Last year, as takeout orders surged, Bungalow 44 co-owner Peter Schumacher read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that caught his eye. It talked about a new female-owned S.F. company called Dispatch Goods that was providing a different kind of takeout container to local restaurants like Zuni Cafe and others. So, he got in touch.
“The company is run by two really smart, energetic women,” Schumacher says. “And they provide all the containers, stainless or glass with lids and they are all reusable.”
The way it works is that customers who go for the option — and most do, says Schumacher — pay $2 more per order (the restaurant pays an additional $3 per order for the service) and then picks up the food in reusable containers placed in insulated blue bags. Later, people either bring the containers back to the restaurant and place them in a drop-off box or call or text Dispatch Goods and just leave them on the curb for pickup.
“The customers really like it. I think they feel good about it. They don’t feel guilty about having all the garbage and they love the presentation,” Schumacher says, adding that the containers keep the food warmer and with the clear tops make the meals look great. “I think we’ve all been there over the last year and a half: ‘I’d love to do takeout, but I feel so bad because there is all this garbage.’”
And customers aren’t the only ones who like it. In July, County of Marin planners held a workshop as they began considering a proposal to require grocery store food counters, delis, bakeries, farmers markets, food trucks and carry-out vendors in unincorporated areas to use reusable or compostable fiber-based containers for packaging — with a big emphasis on the preferred reusable options.
The women behind Dispatch Goods certainly agree with this plan. “We see that there is a consumer misconception about what happens after they throw items away, as well as the enormous impact and resources single-use takes to be created,” says COO Maia Tekle. “The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom. There are parts of the system that work really well, and those are the ones we’re taking and building off of.”
Schumacher says he sees a real change coming for the way his industry handles takeout. “What if everybody uses the same containers in all the restaurants and to-go places? And the more people that use them, the more that will be in circulation being washed, sanitized and reused,” he says. “And in the end, there won’t be any to-go packaging. I think it’s definitely going to go that direction.”