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a chinese takeout container with chopsticks emerging
figure 1  


doggie bag. A travel container for taking home the remains of a dinner eaten in a sit-down restaurant. The term is a euphemism implying that the humans would never be so needy or stingy as to want to eat the remains themselves: the food is for the dog.

I guessed that this term is left over from the times when only the wealthy ate out, which appears to be the case. Being wealthy it would, naturally, be odd to worry about waste or need to hang on to food one had already paid for. The term allows the diner to avoid admitting that the price of a meal out is indeed notable and that leftover food is destined to be eaten later by the consumer. Apparently, while it is unacceptable for a human to eat leftovers, it’s completely reasonable that a dog would do the same. Given the definition of dog's breakfast, it might appear that a leftovers from Chez Panisse would be considered real gourmet event for a dog. This interlocutor doubts that many dogs saw those remains, however.

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Lawry's doggie bag spacer
figure 2  

The California Restaurant Association claims that doggie bags (also initially called “bags for bones”) were introduced by Lawry's Prime Rib in Los Angeles in 1938.reference 1 The restaurant chain claims many firsts including serving salad before dinner and valet parking. Even if you have never heard of Lawry's, the rib joint, you may have eaten the famed Lawry's seasoned salt.reference 2

These days, when cooking at home is beginning to seem like a luxury and eating out at the end of a grueling day in our dog-eat-dog world is cheap (if lacking in nutrition), bringing the remains home is simply good sense. Perhaps the euphemism will fade with time. However, a 2001 CBS radio feature story about the rise in requests for doggie bags (said rise attributed to an economic “downturn”) used the term repeatedly.reference 3 Whether the requests actually result in food being taken home and eaten is another question. Sylvie Le Mer, owner of Ti Couz, a creperie in San Francisco's Mission District, reports that “90% of people asking to package their leftovers [are] leaving them behind.”reference 4

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spacer Jerry Seinfeld
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A Seinfeld monologue plays off of the phrase, as if it were meant to be taken literally:

Whenever you ask for a doggie bag at a restuarant, there's a certain sense of failure there, isn't there? People always whisper it to the waiter, “Uh, excuse me. Can I get the doggie bag? I, uh, II couldn't make it” And, It is embarrassing, beacuse the doggie bag means either you're out at a restaurant when you're not hungry, or you've chosen the stupidest possible way to get dog food that there is.

How about the doggie bag on a date? That's a good move for a guy, huh? Lemme tell you something: if you're a guy and you ask for the doggie bag on a date, you might as well have them just wrap up your genitals too. You're not going to be needing those for awhile, either.reference 5



1. California Restaurant Association. 2004. California Restaurants: A Rich History of Innovation and Excitement. The Free Library. Farlex. Accessed Aug 18 2009 from http:// California+restaurants: +a+rich+history+of+innovation+ and+excitement-a0125561581.

2. Stern, Michael. 2009. Lawry's Prime Rib - Chicago, Il. Accessed Aug 18 2009 from http:// Restaurant/ Review/ 2627-2614/ lawrys-the-prime-rib.

3. Columbia Broadcasting System. 2001

4. Rosenberg, Betsy. “No More Doggie Bags!” In Eco-Talk Radio. San Francisco: KCBS Radio, 2002. Accessed from: http:// ramgen/~ecotalk/ ticouzrest_9_02.rm








5. Cherones, Tom and L. David and J. Seinfeld. 1993. The Smelly Car. In Seinfeld. Castle Rock Entertainment. Apr 15.

The phrase does not cross the pond, though. Ralph Keyes reports that to the Brits, “‘doggie bags’ are what dog-walkers use to clean up their pets' messes.”reference 6 6. Keyes, Ralph. 2009. Wagging the Dog. The Bark, Jul/Aug, 70-71.

About the illustrations: Well, you might say that Figure 1 is not a doggie bag, per se. This image of the classic Chinese food take-out container refers more directly to food that is purchased with the expectation that it will be consumed at a place other than the restaurant. Still, I think it calls forth the idea of taking food home more than any other I could conceive of. Image by the author.

Figure 2 is a more traditional bag, I added the Lawry's logo. © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 3 is an altered low-resolution version of a Jerry Seinfeld image taken from the IMDB site.

see also: dogmeat; dog's breakfast; dog's dinner Last updated: December 15, 2009
by Alec MacLeod 2001-2008  Dogmatic Technologies Oakland Creative Commons unless otherwise expressly stated, all original material of whatever nature created by Alec MacLeod and included in The Canine in Conversation and any related pages, is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Please read the Terms of Use Agreement by Alec MacLeod Dogmatic Technologies