frantically searching for new employment: Do not brush off sympathetic people.

You should not be doing this anyway. Simple courtesy requires that you accept kindly intended remarks, however often you have heard them. Miss Manners hardly thinks it would require "a dramatic show" to thank people and say that you, too, regret the closing.

As for what to say when asked what you are doing next -- Miss Manners would consider that a legitimate reply would be, "I'm looking. If you hear of anything, please let me know."

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2009 Judith Martin

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