June 6, 2006
Foul Ball

They serve a very fine grilled "baseball" sirloin steak at the new Bistro 33 Midtown at 16th and K in Sacramento. Big, too. We couldn't finish the one we ordered the other night, so we asked our server if he would box up the leftover portion so we could take it home. Apologetically, he said he couldn't, though he offered to bring us a box so we could package it ourselves. Fine, that's the common procedure in a lot of restaurants, though they aren't usually the classy sort of place that Bistro 33 Midtown aspires to be. Such restaurants not only carefully pack leftovers, they considerately identify and date the contents and hold the sack at the hostess stand until you are ready to leave.

The waiter may have sensed our surprise, and proceeded to explain that the boxing of leftovers by guests themselves rather than service staff is a new public-health regulation.

This was news to me, so I subsequently called the restaurant's manager, Tara Kinsella, who said a health inspector had directed servers to no longer return to the kitchen with leftovers to be boxed. Servers could provide guests with a box at their table, but guests were to do the packaging themselves. "My understanding is that once the food is on the table the server isn't to touch it," says Kinsella.

She doesn't like the directive. "I'd rather do it (box up leftovers for guests) because it's more polite for guests, but we need to follow the health-code protocol." She wasn't surprised when a health inspector said servers no longer were to put up leftovers. She's from Arizona, where that's the law.

California, however, has no such requirement, says Mel Knight, director of the Environmental Management Department of the County of Sacramento, responsible for overseeing safety issues at restaurants. He's sure none of his inspectors, who are responsible for assuring that restaurateurs abide by public-health standards, told the folks at Bistro 33 Midtown that servers weren't to box leftovers. "There's no statutory reason for it, or public-health reason for it," said Knight. "That shouldn't have come from our department. We don't go around making things up."

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