5 Steps To Successfully Getting Takeaway In Your Own Container

Reusable Nation - bagel in tiffin byo container2.jpg

Want to avoid plastic and polystyrene takeaway containers and other polluting and wasteful single-use receptacles for taking food away? Follow these five steps to maximise your chances of getting food to go in your own container.

Getting food to go in your own container can be confronting the first time you try and it can remain a bit nerve-wracking for those who are a bit nervous about going against the norm and getting a no (like me - a few butterflies every time I tell ya!).

By following the five steps below, you should be well on your way to a yes and you should have to worry very little about getting a no.

1. Remember to pack in your own container

This is the most important step! You’ll need to bring your own container for you to get your meal in your own container. Before you leave the house, think about whether you’ll need to get breakfast, lunch, or dinner to go that day or if you may end up eating somewhere that only serves food in plastic.

If the answer is yes, you don’t have lunch for the day, you are going to eat somewhere that serves its food in single-use, disposable bowls and/or you don’t have time to eat in and need to grab a quick meal to go, pack a reusable container into your bag!

Get into the habit of doing this every day by adding reusables to your keys, wallet, phone mental check before walking out the door - keys?, wallet?, phone?, reusables? This will also help you remember your other reusables like your shopping bag and coffee cup.

Go here to see what we think are The Best Reusable Takeaway Containers and Lunch Box Options.

2. Make sure your container is clean and the right size/type

Food safety is food vendors’ number one concern when it comes to using customers’ own containers for their food. If they think the cleanliness of your container is not up to scratch they won’t serve food in it and rightfully so (you can read more about getting food in your own container and food safety in our Bringing and Using Your Own Reusable Container at Food Stores: The Facts article).

This is why it is vital that you give them something that is clean (and looks clean) to put your food in. It should also be dry.

When packing in the holder you are going to get your food in, make sure it has been washed and dried, is not stained and doesn’t smell. We keep our various reusable receptacles clean by either washing them in the dishwasher, the sink or the washing machine.

Although you can use old plastic tupperware containers to get takeaway food in, these are more likely to hold smells and are more prone to staining and start looking scratched and unclean after a while. This is why we prefer ones made from metal, glass or fabric. They look cleaner and more acceptable.

Different containers work for different takeaways! Think about what you will be asking the server to put into your reusable container and make sure you take one that they will be able to put it in. Will it be big enough? Will it contain your food without creating a mess?

If your meal is going to be saucy or on the large side, you’ll need something solid and substantial to put it in. This is when I would pack in my tiffin. But if you’ll be feasting on something firm and relatively small, you can take something flexible and less bulky like a sandwich pouch or simply a tea towel or napkin to wrap it in.

3. Make sure it will actually be possible - choose where you want to go, what you want to eat and when you go wisely

Sometimes it just won’t be possible or feasible for a food vendor to put the food they’re serving in a container you’ve brought over the container that they normally use. For instance, your container might be too small, they may pre-plate some of the meal in their container already, ready for the rest of it, the way the food is cooked and/or presented may not make it possible, and they may not be able to judge the quantity they give you and may not be alright with potentially giving you more food than you have paid for.

They may also just be too busy to take personal requests. If they are already under a high level of stress, it is best to come back later when it is quieter or go somewhere that isn’t as busy as you are more likely to get a no when they are too busy worrying about other things and just trying to keep up with the high demand.

If it’s your first time, we recommend choosing something that can obviously and easily be gotten in your own container to get your confidence up. Things like sandwiches, burgers, bagels, donuts, and pastries are all easy to put into any container as they are solid and a specific size.

When dealing with food like curries and fries that are saucy and/or difficult to gauge in terms of serving portion, it can be a bit harder for the server to figure out if they can give it to you in your own container.

4. Be ready, confident, and polite, and ask with a smile

When it’s your turn, have your container ready to hand over so you’re not holding anyone up and you don’t get flustered and clearly ask if it’ll be alright for your order to be put in it instead of one of their single-use ones, for example:

  • “would it be possible for me to get one of your burgers in my own container?”, or

  • “I would like one of your burgers please. Could you please put it straight in here?”, or

  • “I’ve brought my own container to put it in. Is that alright?”

We sometimes just order and say “you can just put it straight in here” rather than asking if it is something that clearly won’t be a problem like a donut that will easily slide into our sandwich pouch.

Be polite and friendly and smiley as friendliness and happiness is contagious and people are more likely to agree if you treat them well and with respect. Being confident also helps as servers are less likely to question doing it if you give the impression that you do it all the time without any issues.

We’ve personally found that handing over a holder we are proud of and not embarrassed by makes us much more confident. This is another reason why we prefer to use a good-looking container like our tiffin rather than an old plastic one. It definitely makes us more confident when asking and gets us more compliments and replies that “that’s a good idea!”, with people even asking where they can get one.

5. Explain why you want it in your own container

We’ve also found that you are more likely to get a yes if you explain why you want it in your own container. Explain that you’re trying not to use anything single-use or plastic or trying not to create any waste or trying to be zero waste. So follow up your question about whether it is alright to use your own container with something like:

  • “I’m trying to steer clear of anything single-use”, or

  • “I’m trying to reduce the amount of waste I create”, or

  • “I try not to use anything disposable”.

This also reduces confusion and the chance of a fail like a pie being placed inside the brown bag they normally put it in and then inside your sandwich pouch. This has happened to me a few times!

Also, the chance of any extra single-use packaging you may not be aware of being included with your meal like sauce in little plastic containers or packets is also minimised, as they will most likely ask if you still want these.

When people realise you are doing this for the good of the planet and not for more selfish and ridiculous reasons (I actually have no idea why they think you might be doing it otherwise - maybe because you are a germaphobe or are trying to get more food?), they usually agree that it is a great idea and are happy to help you be eco-friendly.

This can also be for the benefit of the other people in the queue - you might just educate and inspire some of them to do the same next time! It can also lead to a conversation about the problem with plastic pollution and going zero waste with staff members or fellow patrons.

If It’s a Yes

Thank them for going out of their way and for allowing you to use your own container. Tell them you are grateful and will be coming back because of it. And do try to support restaurants and cafes that allow you to bring your own container over those that don’t. Vote with your dollar and be an incentive for these places to continue to do so.

If It’s a No

If you do get a no - we have once or twice, but we mostly get yeses - and you don’t want to accept their no, you can choose to:

  • get your food elsewhere, or

  • get it for here if the food is served on reusable plates and cutlery when eating in and eat it there, or

  • get it for here if the food is served on reusable plates and cutlery when eating in and place it in your own container when they serve it to you and take it with you.

In our experience, most places are happy for you to use your own container - it saves them using one of theirs after all, which saves them money and once they understand that you are doing it for the good of the planet, they are usually impressed rather than annoyed.

If you regularly get takeaway in your own container, do you have any tips to add? If you’ve never tried it before, are you willing to give it a go?

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