Sharing Plates


Why is it so hard to ask to share a plate in a restaurant?

Last weekend, at a small breakfast, lunch and barista spot in Newport, Oregon, I needed to ask just that question. “Can we share a plate?” Sitting there with my friend, neither of us big eaters but both of us wanting something for breakfast, I pondered how I would broach the subject to the waiter. He appeared to be a good guy and friendly.

Still, I hesitated. I paused. I sipped some more latte. I’ve been told in more than one establishment that they did not do “that sort of thing”; I’ve been told in others that there’s a plate charge (and I’m fine with that); I’ve been told to wait while the chef was asked the question.

The message was: Lady, you’re cheap. Dig deep in that purse, find the wallet, and buy the dinner.

But it is not all about the money. Having been brought up to clean my plate, it is tough for me to leave food uneaten. And it is equally difficult to eat the amounts some restaurants serve. I’m one of those people you often see leaving a restaurant with a white box or bag of food in my hand. Used to be called a doggie bag, but not anymore. It’s lunch. Leftovers. And it is almost always a bit of a hassle to carry around unless I’m going straight home.

Last weekend I was not going straight home. I was on vacation at the ocean and I was going for a beach hike and an aquarium visit and then a drive up the coast. So, there would be food left on the plate.

Think of all the food that is wasted every single day, every single meal, across the country.

Forty percent of food goes uneaten in the U.S. — 20 pounds of food per person per month.

That’s costing us, as a nation, $165 billion per year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. And where does the food go? To the compost. The trash. The landfill, where it ends up being almost 25 percent of the US methane emissions.

Think of how many people could eat well if we ate differently and rerouted food supplies. If <ahem> we shared plates.

And there I was, eating breakfast in a small cafe on a rainy morning, pondering the idea that I could either add to the problem or be part of the solution. Admittedly, I’d be a very tiny, fractional part, but still, a part that falls on the right side of the equation. We have to start somewhere: why not here? Why not now, with a single plate?

I smiled at the waiter there in Cafe Stephanie in Newport, and said, “We’d like to share the breakfast plate.”  I smiled. My partner smiled.

The waiter smiled. “Sure thing,” he said. “What kind of toast do you want with that?”

It was that easy and that friendly. I fell in love with the place even more than I had been as I’d been sipping my perfect latte with the scrolled cream on top and nibbling the scone that came with it. Suddenly, I loved the casual tables, the banter between cooks and waiters, the framed restaurant reviews on the walls, and the aroma of a fine breakfast being cooked just for me and my partner. I tasted her mocha. And yup. That was perfect, too.

[For a study of food wasted, see the Natural Resources Defense Council’s article, “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Far to Fork to Landfill“.]