Dishin' That: Dealing with diners who don't think outside the box

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The couple had been pleasant to serve.

Sniffing, tasting and swapping a round of signature cocktails, they asked me to bring and open a mid-range bottle of Malbec while they plotted out their ordering strategy.

Apparently celebrating something, they knew their way around the descriptive ingredients, not asking for further explanation of the specials. Somewhere in their early 40s, I pegged them as dining pros who would appreciate each of the dishes they ordered and shared.

What I didn’t peg them for was that they were hoarders.

Although fully entitled to do as they wish with what they order, hoarders are the folks who take home everything they didn’t, or don’t intend to, eat on the premises.

Hoarders are the people who ask for take-out boxes well before their meal is served. They ask if wine can be corked and brown-bagged. They ask if take-out containers are microwavable. And they ask if those containers can please be double-bagged.

People hoard in restaurants for different reasons and most of them, while inconvenient for staff, are acceptable. The diners don’t want to get too full before the next course, or when dessert comes. They want bragging rights when their co-workers catch a whiff of leftovers at lunch. Perhaps one, or both, are on Weight Watchers, which preaches the divide-and-conquer dining practice. Or, they want a third party to enjoy the meal at a later time.

Whatever the reason, hoarding can slow down the operation and put the chef in an irreparably pissy mood. Diehard hoarders often request half of an item be boxed before it leaves the kitchen, ruining the opportunity for a geometric design of a drizzled reduction, or the full on “wow” factor of a stunning presentation. Smart servers do this out of the chef’s view, but many hoarders prefer to box things themselves.

It’s a fact that part of good service includes the boxing and bagging of an occasional leftover, and typically, I roll with it. Many hoarders are aware of the added effort and cost in requesting more than one takeout container per person, and compensate accordingly. But truly extreme hoarders require a lot of hands-on attention, to say nothing of the spike in paper cost. (I’ve often thought it would be ideal if people could bring their own containers, but the health officials disagree.)

Aaron, a career server in Boston, gave me the best of the worst scenarios.

“I like to give good service,” he said. “But we started these mid-week, five- and eight-course prix fixe dinners, and pair them with wine. The portions are small, elegantly plated and flow at a certain pace. I recently had this table of two women who not only wanted to modify almost every course, but they wanted to take half of everything home. They requested separate boxes for each course, so the sauces wouldn’t touch each other.”

“It was a nightmare,” he continued. “Then, after complaining about the ‘suggested gratuity,’ they each left with two handled bags that we use for catering. The owner was so mad that she’s putting a disclaimer on the menu. Really, it’s bad enough when two people want to share a three-course tasting intended for one person, but this was nuts.”

Peas and Q’s

Q — Last week you wrote about tipping at food trucks. I usually agree with you, but this time I disagree that I should tip for the honor waiting in line, then waiting too long for my food, and then having to sit in my car to eat it. I’m afraid to ask, but what do you think about the pizza delivery guy? My favorite place charges a delivery fee already. — Mark R., Portland.

A — Every place has different policies. If you order from the same place on a regular basis, then call and ask the manager exactly where the delivery fee goes. Then ask who pays for gas. Does the kid receive tipped, or non-tipped employee wages? Is he your regular delivery driver, who has to pool his tips with other drivers who may be slackers? Most importantly, do you want to wait forever to get your pie when winter hits?

You obviously don’t want to pick it up yourself, so I suggest tipping the kid, regardless of a house delivery fee. An extra buck goes a long way and you just might find your pizza arrives a little bit quicker next time you don’t want to get off the couch.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

  • Pinetree North

    Maybe the lady needs to find a job that doesn’t involve serving the pesky public. Paying customers have a right to ask for what they want, and many people simply don’t finish their entire portion at the table. We, the paying public, have a right to ask for takeout boxes.

  • Maggie Swanson Moody

    Having been a server for over 30years I would say the author should find another profession. During my career as a server I worked in everything from diners to fine dining restaurants and considered preparing that not eaten to be taken home a part of my job. The article and the tone in which it was written simply make the author seem like a worker too lazy to do her job as well as a unhappy person who likes to put others down with her continual reference to hoarders.

  • Dawn Burgess

    You make it sound like even just taking home leftover food is something you reluctantly tolerate. So it’s preferable that people either overeat or throw out a bunch of food at the end of the meal? Such a sensible attitude when we waste 40% of our food in this country. What’s a little more waste, if it keeps a server from feeling annoyed?