Editorial: Clean plate club

Diners have been outraged this summer as a few restaurants made headlines for charging people for not cleaning their plates. The latest of them is Marmar, a Saudi eatery which claims it has had problems with diners ordering food they don’t eat to impress other people. Sounds like a social problem, right?

Really, it’s not. Here’s a place that’s charging for leftovers in Hong Kong. There’s another one in Australia, too. Commenters on those articles have found the issue “annoying” more than anything else, but as far as being for or against  the idea, people actually seem pretty evenly split. Some people understand the desire for restaurants to cut down on excess expenses, while others are of the opinion that they bought it, the own it, and they should do whatever they want with it.

I’ve been undecided on the issue because I can understand both sides. But for all of the problems diners have with the situation, I am more and more inclined to think this is about more than the comfort of the guest and what they are buying.

In more restaurants (particularly buffets) I’ve noticed signs on the wall begging customers not to waste food. The bottom line: it doesn’t matter if you’re paying for the food. If you waste it, the restaurant loses money. Lots of money. Read the statistics and weep. As of 2008, between 30 and 50 percent of food in America goes to waste somewhere along the process. The tab? $48 Billion annually. Cut that however you like, food industry businesses – and particularly restaurants – bear the brunt of that cost. This isn’t about restaurants pushing you to overeat, nor is it about stroking the ego of a chef. Running any business where you allow widespread waste of your product and you’ll soon be out of business. Until now, restaurants have had no control of that situation.

I love to support local businesses, and there’s no better way to support them than to do all you can to make things as easy as possible for the people of your favorite restaurant. For my part, I’m happy to join the clean plate club.

How do you feel about the rules against leftovers? Comment or email at another.food.critic@wordpress.com.

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