Are compulsory doggy bags on their way for French restaurants?

Are compulsory doggy bags on their way for French restaurants?
Photo: AFP
Restaurants in France could soon be forced to give diners doggy bags if they wish to take home their leftovers. But will the move by MPs go down well in a country where the French are "taught to finish everything on their plate"?

“Est-ce que je peux avoir un 'doggy-bag” s'il vous plait?

This is a question many may soon not be embarrassed to ask in a French restaurant.

That's because a new amendment adopted by the National Assembly's committee of sustainable development will require all restaurants in France to provide containers for their customers to take away unfinished food.

“The goal is to generalise a practise that already exists, and to halve the amount of food waste by 2025,” according to the MPs who drafted the amendment. 

The bill points out that food waste in restaurants is five times greater than at home, which is equivalent to one quarter of a meal. The amendment must still be given the green light by the parliament's economy committee after which it will be put to a vote by MPs later in the spring.

Bringing doggy-bags into French culture, in a country which takes particular pride in the art of eating, in and out, may not be easy. Critics believe they are just not 'French'.

“It is not a very good idea to force restaurateurs to buy doggy bags, especially since this is an 'Anglo-Saxon' habit, which is not really part of the French culture,” Hubert Jan, president of the restaurant branch at Umih, the leading trade union of the profession, told Le Parisien.

According to one leading dining consultant some restaurant owners in France have been trying since the 1990s to make the doggy bag part of French dining culture, but have been failing.  It seems that French culture itself is the main obstacle to the practice of taking left over boeuf bourguignon home in a box from catching on. 

Laurent Calvayrac the founder of a French green packaging company, and a doggy bag proponent, told The Local previously that his countrymen are taught from an early age to eat everything on their plate.

“Like many French people I was raised with the instruction ‘You will finish what I put on your plate’. So even now when I go out to eat, no matter the size of the portion, I finish everything even if I’m full,’ Emballage Vert founder Calvayrac said. “So doggy bags are simply not part of the French way of doing things.”

This sort of shame over not eating everything on your plate extends to the fear of getting dirty looks from other people when you walk out of the restaurant with a doggy bag in hand. It’s the equivalent of failing to say thank you or hold the door open for someone, an act of impoliteness that shows a deficiency in one’s upbringing, Calvayrac explains.


'Doggy bags' on the way for French restaurants

Others welcomed the news however.

“This is great. Ten years ago, nobody wanted to take food home with them. Now, when we ask them, around one in six people do. People are more aware of waste and cost,” union representative Jean-Philippe Deschamps told La Dépêche.

Since 2016, the Umih union has been recommending doggy-bags to restaurant and provides them with free ones.

Although doggy-bags are nowhere near as common in France as they are in the United States some restaurateurs have been offering them to customers for years.

“In the US where I have worked, it's the norm, but not in France where many people think it is shameful to leave with the leftovers,” brasserie owner Yoann Abeccasus told Le Parisien. To reduce food waste, dishes in his restaurant 'Les Arcades' in Lyon come in different sizes.

His son, who recently took over his father's restaurant in Toulouse, agrees. “We've been telling customers that they can take their food home for the past 20 years, and we brought in cardboard containers 3 years ago. French people aren't quite used to it yet, but they're getting there bit by bit, ” he said.

Out of 150 kilos of food wasted by the average French person every year, 15 kilos are wasted in restaurants or when eating outside, accoring to the French environment and energy management agency ADEME.

by Emilie King