Japanese restaurants have a lot of hospitable touches to them, like the oshibori, a thick, moist hand towel (chilled in the summer, but warm in the winter) and an on-table call button so you can summon a waiter without having to raise your voice. Something they generally don’t have, though, is doggy bags.
Granted, even accounting for differences in the average size of people in Japan and Western nations, Japanese restaurant portions are more modest. That said, there are still Japanese people with particularly small appetites, as well as restaurants in Japan that serve up especially generous portions. But if you don’t clean your plate when eating out in Japan, you can expect any uneaten food to go back into the kitchen when the wait staff clears your table, and then into the trash.
So it actually marked a big policy shift when Royal Host, a popular nationwide restaurant chain specializing in yoshoku (originally Western-style cuisine adapted to suit Japanese tastes) announced that it’s now allowing eat-in customers to take their leftovers home, and is supplying containers for those who wish to do so.
So why don’t all restaurants do this? Some cite health concerns, saying that they don’t want customers to possibly become sick after eating food that wasn’t properly stored or refrigerated between when the customer leaves the restaurant and eventually eats it. This feels like a pretty flimsy excuse, though, given that Japan is filled with convenience stores, bento boxed lunch takeout places, and supermarkets stocked with all manner of pre-made foodstuffs that customers can purchase and take home to eat whenever they want.
It’s possible that such businesses may have specialized licenses that restaurants would need to acquire, but even if that is the case, it doesn’t seem like it would be a particularly high hurdle for restaurants to clear, considering that they already need to show they store and handle the food that goes into their dishes in a safe and sanitary manner. So perhaps much of Japanese restaurants’ reluctance to let customers take home their leftovers comes from an image-management position. It’s simply something that restaurants haven’t traditionally done, and customers walking out with bags of food might be seen by some as something that should be left to cheap fast food joints, not sit-down dining establishments.
But whatever the arguments against doggy bags, Royal Host has decided it’s time for a change. In its announcement, the restaurant chain cited a desire to comply with calls from the Japanese government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to work towards sustainable development goals by reducing food waste.
The path to Royal Host’s new policy’s implementation was probably further smoothed by the influence the coronavirus pandemic has had on the restaurant industry in Japan. While in-restaurant dining hasn’t been legally prohibited, many Japanese people are choosing to avoid it. In response, a large number of restaurants that previously did not offer take-out, including Royal Host, have started to. So if Royal Host already has containers and is instructing its staff in how to pack up food, it doesn’t seem like it should make a difference if the food being packed is leftovers.
Royal Host’s new policy went into effect on October 7, and while certain items, such as soup and raw foods, are still on the no-take-home list, it’s a big change for the chain, and hopefully one that other restaurants will implement too.
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