We Should Be Eating Leftovers off Other Tables at Restaurants
We should normalize eating leftovers from other tables at restaurants. In January 2013 I was in the small town of Mintern, Colorado at a restaurant called The Saloon. It’s one of a handful of restaurants in the town, and features a selection of americanized Mexican food. There’s lots of silly decor, the portions are large, and the food is cheap. A table beside us had cleared out, leaving a nearly untouched stack of nachos in the center. When the waiter came over to clear the dishes, a friend of mine leaned over, and asked, in the same tone he might ask for a new fork, “Hey, could we have those?”
The waiter was naturally perplexed, and he looked around to see if anyone was listening, as if for some authority who might be able to tell him if this was an okay thing to do. Could he say yes? Should he say yes? Should he laugh and pretend it was a joke? Was it a joke? After an awkward pause, with a ‘what the heck’ shrug, he put the nachos on our table. The rest of us were aghast, staring in disbelief as our table-mate happily tucked in to the leftover food. After a moment, I tentatively snuck a chip, and then another, and then another.
The food was, for all intents and purposes, no different than any food I might have ordered for myself. It was comprised entirely of the same elements. However, at least for those first few bites, I chewed cautiously, afraid something terrible might happen. You could argue that eating the leftovers of someone else is gross or dangerous on the grounds that you lose surveillance of the food, but in going to a restaurant in the first place you are relinquishing control over what hands are touching your food, not to mention what’s going into your food. Anyone who’s worked in a kitchen can tell you this. And, in defense of eating the unscantioned leftovers, they were headed straight for the garbage anyways. Food waste is a gigantic, sometimes difficult to fathom issue. Our table was able to enjoy something we hadn’t ordered, for free, all while preventing it from going in the trash. Literally the only barrier to enjoying what would otherwise be sullied food was the stigma of asking.
This practice isn’t for everyone; a table of introverts will likely fail in this endeavor. It’s probably not for everywhere either. If you find yourself at the French Laundry, asking for the scraps of your neighbors Quail Rilette could perhaps spoil the spirit of the evening, but the next time you see a plate of hardly touched nachos making its way to the garbage, think twice.
*For each moot, we generate a cover image using DALL·E, an AI art platform that generates images using natural language processing. This image on the right was generated using the title, 'We Should Be Eating Leftovers off Other Tables at Restaurants' in the style of Pablo Picasso, Will's favorite artist.*