We have been in business here since 1948. Last week a woman dine-and-dashed with her husband and young child. She threw her “credit card” (which ended up being her airline frequent flyer card) at the waitress and ran into a car that was running and waiting for her which sped off almost hitting some of our regular customers. Not only did she run off on a $60 ticket, but also put our loyal customers in danger. This is something that has never happened to us before in over 60 years! What do you suggest we do?
– Bobby Sarantakis, Manager, The Hayward Ranch Restaurant, Hayward, CA
While dine-and-dash is a cute name and a common industry term, calling it what it is—theft—may provide the best guidance on how to handle it. While most restaurateurs I talked to agreed that dine-and-dash has been similarly rare in their restaurants, many shrug it off as the cost of doing business; a few bad apples. In other retail establishments, stealing anything, let alone sixty dollars worth of merchandise, would summon the police. Margins in the restaurant business are thin enough without comping thieves.
Since this was a rare and egregious instance, you are probably following my first piece of advice: set up structures for prevention. Patrick Agagni, manager at Starr Restaurants in Philadelphia says he prevents dine-and-dash by, “having mangers cover the floor at all times and have hostesses by the door so there is a barrier before the door that talk to the people before they leave.” If your restaurant has multiple exits, if managers and servers are not on the floor, if there are no visible security cameras, or if guests are dissatisfied by inattentive service, including waiting a long time for the check, you increase the likelihood that a guest will simply walk out without paying.
My second piece of advice is to treat dine-and-dash the way you would any theft. In this case, especially if the guest was stupid enough to use her real frequent flyer card, you have a name, make, model and color of her car, and a description of the guest from the server. Work with your local police precinct and see if they will pursue it. While some restaurants may prefer to let it go to avoid any possible negative publicity or being mentioned in the newspaper crime report, I would argue that you owe it to your loyal, paying guests to ensure a safe environment.