The Truth Behind Paris's So-Called 'Doggy Bag Rule'
Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon won’t have to worry about adding doggy bags to their restaurants any time soon. While both local and international press buzzed about a law forcing Parisian restaurants to offer clients to-go containers, most writers missed one little detail: no such law exists.
Here’s how the misunderstanding went down: new measures were put into place at the beginning of 2016 aimed at reducing food waste – and part of those measures include promoting doggy bags. According to City Hall, Parisians waste nearly 60 kilograms (or 132 pounds) of food per person per year and the mayor thinks that sending the food home might help.
The city even handed out doggy bags to some 100 restaurants in December 2015 to get the ball rolling. But they aren’t forcing the containers on anyone. What they are demanding, among other things, is that restaurants serving 150 customers a day recycle their food if it totals more than 10 metric tons (or 22,000 pounds).
Restaurants that don’t recycle will be fined 75,000 euros. But the penalty for not offering doggy bogs? Zero.
The media got it wrong, originally with an article in daily newspaper Le Parisien that has since been deleted and corrected. A few other outlets picked it up, and before we knew it, the rumor spread and panic set in—cue the sacré bleu and other clichés.
That’s not to say that doggy bags won’t eventually become more available, though they might not be the best solution to food waste issues. Many news reports scoffed at doggy bags in France, as if the French would ever stoop so low as to eat food that they purchased at a later place and time. Maybe some won’t, but a little education can go a long way.
Apparently there is a cultural block to taking food home with you among the French. As a Parisian, I’m inclined to think it’s also a practical issue. Who wants to go out for drinks after dinner with cold steak frites in tow? My refrigerator, like most in Paris, barely comes up to my waist, so there’s not a whole lot of room to rent out to some old pasta before throwing it in the trash. And are we addressing the fact that those containers are just creating more waste of a different kind?
I’m all for fighting waste, and some places like the Petit Choiseul have taken a more innovative approach. This café features compost bins filled with worms in their cellar that they use to recycle food scraps. There’s no food wasted and no rubbish created, nor is there any affront to so-called “French culture.”
Short of urging Parisians to order less food—we all know restaurants would love that rule—the city is making reasonable steps towards reducing food waste. But no, doggy bags are firmly not yet a part of restaurant culture. Now if only we could do something to get rid of all this ill-informed news coverage that’s out there, we’d all feel a lot less bloated.