I frequent a restaurant in Lewisville, Texas. Often, a group of customers will walk out without paying for their tab. They return next week and do the same thing. Can the restaurant owner refuse service?
– Maranne, Dallas
Not only can you refuse service for a dine and dash guest or any guest who you felt violated the implied contract of the dining experience (stealing tabletop items, intentionally causing damage such as carving a name in a tabletop, or being disruptive, for example), you should refuse service. Further, if it were up to me, I would have called the police. By allowing a guest who acted inappropriately—and illegally—to return, you are reinforcing bad behavior, creating an unsafe and unscrupulous workplace for staff, and labeling yourself a mark for future scams.
Dine and dashes vary in terms of how they are enforced and prosecuted, but you need to think of those guests as thieves and treat them accordingly. While you should not refuse service on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other factors, criminality is not a protected class.
I’ve written previously in this column that for dine and dashes, “it is a better policy to work on preventing the problem through good record-keeping, good security practices and cameras, adequate staffing and strong management oversight,” but they do happen. As the expression goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Some restaurateurs I know are reluctant to call the police or prosecute because they prefer to stay out of the news and don’t want to draw attention to the problem. My advice is that your responsible paying guests will only respect you more for being a responsible businessperson.
As always, check with your local restaurant association and attorney to be sure your policies are compliant with the law and you are communicating those policies effectively. More on dine and dash policies here.