A Calgary man named K.B. Lee recently launched an interesting website called TakeOutWithout.com. The site is creating a campaign to encourage diners and restaurants alike to reduce the amount of packaging they use in when ordering takeout.
TOWO asks people to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging they take when getting takeout (think a stack of napkins), bring their own reusable containers, and change their dining habits. I assume the last one means eating out less, which since we’re in the foodservice business I’ll take to mean dine in rather than not eating out at all…
Though his idea nothing new, I like the concept – particularly the idea of bringing your own takeout container. This is great idea if someone is dining out, (or dining in rather) and has some leftovers they want to take home. If they have their own container for their own leftovers, it can be as big or dirty or cumbersome as they are willing to deal with. The restaurant never has to touch the thing. I’ve seen this done a lot by environmentally minded customers, but the whole concept relies solely on the customers. I would like to see some restaurants (particularly those that tend to have a lot of leftovers) encouraging their customers to bring their own containers for leftovers. Maybe offer them a coupon for a free scoop of ice cream for using their own containers. It’s a loss for the restaurant in terms of takeout containers saved versus ice cream lost, but it brings them back – maybe again and again.
One of the more dicey issues is using outside containers for the takeout food itself. A lot of restaurant owners don’t want outside containers in their kitchen, and for good reason. If the containers were not washed in a commercial dishwasher (which they weren’t) it’s a health code violation, and even if they were they would be contaminated by the time the container makes it back to the kitchen. The simple solution to this is to run the customer’s container through the dishwasher. Inevitably the dishwasher will already be running with other items so adding a piece of Tupperware doesn’t add any major labor to the process. Of course, this may take a little longer, but any customer that is willing to bring their own containers for takeout will be more than happy to wait an extra minute or two if you use their container.
I’ve also heard of restaurants plating the food on their own dishes then letting the customer transfer it to their own containers. This option is nice for the kitchen staff that doesn’t have to adapt to a countless variety of containers and avoids the health code issue, but does dirty an extra dish in addition to the difficulty of the customer transferring the food to their containers – more than likely in the entrance of the dining room.
Another option is to offer a reusable takeout container with a deposit. College campuses are starting to use reusable takeout containers, and it could work great for a lot of restaurant. Reusable containers and deposits won’t work for every takeout customer, but for regulars, office workers around the corner, or in campus situations (school or business) it is a great, sensible option.
Of course disposable containers are not going away, but sustainable restaurants should provide a greener option, and accommodate guests that wish to bring their own – maybe to go as far as to encourage and possibly compensate their guests for bringing containers from home for leftovers. It’s a small step, but they all add up.