United Kingdom

Pizza Express and Wagamama lead the way in the doggy bag revolution

Some of Britain's best-known restaurants have thrown their weight behind The Mail on Sunday's mission to make taking home leftovers a normal part of eating out.

Pizza Express, Wagamama, Frankie & Benny's, Franco Manca, Chiquito, The Real Greek, Coppa Club, Tavolino and the D&D London group of restaurants – which include Quaglino's, where the Queen has dined – have all pledged to do more to promote take-home doggy bags to their customers, either by training staff or updating their menus. 

It is a major boost for our War On Food Waste campaign, which is calling on households, retailers and restaurants to tackle this hidden environmental disaster.

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: Wagamama, Pizza Express and Franco Manca all back our campaign to make taking home leftovers common practice

Food waste accounts for a fifth of Britain's greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet every year hospitality firms bin the equivalent of 1.3 billion meals, according to the charity Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

About a third of this wasted food – the equivalent of 430 million meals – is scraped from plates into the bin when diners don't finish their orders.

An MoS investigation covering more than 20 major dining chains, which account for thousands of restaurants and pubs, found venues are routinely failing to encourage customers to take uneaten food home.

Although nearly all restaurants do provide doggy bags if asked, hardly any tells staff to make diners aware of this option at the end of their meals. And none of the chains includes a note on their menus to tell customers that they can request a take-home container.

Pizza Express said take-home boxes were regularly provided, but promised to make this a more formal aspect of its customer service

In the worst example of poor practice, Wetherspoon pubs refuse to offer take-home doggy bags at all. Mitchells & Butlers – which operates Harvester, Toby Carvery, Miller & Carter and Browns at more than 1,700 venues across the UK – lets individual managers decide whether to provide doggy bags.

A Wetherspoon spokesman claimed there 'isn't a demand from customers' for a take-home option.

Yet a study for this newspaper found that an overwhelming 81 per cent of the public want all restaurants to offer doggy bags as standard practice.

Crucially, the survey of 1,608 people by Deltapoll also revealed that although we like the idea, almost half of us have never asked to take home uneaten food from a restaurant. Experts said this is due to the British instinct to avoid causing a fuss.

Yet in the US, doggy bags have been commonplace for decades. The practice began during the Second World War, when pet owners were encouraged to feed their animals with table scraps due to food shortages. Now doggy bags are frequently advertised on menus or handed out by waiting staff as part of normal service.

In France, all large restaurants have been required to offer doggy bags since 2016. From July 1, French law will be expanded to require all restaurants, cafes and bistros to supply them if requested.

Our investigation found that Zizzi, Ask Italian and upmarket steak restaurant Hawksmoor have already trained staff in the UK to ask customers when clearing tables whether they want unfinished meals bagged up to take home as standard practice.

Pizza Express said take-home boxes were regularly provided, but promised to make this a more formal aspect of its customer service.

Franco Manca and sister chain The Real Greek are also considering adding a statement to menus at the group's 73 restaurants across the UK

A spokesman said: 'This isn't formally written into our training, but we're going to add it to strengthen the message. We also love the idea of adding it to our written menus, and will discuss it at our next menu planning meeting.'

The Restaurant Group, which offers doggy bags at all its 650 restaurants and pubs including Wagamama, Frankie & Benny's and Chiquito, also backed our call to action.

A spokesman for Wagamama said: 'We will be requesting that teams proactively offer take-out boxes for guests who don't finish their meals,' adding that while the offer of a take-home doggy bag is not currently printed on the menu, 'it is something we will consider'.

Three more tips to slash waste when eating out 

Whether you're enjoying a meal out with the children or dining à la carte in a Michelin-starred restaurant, there are ways to guard against unnecessary waste. 

Food scraped into the bin costs a typical restaurant £10,000 a year, as well as harming the environment. And remember, it’s your money you’re leaving on the plate. 

Here, ELEANOR MORRIS of Guardians of Grub, the hospitality advice arm of food charity WRAP, reveals her best tips for diners.

1 The most often wasted food in restaurants are carbs – chips, pasta and rice top the list destined for the bin. This can be down to portion sizes, which we often assume, wrongly, are beyond our control. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on how many servings of rice will feed the table, or for a smaller portion if you think you might not manage everything – most venues will happily accommodate your request.

2 Many restaurants now offer clever menu options for high-waste items such as those from the bakery. For example, the ‘bun-less burger’ is perfect for those who prefer their hamburger without the bap, while opting for hot toast ‘on request’ means that it won’t go cold… and then into the bin. Even the big fast-food chains such as KFC offer chips with the skin on, which helps to cut the waste in the kitchen.

3 Sometimes taking leftovers home in a doggy bag isn’t an option if you’re heading on after your meal. Discuss your order with the waiting staff. Chips, vegetables and salads are commonly left on plates as many consider these merely ‘fillers’. We’re comfortable discussing dietary requirements, so why not do the same with foods you dislike? If you brush garnishes aside or have children who won’t look at rice, just let the staff know.

A spokesman for Frankie & Benny's and Chiquito said: 'We will look to include the proactive offering within our steps of service.'

Various Eateries, which owns eight Coppa Club restaurants and Tavolino in London Bridge, said the company would start using its daily staff briefings to encourage waiters and waitresses to offer diners doggy bags more regularly.

A spokesman said the company would consider adding a note about this to its menus – potentially as soon as the next print run.

Chief executive Yishay Malkov told The Mail on Sunday: 'When I was growing up, if you did go out to eat it was only a few times a year – for example, on a very special birthday. Today it is part and parcel of our society and we need to be less stiff and formal about asking for what we want.

'Part of this is saying 'Sorry I haven't finished my burger, I want to take it home with me' without thinking, 'Oh no, what is the next table going to think?' '

Franco Manca and sister chain The Real Greek are also considering adding a statement to menus at the group's 73 restaurants across the UK.

D&D London, which owns 43 restaurants in the UK, New York and Paris, including the prestigious Bluebird and Le Pont de la Tour in London, said it is considering changing its staff training to encourage customers to take home leftovers – and said it could add a statement to this effect on its menus.

It already asks customers in the UK 'where appropriate' if they would like a take-home container.

Chief executive Des Gunewardena told The Mail on Sunday: 'I spend a lot of time in New York and when lunching at our Queensyard and Bluebird NYC restaurants, if you don't want to take home leftovers staff are noticeably surprised. It's totally the done thing over there.'

Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist at University College London, said: 'In Britain we are incredibly polite and civil and don't want to cause a fuss.

'Where does the doggy bag come in? Is it after your mains before dessert, is it at the very end? Restaurants have to work slightly harder to help us shift our opinion towards takeaway boxes and doggy bags.'

The psychologist said that rather than introduce a law about offering doggy bags, it would be more effective for restaurants to remove any awkwardness by making it feel normal when people are eating out.

The Restaurant Group, which offers doggy bags at all its 650 restaurants and pubs including Wagamama, Frankie & Benny's and Chiquito, also backed our call to action

Dr Tsivrikos added: 'It's important to enjoy food rather than trying to ruin the dining experience or making people feel guilty. We need a creative way of doing that, so restaurants could inform people of three ways they can enjoy their leftovers, for example.

'With the pandemic, a lot of people have gone through a tough time financially and we're not out of the woods yet. So be a savvy diner, take your leftovers and create another meal with them or have them for lunch the next day.'

Ellie Besley-Gould, Hawksmoor's head of sustainability, said: 'It's brilliant that The Mail on Sunday is taking on food waste. For lots of people it is half the treat to know you've got a steak sandwich for lunch the next day. Many of our customers even come with actual dogs in mind – taking home bones for their canine friends.'

A Wetherspoon spokesman defended its doggy-bag policy, saying: 'The only takeaway packaging is for pizza, though a customer would have to ask for this. Doggy bags are not appropriate for all pubs and restaurants as they create a large amount of packaging waste.

'After discussions with a number of advisers and charity organisations, Wetherspoon decided to address this issue by offering a number of items in smaller portions, eg fish and chips, scampi and chips, ham, egg and chips, pizza, and breakfast.'

A spokesman for Mitchells & Butlers said: 'We are committed to cutting food waste and have successfully introduced numerous policies and measures across the business to ensure this. Guests who do not finish their meals are generally permitted to take their leftovers with them to enjoy at home. However, it will be down to the individual manager's discretion and the availability of takeaway packaging at that specific outlet.'

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