We were recently in our favorite Munich Brauhaus for lunch with a friend who was visiting from the US. Her portion of käsespätzle was far too generous for her and she simply couldn’t finish her meal. She asked me if I could ask the waiter in German for a doggy bag.Part of me cringed, because I knew what was coming.
It was just a matter of how it would be communicated: an eye roll, a sigh, a sarcastic laugh, a frown or a flat out nein!
…or all of the above?
„sie würde es gern mitnehmen…uhm…haben Sie….“
And before I could even finish my sentence, there it was: an eye roll (in Lederhosen) combined with a deep sigh and polished off with an “Uhh. Ok”
(That’s a passive-aggressive kind of “ok” by the way. The ok that oozes with well–if-I-must-but-I-really-don’t-want-to.)
I’ve never actually understood the problem. In my humble opinion, I think that a chef should feel complimented that a guest enjoyed their meal so much that they would rather take it with them to enjoy later, than have it land in the restaurant’s trash bin. Furthermore, as a paying customer, I would much prefer not to have to waste either food nor money.
The origins of the American doggy-bag may be up for debate, but many sources mention that the ancient Romans would carry napkins to wrap up leftover food in. Later during the war, it was said that food was scarce and wasting it would have been unthinkable, so frugal practices became a routine. Whichever theory you may side with, the simple fact is that people have been saving their food for later, for centuries.
The etiquette surrounding the doggy-bag is just as much up for debate as its origins.
In a 2002 survey, the American Dietetic Association concluded that 91% of Americans take leftovers home at least occasionally, and 32% do it on a regular basis.
And over to Germany: well asside from the fact that the custom of doggy-bagging your food is not always accepted here in Germany (or other parts of Europe), the term itself should really never be attempted to be translated.
If you’re visiting Germany and eager to try your hand at speaking deutsch, just remember that many things can’t be translated literally.
It’s simply “zum Mitnehmen” (to take with you). You’ll have to factor in that the waiter may retort with an unfriendly reaction your request. Don’t take this personally.
Translated literally, a doggy bag is a hundetüte here in Germany. And a hundetüte is what you will see in Germany’s many parks and pedestrian zones. It’s a little dispenser with little plastic bags. Nein, not for leftover food… but for dog owners to clean up after their mutts, so no one has to step in it.
So, will the doggy bag – or having your left over food zum Mitnehmen – ever become accepted in Europe?
The Sustainable Restaurant Association in the UK has launched a “Too Good to Waste” campaign. In an effort to make the doggy-bag more socially acceptable, the campaign aims to bring more consciousness to the topic of food waste. They estimate that roughly 600,000 tonnes of food waste comes directly from restaurants every year. Imagine how much more is being wasted across grocery shops and in private homes?
What are the customs in your home country when it comes to leftover food?
And why is it that Europeans are too embarrassed to ask for a to-go box?
Or, what makes most Americans so comfortable with the notion?