Planning Ahead: Out to Eat


One thing I'm looking forward to about spring and summer is is the feeling of walking out of my house on a warm day for a walk, arms empty and swinging, no coat, nothing in my pockets but my keys. Ahhhh. It just exemplifies the freedom that warm weather has to offer. Do you know that feeling?

But - and longtime readers can probably see this coming - unless I'm headed out for just a brief, aimless walk, I probably have a few things along with me that will help me stay zero waste. Be prepared, and all that. So, if you're curious, a look into how I think about what to bring with me, at least if I'm headed to a restaurant:

One of the easiest zero waste swaps, I think, is to phase out your reliance on restaurant leftover containers (plastic! styrofoam! who knows what!). If I'm going out to eat and there's any chance at all that there will be something at the end that I'll want to take home, I'll bring along a to go container of my own. I like to bring a nice big stainless steel one with a tightly sealing lid, so that it can be as helpful for soup as it is for a sandwich, and so that I know it won't break. I use something very similar to this.

Other things, besides a leftover container, that might be helpful to bring with you: a metal knife, spoon, and fork, a cloth napkin, a reusable water bottle, and maybe a stainless steel straw, if you'd like.

If that sounds like a lot to carry around (and remember to bring!), that's probably because it is. Oof. Luckily, I rarely need to bring all of it at once.

If I've been someplace before, then I probably already have a pretty good mental map of what types of disposable goods they use that I should try to steer around, and so I'll tailor what I bring to that. So, for the delicious Korean restaurant down the street, I'll bring a water bottle, napkin, and leftover container, but no fork. For a taco joint I love, let's be real: there are never going to be leftovers, so a napkin is all I need.

If it's a new-to-you restaurant, you could try to quickly scan their pictures on Yelp, which often helpfully show what their place settings like. You could bring everything you might need, or you could hedge your bets and just bring a few helpful things. In a pinch, a clean handkerchief can be used for the surreptitious wiping of fingers, or a paper napkin can be taken home to compost.

This has been what works for me, but there are so many ways to change it up so that it works for you. If you're a parent, this kit might look a little different (bigger?). If you own a car, maybe it's something that you always keep in your trunk, just in case. If you're not someone who generally carries a purse, maybe a canvas tote or reusable grocery bag would do the trick.

Maybe you'll carry just what can fit in your pocket and just forgo taking leftovers home. Maybe you'll accidentally forget something, or pack a container that can't hold soup and end up ordering soup. Or, maybe you'll wind up at a different restaurant than you anticipated with nothing but a plastic fork in sight, or have more leftovers than you anticipate and have to leave some behind (or speed-eat 'em). Maybe you'll be on one of those carefree spring walks, and, when hunger or thirst comes, be left empty-handed, at the mercy of whatever closest restaurant you can find, disposable cups or no. These have all happened to me. But the good news is that we're all human and we're all imperfect, so you tried, and you'll try again next time.

Stay tuned - next week I'll be giving away one set of stainless steel to-go containers to a lucky reader. How is your restaurant kit different from mine? I'd love to hear.

Pictured here: my Klean Kanteen, this stainless steel container, and a Fog Linen napkin.