BYO (bring your own) is trending across many industries right now, and it's all about being green. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The solution? It's twofold.
BYO? DIY. If customers brings their own takeout containers from home, they need to handle it themselves, 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.
Invest in reusable takeout containers. This is a small but growing trend, especially in places like California which tend to be on the forefront of green initiatives. Sell green, branded, reusable takeout containers that customers can buy in your restaurant.