Doggy Bag Idiom—More Than Just a Takeout Term

Photo of author

Alison Page

Alison has worked full-time in the writing industry for over ten years, using her knowledge and life experience to create online content, fiction and non-fiction. Alison has published two novels and has ghost-written several non-fiction equestrian books for a client. Alison has been a full-time professional content writer for almost ten years and loves her work as a wordsmith.

A doggy bag is a container a restaurant provides for a diner to take leftover food home. It’s typically used when the portion size is larger than what the individual can consume in one sitting, allowing them to bring the leftovers home.

Idioms such as doggy bag are groups of words whose combined meanings differ from the literal meanings of the individual words. Understanding how to use English language idioms in your writing and conversation can give your prose more vibrancy and flair.

In this article, I delve into the idiom’s meaning, unravel its intriguing origin, and explore related terms and phrases. I guide you on using the expression accurately and in the appropriate context, offering useful tips to infuse your speech with more flair. By the end, you’ll clearly understand when to incorporate this phrase into your conversations seamlessly.

At the end of the guide, I’ve included a fun quiz to test your knowledge of this idiom! Let’s get started!

Doggy Bag Idiom—More Than Just a Takeout Term

What Does the Idiom Doggy Bag Mean?

The idiom doggy bag refers to a container provided by a restaurant for customers to take home uneaten food from their meal. It implies that the leftover food is intended for a pet, like a dog, but it’s commonly used for personal leftovers rather than specifically for pets.

Collins Dictionary defines the idiom as “a small bag provided on request by a restaurant for a customer to carry home leftovers of a meal, ostensibly to feed a dog or other pet.” Similarly, Merriam-Webster defines it as “a container for leftover food to be carried home from a meal eaten at a restaurant.”

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of a doggy bag is a bag in which you can store or carry items pertaining to your dog’s care. For example, I have a canvas doggy bag containing my pup’s grooming tools and a spare collar and lead.

Used figuratively, the expression means a container of some kind that diners can use to take home leftover food from a restaurant. Our local pub serves delicious food, and I frequently ask for a doggy bag because I order too much and can’t eat it all in one sitting!

Variations of the Idiom

The most common variant of the idiom doggy bag is doggie bag

How Is the Idiom Doggy Bag Commonly Used in Context?

The idiom doggy bag is frequently used in the context of dining out, referring to a container provided by restaurants for customers to take home leftover food. In the following sections, explore the various ways this idiom is applied, discover tips for its effective usage, and find real-world examples showcasing its common use.

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Doggy Bag?

  • Dining out: “The restaurant portions were huge, and I had to ask for a doggy bag to take the leftovers home.”
  • Eating at a friend’s home: “We enjoyed such a delicious dinner at Jane’s place last night. I made sure to bring a doggy bag so that we could savor the flavors again today.”
  • Avoiding waste: “I hate to see good food go to waste, so whenever I dine out, I make it a point to ask for a doggy bag if I can’t finish my meal.”
  • Environmental impact: “The restaurant encourages sustainability by offering biodegradable doggy bags for customers who want to take their leftovers home.”

What Are Some Tips for Using Doggy Bag Effectively?

  • Appropriate context: Doggy bag is always used in the context of restaurant dining when referring to taking leftover food home. Don’t use the idiom in unrelated situations; it won’t make sense to your audience.
  • Expressing leftovers: Use the phrase to express your desire to take uneaten portions of a meal home to eat later.
  • Avoid literal interpretation: Asking for a bag of leftovers specifically for your pet could cause offense in a restaurant. So, remember that the idiom is generally used figuratively to refer to a takeout container, not an actual bag for your dog.
  • Cultural awareness: Be aware that the idiom doggy bag might not be universally understood, especially by non-native English speakers. You might need to use an alternative of the idiom, such as takeout container or leftovers box, to make your meaning clear.

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Doggy Bag?

Doggy bag is a popular expression that you’ll see used in different forms of media:

  • Media and entertainment
  • Restaurant reviews
  • Cooking shows
  • Social media posts
  • Everyday conversations

It’s also being quoted by various online news publications, like in these few examples:

While there might be some debate about whether they should be wrapped up to go from the kitchen or at the patron’s table, leaving an eating place with a doggie bag is now considered socially acceptable. (The Orange County Register)

And even if you bring your brother-in-law who can eat his weight in ziti, everybody usually goes home with a doggy bag. (The Long Island Press)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Doggy Bag?

doggy bag Ngram
Doggy bag usage trend.

The doggie bag or doggy bag originated in the United States during World War II as a means to bring home the scraps and bones from your dinner to feed the family dog, an austerity measure.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Over time, American portions at restaurants grew to the point where it was nearly impossible to finish one’s dinner in one sitting.

The doggie bag or doggy bag evolved into a container for a portion of your dinner that you expected to eat the next day for lunch, not feed to the family dog. Early doggie bags or doggy bags were wax-lined bags with pictures of dogs on the outside, which were truly suitable for transporting bones and scraps. 

What Are Some Related Terms to the Idiom Doggy Bag?

Knowing a few antonyms, synonyms, and other related terms to idioms can be helpful. If you use the same idiom too often, your speech can appear forced and lack creativity, so using alternatives can help avoid that.

Doggy Bag Idiom—More Than Just a Takeout Term 1


  • Takeout container
  • Leftover bag
  • Carryout bag
  • Leftover box
  • To-go box
  • Takeaway container


While there isn’t a direct antonym for the idiom doggie bag since it represents taking leftovers home, you can consider alternatives related to not taking food home:

  • Clean-plate club
  • Empty-handed exit
  • No takeout requested

Doggy Bag: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned about the Idiom Doggy Bag?

The idiom doggy bag is a carry-out container diners use to take home uneaten food from a restaurant or eatery.

It provides the audience with a clear figurative description of a vessel used to transport leftover food for consumption by the diner at a later time. When you understand how to use the idiom effectively, you can use it to add variety and flavor to your communication, making your language more engaging and interesting.

I covered everything you need to know about the idiom’s meaning, origin, and proper usage. I also shared a few examples of its use in modern media and some alternatives to the phrase. Now, you have everything you need to work the idiom into any casual conversation or written work.

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our other idiom guides on our site? There are hundreds of quirky, intriguing idioms to learn!