March 3, 2015

It’s routine in the USA even at the finest establishments. Diners box up their leftovers, or – to encourage a generous tip – their waiter does it for them.
Lunching the next day on the remains of the previous evening’s feast is a treat, not to mention a real money saver.
In Australia, the practice has never been encouraged. Such a request nowadays is usually met with a rebuke. Take-home morsels are forbidden, says the server: “We are not licensed for takeaway”.

What exactly are these rules to which officious wait staff refer?

Is there even a need for a takeaway licence in the first place?

In Queensland, state law (The Food Act) sets out licencing requirements for businesses that prepare and serve non-packaged food. The term ‘takeaway’ is not defined in the Act or regulations and in common usage, boxing up leftovers does not come within the ordinary meaning of ‘takeaway’.

What if the waiter is correct and the practice is “takeaway”?

There are 14 categories under which an owner can apply for a council permit – including delicatessens and bakeries – the relevant ones for our discussion being “Café/restaurant” and “Takeaway food premises”.

If both categories are selected, the permit will cover both. That is why many restaurants offer both dining-in and take-out.

There is no additional cost for selecting both options, so why – you may ask – does your restaurant’s permit not include ‘take away’?

Answer: the business owner simply didn’t select it as an option.

Is there any other prohibition on the practice?

State law is enforced by a local authority permit system and fees are charged based on the size of the establishment. State and local authority rules also require operators must observe the Food Safety and Hygiene Code, a federal law.

None of these laws specifically prohibit the taking home of restaurant leftovers. While restaurants/cafes are exempt, caterers who deliver food off-site must also participate in a local authority food safety system for which they pay an additional permit fee.

But the absence of this additional permit is no bar to taking home part of a served-up dish. As explained on the BCC website, “Simply delivering food to customers, [even] pizza delivery, is not considered catering as it does not involve serving.”

Perhaps our waiter’s anxiety lies with a fear that the food may become contaminated after leaving the eatery, because perhaps the packaging is “inadequate” or it is below serving temperature.

But our over-anxious waiter is on shakey ground there.

Our conclusion is that there is no legal impediment to any Queensland restaurant or café offering this add-on service for customers if it wants to.

Perhaps for “peace of mind” owners could require diners to box up the remains themselves and place stickers on take-home boxes to say: “We accept no safety responsibility for food removed from premises”.

Those restaurateurs who prefer to keep up their ban may be well advised to add a disclaimer to their menus: “Food supplied is for consumption on premises only and must not be removed”.

Which message would you prefer to see as you sit down to a hopefully enjoyable feast?

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