If there’s one thing restaurateurs hate more than cheap tipper – it’s the infernal dine and dash. Supposedly events of patrons ordering food and drinks while enjoying the ambiance, only to disappear before the bill comes is a regular occurrence in many restaurants. That’s news to me, because I’ve never seen or experienced such a thing, nor am I too familiar with the words “dine and dash”.
Enjoying a nice meal and dashing out on the bill is a regular occurrence to the restauranteurs – a shocking fact to me. In fact, many restaurants claim “Dine & Dash” incidents have spiked during the recession, and have held steadily since.
Earlier this week I was out with for dinner with some friends on a patio at a local restaurant. After nearly two hours of great company, laughs, a prime-rib steak for me and even desert (not a frequent occurrence), we paid our bill and headed outside towards our vehicles.
I was fortunate enough to have prime parking space that night in a restaurant that’s typically pretty busy. We hung around my car as we talked some more, and just before saying our goodbye’s, two women (slightly heavier sets) ran (or should I say dashed) by us and hopped into a parked car two parking spots down from where we were standing.
As they ran by, I commented, “WTF, did the place just get robbed? LOL” in a snarly sarcastic tone as I tried to gauge what all the buzz was about.
Only moments later when the waitress hopped the patio gate in distress did I realize that a dine and dash happened right in front of us. Seriously, who has the nerve to eat, drink and run off on the bill? Apparently two overweight 20-something year old’s have the nerve.
To make a long story short, the car with the two dashers jetted off through the parking lot, and the waitress came out, realized the getaway car, threw her flip-flops off and jetted across the parking lot in pursuit of the getaway car. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending (this is not Hollywood people!), the culprits got away, the waitress returned empty handed, angry and in tears as her co-workers greeted her while comforting her back inside.
Problem On The Rise
Eating in a restaurant and leaving without paying the tab — known in police terminology as “theft of service” — rose almost 20 percent since the recession hit in 2008. Unlike teenagers who make a run for the door when they realize their allowance won’t cover the slice of pizza, the older crowd is more calculated and deliberate. Some customers will ring up a big bill and exit as the server heads off to get the debit/credit machine; others will coordinate a group cigarette break even leaving a dummy cellphone, an old coat, or an empty purse at the table when they step out. Experts claim that for many of them it’s less about economics and more about an overblown sense of entitlement or the thrill of getting away with it.
Even celebs have been busted. In 2011, actor Gary Collins was arrested for allegedly skipping out on a $59.35 bill. The 72-year-old TV personality spent the night in jail before being released on $5,000 bail. Earlier this year, Dina (Lyndsey Lohan’s mom) or the white Oprah as referred by some, skipped out with her six guests on a $2,500 dinner bill.
Restaurants run on an unusually optimistic business model: they feed you in advance of payment with no chance of recovering the meal if the bill is unpaid. Everyone seems to be realizing the crack in the system and more are taking advantage of it planned and unplanned – singles, couples, families, professionals, young and old are dining and dashing.
A growing number of restaurant patrons are eating meals and ducking out before paying – a move that’s illegal. Sadly, the waiter or waitress assigned to their table is getting stuck with the tab. Is that illegal as well or are restaurant owners simply cutting down on their liability through their servers? And maybe that was the reason why the young waitress ran out and tried to chase down culprits – clearly putting herself in a line of danger.
The laws vary from one province or state to the next. Here in Ontario, it’s illegal for restaurant owners to place the financial liability on the server, yet I’m certain that there are many restaurants that have an agreement between the employer and the sever on who covers the tab in case of a dine and dash – the server.
In several instances, managers are unlikely unaware of the practice being illegal, and the formed contract for the employees who signed an agreement to cover unpaid bills is simply an illegal contract.
Dine-and-Dash and the Law
Simply failing to pay a bill when due is generally not a crime in most circumstances or jurisdictions. It is a contract debt, and the act is civil rather than criminal in nature. However, there are often laws that apply specifically to restaurants, hotels, and other circumstances, where the presumption is that the customer never intended to pay their bill and therefore obtained the valuable services under false pretenses, a form of criminal fraud.
So, next time you (or someone you know) think about dine and dashing, think again, it could land you some probation time, house arrest, expensive lawyer fees, lost time or even a little jail time. Running off on any amount of the bill is simply petty, cruel, and pretty sad.
Restaurants are the last existing people who issue instant credit. Anytime you sit down for dinner, you’re immediately granted an Visa with no limit. Patrons are given the benefit of the doubt to pay up for their meal, after enjoying great food and the restaurant ambiance.
Thinking about it briefly, restaurants are the only type of establishment that serves us before asking for money upfront. The only other type of business that works on a similar type of model are gas stations, yet there are fewer and fewer gas stations are moving away from allowing you to pump before paying.
In either case, there is an element of trust that is unique to the restaurant business, and it’s a civility that’s worth preserving. Unfortunately in today’s time, there’s an abundance of everything, and very little civility amongst each other. There are more and more people who run with the attitude, “I deserve this or that” and those who believe that they’re the exception to the rule. It’s only a matter of time before restaurants start taking upfront “holds” or “deposits” on our credit cards in order to preserve civility, so everyone can leave with a smile on their face at the end of the night.
Have you ever dine and dashed? Even by total accident? Do you know someone who has? What is your thought on the whole dine and dash subject?
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