Who Keeps the Leftovers?

Recently I’ve discovered that two of my favorite things are in direct conflict with each other. Or so it seems.

Thing 1:love leftovers. I’ve known this for many, many years. When I was growing up, I often ate leftover dinner food for breakfast. In my 20s, I loved making enough food for several meals so I’d have leftovers. And whenever I go to a restaurant, I try to eat only 30-50% of the food on my plate so I get multiple meals out of it. I even take home leftover popcorn from the movie theater–it’s still good for several days!

Thing 2: I love paying for friends when I go out to eat. It’s one of my few indulgences. It makes me happy, and I don’t go out to eat all that often, so it’s not a huge expense.

You might be able to see the conflict here. When I go out to eat with friends and cover the bill, my friends–none of whom asked for me to pay for them–take their leftovers home. As they should.

But…I want their leftovers. I want to eat them with my mouth. I really do.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Who owns the leftovers? The person who ordered the food or the person who paid for the food?

To take it a step further, is there any socially acceptable scenario where I can continue to pay for friends’ meals but also expect to keep their leftovers? Or do the two ideas clash too much?

I actually feel a little guilty even suggesting the idea that I keep someone else’s leftovers, even though I paid for them. Is there some truth behind that guilt? I’m curious to hear what you think.

18 thoughts on “Who Keeps the Leftovers?”

  1. Do your friends read your blog? I think once the conversation is started, they would be accommodating.
    I’m not sure how you would do it in the moment. Maybe humor? “I’ll buy your leftovers off you at the full price of the meal!”

  2. I think this scenario would work out best at a Chinese restaurant (or any other restaurant where the meal consisted of family-style share plates). I know when we eat out for traditional shared chinese plates, it’s really easy to divvy up the leftovers (or even for just one person to snag them all).

    • That’s a great point. It’s been a few months since I’ve gotten dim sum. Perhaps that’s the solution.

  3. Hmmmmm. That thought never occurred to me. I too love leftovers but had never thought that I had any ownership over others leftovers even if I paid for them. Side-note: I do feel that if people bring food to a party that is not in their own storage container (e.g. chips, salsa, dips, beer, etc) then they should leave that as a gift to the host. Regardless of whether or not said item was opened/not opened. Is that relevant?

    • That’s an interesting offshoot of this. I agree, it is polite to leave leftovers if you’ve attended a party (though sometimes the host will ask people to take their leftovers home if they don’t think they’ll get eaten). So in that case, the person who paid for the food is essentially expected to give the food to someone else. Does that mean for my question that I (the person paying) am expected to let the other person keep their leftovers? It would seem that way.

      • I think that’s how it works. That would seem to be the most socially acceptable. Once food is gifted it should stay with the giftee, unless of course they don’t want leftovers. But that’s crazy talk, leftovers are the best.

  4. I’m a little torn here on what the correct response should be, and am not exactly an impartial source of advice (being a friend who has benefitted from your generosity of food buying), but am going to chime in anyway. 🙂

    I don’t exactly love leftovers in general, so knowing the rest of my meal will be enjoyed later and not wasted usually makes me happy. However, there are certain places where I look forward to getting leftovers from (such as Thai food and some pizza places to name a couple), so forfeiting my leftovers in exchange for my meal being paid for makes me sad…especially if I know I’m going to want the meal the next day and that particular restaurant happens to be closed, keeping me from even ordering it again immediately. In cases like that, I’d rather just buy my own meal if that’s the price to keep my tasty leftovers.

    What about just asking what the other person intends to do with their leftovers and if they seem less than enthused about having that meal a second time, then offer to take their leftovers off their hands?

  5. I agree with Ken. If it’s pizza or something else that hasn’t been directly on someone else’s plate, then the leftovers should go home with whoever paid for it. I’m bad; I don’t have anything leftover usually because I nibble at it until it’s less than a serving. Then I feel guilty about throwing it away and wasting it, but it’s not enough to justify bringing home, so I eat that too and leave stuffed. That said, I might send leftovers home with others just to keep myself from having that temptation. I have sometimes had leftovers for breakfast, but most of the time if they make it home… I nibble on them repeatedly per the above situation.

  6. I agree with Katy. Communication is the key. ‘Do you want your leftovers?’ is a reasonable thing to ask. I don’t think that who pays is even relevant. I sometimes eat food that others have paid for and don’t feel guilty – if they didn’t want it, it may not be the social norm, but I think it’s cool to ask if they’re eating it if it looks like they’re just leaving stuff to be binned.

    If someone else also wants leftovers, then they should have first dibs as they ordered it. Otherwise, leaving it to go to waste seems crazy!

    • Bez: With my friends, no leftovers go to waste. 🙂 It’s just a question of who owns the leftovers, the person who ordered them or the person who paid for them. Or, as Trevor suggests, the person who marks them as their own.

  7. I think leftovers belong to the person who ordered the meal, regardless of who paid for it. But there’s also a bit of squick factor for me – the other person’s fork has been in their mouth and in those leftovers and I’d prefer not to share that.

  8. I could go either way here, but in the spirit of being game I will say that next time I am in a situation where you are offering to pay for my meal, I will let you order what I have, and any leftovers will be yours. I get a free meal, you get leftovers, and moreover, you get leftovers of your choice. Everybody wins unless you decide to order me something gross, in which case, enjoy all of the leftovers of your triple anchovy banana pepper pizza.


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