Episode 19:

American English Idiom: Doggie Bag

Transcript of the Episode:

Welcome to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! I’m your host, Caren Hayden, and I’m here to help you improve your English.


Are your eyes sometimes bigger than your stomach? Then you may need a doggie bag! Today, I’ll tell you all about this American custom and the origin of this idiom. Stay tuned!


For my third year of college, I moved to Freiburg, Germany to attend the university there. On my first day in this beautiful city in the middle of the Black Forest, I found a small Italian restaurant and had lunch. My eyes were bigger than my stomach as I was not able to finish my large portion of pasta. I asked for a box to take the rest of my pasta home with me since I wasn’t able to eat it all at that moment, and I really didn’t want to waste it. The waiter looked at me with disgust and returned with a single sheet of aluminum foil. He threw it on the table and walked away. I had only been in Germany for a day, and I had already upset someone with my cultural misstep.


In America, asking for a doggie bag is quite normal. In fact, most restaurant servers will offer to box your food up for you if they notice that you are too full to eat the rest. This is a common practice. The idiom, “doggie bag,” (sometimes spelled “doggy bag”) means a container for your leftover food. It’s not necessarily a bag. It can be a box or a plastic container. And, while it used to be intended for your dog, now a doggie bag is for leftover food that you intend to eat later.


Americans did not invent the concept of the doggie bag. Ancient Romans brought napkins with them to feasts long ago. They used these napkins to wipe their mouths during the meal; however, when the meal was over, the ancient Romans would wrap up leftovers in their napkin and take the food home to eat later. This happened as far back as the sixth century, BC.


The modern version of the doggie bag was, however, started in the United States. Several restaurants claim they began the custom, but the time period is not disputed. Around the time of World War II (the 1940s), there were food shortages in the U.S. Citizens were encouraged to feed their dogs leftover human food instead of buying packaged dog food. A couple of steak restaurants offered “doggie bags” to take home steak bones from dinner for the family dog to enjoy.


This custom slowly turned into people taking home food for themselves. It did not happen without criticism, though. Many people thought it was bad manners to take food from a restaurant home. In 1968, Emily Post, a famous author who wrote about manners and etiquette said this about the practice: “I do not approve of taking leftover food such as pieces of meat home from restaurants.” She has since changed her tune. Now, according to Emily Post, it is perfectly fine to ask for a doggie bag in order to avoid wasting food.


Are doggie bags appropriate in all countries? While the acceptance of this custom is changing, it is still thought of as bad manners in many places. So, you’ll want to read about this custom before you travel.


Some countries, for example France and England, have made laws that actually force restaurants to offer doggie bags to their customers. The government made these laws to avoid all of the food waste that happens each year.


If you are dining out in the U.S., here are a few ways you can ask for a doggie bag:

  • Can I have a doggie bag, please?

  • Could I have a to-go box, please?

  • Do you have a box for my leftovers?


What do you think? Do you like the doggie bag custom, or do you think it’s bad manners? Are doggie bags available at restaurants in your country? Let me know on the show website or by email.

Thank you so much for listening to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You will find the transcript of today’s show and some helpful links about today’s topic on the show website: www.englishforeveryonepod.com. [Stay tuned for the slower version of today’s episode].


[slower version, same transcript]

Bye Bye!



Music is Where’s My Jetpack by Computer Music All-Stars found on www.freemusicarchive.org