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Is a Bring-Your-Own-Take-Out-Container Policy Right for Your Restaurant?

take out food in a Styrofoam to-go container

What Does Bring-Your-Own-Take-Out-Container Mean?

Bring-your-own-take-out-container (BYOTOC) is trending across many industries right now, and it’s all
about being green. What does BYOTOC mean? Rather than taking their leftover food home in restaurant
take-out containers, people are bringing and using their own.

One Less Take-Out Container That Needs to Be Recycled

According to the EPA, packaging accounts for almost 30 percent of the waste generated in the United States today. We’re using this stuff for a millisecond and either tossing it in the trash or recycling it, and likely feeling pretty good about recycling. But even that isn’t ideal. The old slogan that’s been around forever: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” says it all, but most people don’t realize those action steps should be numbered. First, reduce your use of packaging. If you can’t reduce, reuse. If you can’t reuse and must use new packaging, make sure it’s recyclable.

Reduce and Reuse

These days, more and more people are embracing the “reduce and reuse” tactics.

Go into most any grocery store and you’ll see shoppers bagging their groceries in reusable bags they brought from home, in response, in part to the plastic pandemic clogging our landfills and oceans and subsequent plastic bag bans cropping up in cities nationwide.

In liquor stores, customers are toting up to six bottles of wine in similar re-usable bags they bring from home, complete with dividers, thus avoiding the bother of dragging a cardboard box home only to break it down and set it out for the recycling truck.

Now, the BYO trend is hovering over the restaurant industry, with restaurants seeing customers bringing their own Tupperware or other containers to take home their leftovers rather than using the restaurant’s own takeout containers. That’s reducing AND reusing. But is it a good idea? The jury seems to be out on that.

Eco-Friendly Take-Out Containers Are Hard to Find

The restaurant industry has long been seeking a more environmentally friendly, healthy and economical alternative to the Styrofoam takeout containers of the past. We’ve seen cardboard boxes, clamshells or bowls made of various materials like molded fibers, compostable containers — a whole range of options. Just not any great ones. But for restaurants, takeout containers are a fact of life. Diners want and expect to be able to take home their leftovers.

Is BYOTOC Right for Your Restaurant?

So, what’s wrong with customers bringing their own containers? Nothing, if it’s done right. Your customer feels green and happy, and you do, too, with the added benefit of reducing the expense of all of those takeout containers. The sticking point comes in when you start thinking about the type of containers customers will bring in. Are they clean? Sanitary? Does it matter? In a word: yes. Restaurants absolutely need to know their food is up to sanitation standards. You don’t want to be sending tainted food home with a customer, even if it’s the customer’s own container that’s tainted it.

DIY Bring-Your-Own

BYO? DIY. If customers bring their own takeout containers from home, they should handle it themselves and put their own food into their own containers. It shouldn’t be up to the server. That way, their containers never make it into your kitchen, and together, you’ve done something positive for the environment.

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