Wednesday, October 1, 2014 Tishri 7, 5775
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Wedding Doggie Bag

Thursday, May 1, 2014
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Dear Miriam,

At the risk of fulfilling every Jewish stereotype out there and kind of turning into my grandmother, is it inappropriate to bring plastic baggies to a wedding to pack up leftovers? I get the sense that the answer is yes, but why? I used to work in catering, and I know how much food gets wasted at these affairs. If it's just going to be thrown out or eaten by the wait staff, why shouldn't guests take it home and enjoy it, or package it up to bring to the bride and groom later?

Signed,
Wedding Doggie Bag


Dear Doggie Bag,

Yes, it's inappropriate. Here's why: It's not your wedding. You can't take home the chairs or the glasses or the chuppah. You similarly cannot enter the kitchen uninvited and pack up a to-go container of chicken or a doggie bag of rolls. You can take home the wedding favors. You can also take home the centerpiece if it's offered to you by a member of the wedding party. Maybe, maybe you can even take home a piece of cake if you have to leave before you can eat it. (Full disclosure: At a recent wedding with my almost-three-year-old, I brought home a piece of a cake in a sippie cup. Not to do so would have resulted in a tantrum so epic it surely would have been a breach of etiquette more severe than packing up the cake.) 

If this upsets you so much given what you've seen from the catering side of things, then I would encourage you to plan ahead. If you're close with the couple (rather than, say, if you're someone's plus-one and have never met the couple before), contact them before the big day and offer to do them a great service. Say something like, "I know you'll be really busy on your wedding day, maybe so busy you won't get to enjoy all the delicious food. I also know how much food gets wasted after weddings, so I was wondering if you'd like me to help pack up the leftovers. I can talk to the catering staff and put together a really nice spread for you both to enjoy after the stress of the event is over."

If the couple responds positively, you could come back with, "Once I pack up as much as you can eat, would you be OK with me distributing the rest of the leftovers to other guests?" If they say yes, you're in the clear to do whatever you want, including taking food home yourself in any type of to-go receptacle. If they balk, back off.

You can further help by offering to transport the couple's leftovers back to their home or to the bridal suite or whatever. Just make sure it all happens in a way that is actually helpful and gracious rather than a burden. You don't want them to leave their own wedding carrying a bunch of catering trays with drippy sauce and sticky lids.

I run a lot of catered meals and am always grateful when someone offers to take leftovers. I am not grateful, however, when someone says, "How can you waste all this food? There are hungry people in Philadelphia who would love to have it." Yes, I know there are, and if someone would like to bring the leftovers to them, that would be a lovely gesture. But at the end of a long night, that's not in the cards for me.

Along those lines, if you are going to offer to pack up food for a couple, be sure to do it in a way that implies zero guilt if they say no. The party is about them. The food is about them. Even, if it comes to it, the excess is about them. The worst that will happen is that some waiters will get to enjoy cold filet mignon at midnight once all the guests have gone home.

Be well,
Miriam

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