This post originally appeared in the June 19, 2023 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
To me, there is no worse fate at a restaurant than reaching the end of a meal and realizing I am too full for dessert. It happened recently: I sat down to eat at Middle Child Clubhouse and immediately honed in on the dessert section of the menu. They were serving Key lime pie. I needed it.
But by the time my friends and I had plowed through a Caesar salad, burgers, and a hulking, bone-in pork chop, I was uncomfortably full and needed to lie down. The Key lime pie might have been out of reach, if not for my signature dining-out move: ordering dessert to go.
I’ve been doing this since college, when, on a trip to South Carolina with my mom, I was stuffed absolutely full of fried oysters but found myself unable to walk away from the bowls of banana pudding being delivered to the tables around me. As we deliberated over whether to order the pudding, our server suggested taking it with us. A couple of hours later, while we lay in our hotel beds watching a movie, we dug into a little plastic deli container of banana pudding, passing it back and forth as we ate, finding ourselves once again swaddled in the intimacy of the restaurant’s hospitality.
However, there are limits to this technique. Frozen desserts are the most obvious since they’ll rarely last more than 20 minutes. Sometimes restaurants also pre-portion desserts like budino into glass jars, which can’t leave the restaurant and aren’t easy to transfer. At a high-end restaurant, the desserts are often composed of several distinct components that rarely survive the trip home; anything that’s going to require more upkeep than simply sticking in the fridge is probably not a good candidate to take home. If I’m considering dessert to go, I’ll usually defer to my server.
“I want to order dessert, but I’m really full. How do you think this Key lime pie would do for takeout if I wanted to eat it a little later tonight?” Sometimes this question causes a lot of worried glances and equivocating, in which case I’ll simply get the dessert at the restaurant and power through. (What a burden!) Other times, though, servers are delighted, not infrequently sharing that they also love to take home leftover bits of desserts at the end of their shifts.
As a dedicated lover of dessert, I consider it my duty to participate in its consumption. Industry knowledge says that less than half of diners in a dining room will order something sweet after their meal, making it difficult for a restaurant to afford the cost of a dedicated pastry chef, lowering the quality of desserts when the job falls to a busy line cook.
Taking dessert to go isn’t just a special-occasion move. In fact, I’d argue it’s better deployed at your neighborhood spot on a normal night when you don’t want to stuff yourself to the gills, but you know that in a few hours, you’re really going to long for something sweet.
The place I do this most often is my neighborhood pizza spot, Stina Pizzeria. Stina is ostensibly a pizza place, but chef Bobby Saritsoglou also turns out gorgeous seasonal salads, grilled seafood, and a chocolate-tahini layer cake that never fails to call my name. I often go in thinking I’ll just have a salad and a few small plates but emerge hours later full of pasta, pizza, and the warm glow of Saritsoglou’s hospitality. On those nights, I’d hate to miss out on dessert, so I opt to take the cake home. I stow it in my fridge, pulling it out an hour or two after dinner when my stomach has settled slightly and I’m ready for a few more bites. A restaurant-quality dessert is a wonderful frivolity. Taking it home to enjoy on my couch, possibly in my pajamas, is a true luxury.
Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme is a writer living in Philadelphia.