Whatever happened to washing dishes if you couldn’t cover your bill? Running from a restaurant before paying (a.k.a. dine and dash) seemed to be a rare thing in the past. But we’ve come across more and more stories that might point to a growing number of these ultimate restaurant cheapskates.
The Global Incidence of Dine and Dash
It’s hard to track this trend in numbers, but there has been a reported 20 percent rise in “theft of service” cases reported to the NYPD between 2009 and 2010 in New York City. In London, there was a 33 percent rise in “eat and run” cases between 2009 and 2010. And then there are the anecdotes.
Who’s Doing Dine and Dash?
It’s not necessarily the young or unkempt customer who ends up being a restaurant runner. Often they are well-dressed, seemingly polite, and with high-class tastes.
“People think it’s the young who cheat — [but] I feel like half the time it’s people with a little more savvy,” New York chef-owner Jehangir Mehta was quoted as saying.
Beware the big bill, as an upscale UK restaurant found out from the three men and one woman they dubbed the “champagne bandits.” The group racked up a £500 bill of champagne, wine, and three-courses of food before leaving without paying.
Extreme Retaliations for Dine and Dashers
The mandatory group gratuity has angered guests before, though one case, in which a family was locked into a restaurant until they would pay the tip, seems a bit extreme.
How Are Guests Getting Away With Dine and Dash?
Sometimes the guests are sitting outside and have an easy get-away. Or they say they forgot their wallet and will be right back. They dupe waiters into thinking they’ll return by leaving an empty purse or a dud cellphone on the table and walking away, taking a smoke or bathroom break never to return, or even putting down a credit card as collateral that turns out to be stolen.
They resort to doing disgusting things to their food to avoid paying for it — one man in India sprinkled pubic hair on his food — or even pulling out a knife when the owner’s son pursues the bandits.
One man hid behind a disability, repeatedly faking heart attacks at restaurants over a five-year period.
How Are Restaurants Handling This Trend?
For one thing, sometimes it’s the servers getting stiffed by those that dine-and-dash, with the cost of the meal coming out of their tips or pay, even though this practice is supposedly illegal in the US. This could get a restaurant in trouble with the Department of Labor.
One clever restaurant owner sent out a security camera image of two dine and dashers to his customer email list. The guilty pair came into the restaurant that same day to pay their bill. But often, bill runners are never caught.
Dine and Dash Karma
Some dine and dashers make reparation for their “thefts of service” years later. Back in 1997, a kindly New Mexico restaurateur covered the difference when a young man came up short during a Valentine’s Day date. Sixteen years later, the man returned with $100.
There are also the rare, headline-making cases. A Detroit, Michigan, man skipped out on a $16 bill, got pulled over by the police, sped away from the scene, was later tracked down by his license plate, and now is facing criminal charges.
A South Carolina man got three years in jail for refusing to pay a $70 tab. And in one of the most extreme examples of bad consequences, a 30-year-old man in India was actually beaten and thrown to his death after not paying his restaurant bill.
Preventing a Potential Dine and Dasher
Let’s face it – it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable over the course of a restaurant’s lifespan. The best prevention though is exceptional service. Dashes usually happen when guests are not being attended to properly. They feel justified to walk. Heck, I’ve been tempted myself after asking for a check 2-3 times and still 15-20 minutes later the server has not brought it. So, maybe the uptick in the dine-and-dash trend correlates with what many (perhaps rightfully so) perceive as the decline of exceptional service.
If you found this interesting, we think you’ll enjoy our piece on
10 Trends Reshaping the Restaurant Industry.