How to Choose the Right To-Go Container


The “doggy bag” may be an antiquated term, but the truth is that most restaurants need some way to let customers carry extra food items. Whether someone orders Chinese, picks up food “to-go,” or simply cannot finish that giant plate of barbeque ribs, customers rely on carryout containers. Restaurants have several options in their containers. The size, shape and material depends on the food and even how it’s packaged.

Carry out containers come in different materials, and the best container for your operation depends on the type of food served. Consider aluminum, Styrofoam, plastic, plastic or bioplastic containers for your business. Keep in mind how customers or clients may reheat the food, as well as how the food will hold up during transport.

aluminum food container

Aluminum Containers

Aluminum containers hold in the heat when foods are ordered “to go,” and they are great vessels for reheating. Slightly tougher than foil, they can go straight from the refrigerator to the oven, so many customers appreciate it when leftover pastas, pizza or meat dishes are stashed in an aluminum container.

Types of Aluminum Containers

Aluminum containers are available in round, square or rectangular shapes. These containers are usually low and have ridged edges. For a chafing dish substitution, select a rectangular full-size container for using as a chafing dish or in a steam table.

Aluminum Caters to Caterers

Many caterers utilize aluminum containers daily. Since they often put together large portions for events, full-size or half-size aluminum containers can be used in place of chafing dishes on steam tables or over a flame. Aluminum containers can be found in large sizes, which is great for serving vats of mashed potatoes during the holidays, or large portions of barbeque chicken at the local block party.

You may also prefer aluminum foil to use as food wrap rather than use an actual container. Try aluminum food wrap for items like burritos and sandwiches.

Is Aluminum Right for You?

Heavy-duty items are great for reheating, freezing, transporting and serving. Another perk: it’s recyclable.

Keep In Mind

You’ll probably need to purchase separate lids, or use foil to cover your aluminum containers. Also important to keep in mind, these types of containers are not safe for use in the microwave.

Styrofoam container

Styrofoam Containers

Styrofoam containers are made from the chemical, polystyrene. This makes them excellent insulators, and these containers are common for everything from burgers to steaks.

Types of Styrofoam Containers

Clamshell containers have a built-in lid. Use a Styrofoam clamshell container for a burger, an order of Chinese stir-fry, or even leftover steak. Try a compartment container for to-go meals that include different ingredients or separate sides.

Is Styrofoam Right for You?

Styrofoam’s lightweight, insulating and low-cost properties are perfect for many types of foods. It can handle heavy food items like pasta, and it’s great for both hot and cold items.

Keep In Mind

Styrofoam has also been known to leach chemicals when heated, and it is not recommended for long-term use. It’s not recyclable and it takes years to decompose.

Bio-Plastic Deli Containers

Common in delis and grocery store produce departments, plastic is strong and durable. The added benefit of a tightly-sealing lid can be helpful for products like pasta salad, soup and juicy fruit pieces with a tendency to leak. Plastic is usually transparent for added visibility.

Is Bio-Plastic Right for You?

Plastic containers are sturdy and durable, great for heavy or liquid items. Plastic is often recyclable and can be reused, making it a nice option for thrifty customers.

Keep In Mind

Bio-plastic deli containers usually require separate lids. Microwave use is typically not recommended.

bio-plastic clamshell container

Bio-plastic Clamshell Containers

Bioplastic is the term for containers made of renewable materials like corn, potatoes and other plant-based substances. Just like plastic or Styrofoam, bioplastics are available as cups, plates and containers for holding and transporting food items.

Types of Bio-plastic Clamshell Containers

Bioplastic clamshell containers are especially common since they have built-in lids and compartments to keep foods separated.

Is Bio-plastic Right for You?

Bioplastic carryout containers are great alternatives for plastic, Styrofoam and other non-recyclable containers. They are designed to decompose when composted, but usually require special composting centers to truly break down.

Keep In Mind

The biggest downside to bioplastics is its weak composition, and its tendency to breakdown in high heat. These containers are also usually more expensive than their traditional counterparts.

Storing Your Carryout Container Inventory

Store carryout containers in your supply room, kitchen or near the cash register area where they are easy to access and close to the preparation space. Put them near soda fountains if they are meant for customer access.

Take-out Only

For restaurants that serve food for take-out only, the chef or cook will load the food directly into a carryout-appropriate container rather than a dinner plate. This is efficient and effective, and requires no work by the cashier or server.

In-House Dining and Take-out Options

Restaurants that offer a to-go option as well as a dine-in option usually have an employee ready to prepare the meal to-go, then present it to a waiting customer. This may involve putting a lid on the container of food, and bagging up the container along with a set of plastic silverware and napkins before handing it to the customer.

Self-Service Take-Out

Some restaurants stash their containers on a counter or near a soda fountain so that customers can serve themselves. Fast-casual and casual dining restaurants may have this option to give customers the most control over their leftovers.

Assisted Doggy-Bagging

Sit-down restaurants most often encourage the server to bring the container to the table for customers to fill themselves. At fine dining restaurants, servers may opt to remove the plates and box up any remaining food back in the kitchen area.


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1 Comment

  1. Clamshell packaging is an all around win for me, so it was nice seeing it that listed here as a suggestion. The bets thing is it doesn’t squeak like styrofoam, and it does not get damp like cardboard. All around it is the best container overall in my opinion. Climbs really do amazing things for us!

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