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The doggie bag

Many restaurant portions these days are huge, sometimes enough for three moderate meals. Is it ever acceptable at a business meal to take home one’s leftover portion, especially if you are not the one paying? I was attending a dinner seminar at a table for twelve, and was very reluctant to let half of a fancy steak go to waste. But I felt it was not at all proper to ask the waiter to “wrap it up”. Marching out of the meeting with a bag in-hand would seem rather gauche, don’t you think?

C. P., Beverly, MA

I do think it would look rather gauche. Image is an important component in business. Sometimes it is very difficult to see yourself through another person’s eyes. From your perspective you see half a steak going to waste, so, you think to yourself, “Why shouldn’t I take it home?” But, from the other dinner participants’ perspective, you’re potentially projecting the image that the food is where your thoughts are, not your interaction with them. Remember, your goal is to be a participant who is valued for her contribution to the conversation and who inspires the host to invite you to the next event.

From an etiquette point of view, taking home the leftovers is gauche because the host is paying for your meal. After all, if this were a meal at her home, would you ask for a “to-go” bag? One possible exception would be if the host specifically invites you to take the rest of the steak home as she, too, hates to see such a good piece of meat go to waste. The downside is that it singles you out, rather than having the focus remain on the table conversation. That may be a little uncomfortable for you.

Your best bet is to avoid the situation altogether. Try ordering a petite filet instead of the 12- or 14-ounce large filet. Look for “small portion” items on the menu which many restaurants are starting to offer as an option. Or, consider ordering two appetizers as your meal, one to come with the other appetizers and one to come when main courses are served. Often they can be the most original, best tasting dishes on the menu and the amount of food is much more reasonable. If you’re offered a pre-set menu—“Would you like the steak or the fish?”—ask your waiter about portion size and request a smaller one.

Here are three additional tips for ordering from a menu at a business lunch or dinner:

  • Look for medium priced items.
  • Order something that’s easy to eat—avoid foods that are messy or complicated to eat: spaghetti, mussels, artichokes, lobster or ribs (unless you’re at a lobster or rib restaurant).
  • Order familiar dishes. There’s nothing worse than ordering something and then when you see it, knowing you can’t possibly eat even one bite.

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