Q&A: The origin of the “doggie bag”

Where does doggie bag come from?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, it's a dog’s dinner…

Q: Hi AWC, can we talk about doggie bags this week?

A: Oh absolutely! They should provide more of them at the beach for pet owners.

Q: Uh, um, nope. I’m talking about the original doggie bags, not the number 2 kind.

A: Hahaha number 2. Nice.

Q: So, why are leftover food containers called “doggie bags” in the first place?

A: Blame the war. 

Q: Care to elaborate?

A: During the early 1940s, the idea became mainstream across America during a time when pet food was scarce. Pet owners were encouraged to give their food leftovers at home to their best friend.

Q: To Dave?

A: Who’s Dave?

Q: My best friend. We went to school together, still keep in touch.

A: No, to their dogs!

Q: Oh, that makes more sense. 

A: This worked fine, but didn’t account for all the leftover food on plates at restaurants. And so, beginning in San Francisco and Seattle, establishments started offering to package up your leftovers to take home to their pets.

Q: That makes sense – so much wastage otherwise.

A: Exactly. But they weren’t called “doggie bags” – they were given other one-off names like “pet pakits”.

Q: So when DID they get the actual name?

A: This didn’t happen until the 1950s, when a New York steak house known for its large portions created the “doggie bag” so people could eat the rest at home – under the guise that the bone was for the dog.

Q: Well I guess it was.
A: Sure, but the idea now was that you didn’t really need to have a pet. It became a euphemism for finishing the rest of your meal at home. That said, the greaseproof packaging created for use around the country doubled down on the idea. 

Q: What did it say?

A: Along with the name “Doggie Bag” and many dog illustrations, it stated, “Oh where, oh where have your leftovers gone? Oh where, oh where could they be? If you’ve had all you could possibly eat, Please bring the rest home to me!” 

Q: Classy.

A: From then on, the idea swept across America. It just happened to coincide with an era where more and more people were dining out. By the 1970s, it was a firmly established thing to ask for a “doggie bag” after a meal. These didn’t have to be bags – they may have been a box or even foil twisted to look like a swan.

Q: Okay, who ordered the swan?

A: Haha. By the way, some etiquette guides of the day frowned upon the practice of asking for a doggie bag – especially outside America. Even to this day, Britain and Europe continue to struggle with the idea of asking for leftovers to take home.

Q: It’s probably more common in America due to necessity. Have you SEEN the size of their portions over there?

A: That’s true. One might argue that if they stopped piling the food so high, they wouldn’t need so many doggie bags, but there you go.

Q: And it’s definitely “doggie bag” not “doggy bag”?

A: It can actually be both – although the original and more favoured term is “doggie”. British English uses “doggy” more than Americans. The key, as always, is to be consistent.

Q: So, to recap, the idea of a “doggie bag” was borne out of the food shortages of war, but evolved to be a no-shame way to say that you’d like to eat the rest of your meal at home later that evening in front of the refrigerator light in your PJs.

A: Correct!

Q: Or you could still feed it to your best friend I suppose.

A: You could. It’s a dog eat doggie bag world, after all.

Q: No, I meant I could offer some to Dave.

A: Okay, we’re done here…

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