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Stealing a Meal

My partner and I were enjoying a lovely dinner at a bistro and we couldn't help but notice the table next to us since they were rather loud. But other than that, they seemed like three normal guys, just out to enjoy some food in the company of friends. Towards the end of the evening, one of the guys got a call on his cell and about 15 minutes later, got up and left. The last two stayed another 15 minutes and while all the wait staff were occupied with something else, they too got up and left. Initially, I thought they went out for a smoke, but when the server returned, she checked the outside of the restaurant for the three patrons and saw no sight of them. It seems they took off without paying the bill!

Naive me, I'd never witnessed something like this before. I felt so bad for the owner/proprietor because this bistro is his labour of love and I know that profit margins in the restaurant business is quite low. These three twerps probably wiped out a good chunk of the profits the restaurant made that evening.

Has anyone else witnessed something like this before and was anyone else as utterly shocked as I was about the whole episode?

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  1. Juniper, You brought back memories of an individual that I used to work with. When 4 or 6 of us would go out to lunch or dinner, he would only leave the amount of his entre`s price. (Never a tip or tax or even pay for a soft drink.) This, of course, meant we were always short on the total tab and everyone else would have to pay extra. As a cure, 6 of us went to lunch at a rather upscale restaurant. After finishing lunch, one by one we all left to the phone, restroom, etc never to return. This left Mr. Miser with the total tab for six. The cure worked.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Leper

      That is soooooo cold. Good job though. He deserved it.

      1. re: Leper

        Our cure for the repeatedly cheap dining partner was to unexpectedly request separate checks at the end of the last meal he ever joined us for.....

        1. re: Siobhan

          This is what I would do (and have done) in similar circumstances. There are a few who take advantage of group dining where everyone is too polite to make a fuss.

          1. re: cheryl_h

            Agreed. I have a friend who does not tip. A really dear, old friend. In every other respect a sweet person. But she does not tip. I decided to always ask for separate checks and I just tip more than my share, up to the level of fair but not generous amount of money on the whole tab. Sometimes friendships are more important than being picky about small amounts of money.

            1. re: niki rothman

              As someone who dines out a lot, I encounter the bad-tipper problem frequently. Acquaintances who pull this crap are shunned: they are never invited out to dinner again. Friends are a little trickier, but generally I take the painful step of explaining to them what it's like to be a server (something I've been but few lousy tippers have), and how I have to insist that they tip minimally, if not generously. It has strained a friendship or two, but most of the time, friends get the message and start ponying up, at least around me.

              There are variations on this that are more delicate. I don't think non-drinkers should necessarily subsidize their drinking friends' habit (especially with wine, where the liquor total can equal or exceed the food total). In such cases, I may commandeer the check and make adjustments to each diner's contribution accordingly. Friends who are financially straightened are also a concern; I find it's better to choose a venue that's good but not crazy-expensive (for which Chowhound is eminently useful).

      2. Though sometimes management will swallow the bill, more often the server will have to pay for it out of his/her own tip money. What awful people!

        1. Actually, I have seen it happen at a number of restaurants.

          In high school, at the Big Boy, customers would head to the restroom and never return.

          One ingenious chap used to pull a scam at one of the Old Country Buffets. Each night, he would walk in the "out" door bypassing the cashier. It worked a couple of dozen times ... until the time that the local police department was enjoying dinner. Note the the fool - it is better to go back and pay rather than commit the thrft in front of five policemen.

          However, my favorite case occurred when I was a carhop at a drive-in. Two guys take the food and peel out instead of paying for the meals. That is the bad news. However, they were in such a hurry that they sideswiped the cruiser of the local police chief.

          For the record, restaurants are not permitted to assess their servers for "walk-outs" in most states. That is one of the oldest scams pulled by restaurant managers - and one that is not generally tolerated by the state DOLs.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jlawrence01

            At my restaurant, we don't stick the waiter with the tab provided it is brought to our attention immediately. That said, assessing servers for walk-outs is less a scam on the part of the restaurant than it is the reaction to a common scam on the part of the servers. To imply otherwise is to say the restaurant is somehow profiting from the situation.

            I don't know how many times a waiter has complained during check-out that they are short and that, somehow it is my problem. Then they find the three twenties in their back pocket. I'd imagine that 99 times of 100 it is an honest mistake, but still.

            None the less, I'm more inclined to suck it up in the short run and fire the server if it starts happening supiciously often.

          2. I saw the following incident...A man became angry because the server would not continue to serve him alcohol when he was obviously very drunk. He sulked and barely ate his meal but his wife ate hers. When the check was brought it appeared they put money in the bill envelop and left, but when the server picked it up it was empty and they were long gone.

            1. If you worked in a restaurant, you'd see it all the time, plus lots of other scams to get out of paying. Also, I had a waitress that worked for me that would hysterically claim a walk-out once every week or so and apparently pocket the money herself. We finally had to fire her, even though we couldn't catch her in the act.

              1. When I was a very young mother of 2 boys, I took them out to eat, so they could eat, and I skipped out on the tab. I felt horrible at the time and I never forgot it.

                Many years later I was in that town again... on vacation. My kids were all grown up. I went into that cafe..had a so-so meal and left a 50 dollar tip. It made me feel better.

                1 Reply
                1. re: melly

                  that's a really sad but beautiful story.

                2. Ah, the old dine and dash.
                  Once, prior to age 21, I was involved in a late night Waffle House D & D, and of course, it was an alcohol related event.
                  I felt so badly about it I went back the next day (without my co-conspiritors knowledge) and paid for the meal.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Tee

                    In my high schools days, this practice was called a "chew and screw." Truly sleazy.

                    1. re: parkslopemama

                      I like that! The things you learn on CH.

                      I've never not paid for a decent meal (you know, crappy ones and comps don't count). The closest I came was when I left my wallet at work and had to plead with the owners that I really WAS going to come back and pay for it! I left them my details and some valuable stuff, just so they knew I'd come back, which I did, and paid.


                  2. OK, I had a sort of opposite experience where the restaurant made it impossible to pay. There is a restaurant in Pacific Grove with a small, outdoor patio. We enjoyed a leisurely brunch and the waitress dropped the check off and said "No hurry! Take your time." Quite a bit of time passed with no sign of her again. I finally decided to go pay her myself but lo and behold! The door was locked. OK, I hop the small hedge and go to the front door. Not only is it locked but all the lights are off and not a person inside. They had closed on us! What makes it more funny is that they hadn't bussed our table so all the dishes, etc. were still out. I wanted to slip the bill with the money under the door but my friends were adamant that this was entirely the restaurant's fault and that no payment should be left.

                    1. Well people steal all the time, no surprise there.

                      We did that once (no not stealing). We ate at this place, a very leisurely coffee shop. We read the newspaper, then got out to our car and drove off. We got on the freeway, looked at each other, and said, "we didn't pay did we?" Got back to the place and paid up. The server didn't even know that we left without paying.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: PeterL

                        We had one of those too, and it was a coupon meal to boot! Well, we waited and waited and waited, but our waitress vanished and we couldn't find anyone else, so we kinda applied the coupon ourselves, added up what we thought the dishes were worth (as she'd taken the menus), guessed on the wine (off list), and ended up just leaving cash and hoped for the best. FYI, the place is no longer in business. Gee, I wonder why?


                      2. My husband does the police blotter roundup for the paper I work at. He found a juicy report from a tony part of town.

                        A man took a woman on a first date, and apparently it wasn't going well, because when she went to the restroom near the end he requested separate checks (they had each ordered Maine lobster tail). When she came back and the server handed her her own check, she laughed it off. When asked if she was "all set" (gosh I hate when servers say that) she said yes. Of course, there was no money in it, and the server brought it back to her. A little while later the couple went toward the door, and the woman was confronted. She told the man he was going to have to pay for her half, as she didn't have any money. (Hold on a minute here. When I was a single woman I never went on ANY date without at least some plastic for an emergency!) He told her -- I love this -- that they didn't really know each other very well, that this was a "get-acquainted" date and that they had agreed in the beginning to go dutch. (This is in the lobby in full view of everyone.)

                        So he drives off without her. She just starts walking down the street, where the cops eventually catch up with her. So she's charged with a crime -- over a $35 bill -- for not coming to a date prepared, and after that, not even trying to work something out with the staff, who I'm sure would have tried to work with her if she didn't have an attitude.

                        We tried to come up with a headline. We submitted "Bad date ends in check-mate" or "First date definitely their last." :-P

                        1. Has anyone ever forgotten their wallet or has some other reason they couldn't pay for their meal?

                          I have.

                          I recently ate at a local restaurant and when I went to pay realized I didn't have any cash on me and had left my credit crds at home. I didn't have a damn penny on me. I was with my two kids.

                          I went up to the server/cashier and told them what happened. I told them I'd return in the morning and settle my check, which is what I did. There were different people working the breakfast shift, but my unpaid bill was sitting there with a note. They thanked me and I left.

                          That's the opposite, sort of, of stealing a meal. I really appreciate how the staff handled it, they could have embarassed me or made a big deal out of it, instead they were cool and trusted me.

                          That ever happen to anyone?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: PaulF

                            Yeah, it was at a sushi place and I had left my wallet at work and had to plead with the owners that I really WAS going to come back and pay for it! I left them my details and some valuable stuff, just so they knew I'd come back, which I did, and paid.


                            1. re: PaulF

                              When we were in Barcelona in April, we went into an Italian place in l'Eixample, sat and had a wonderful meal (after eating nothing but Catalan and Basque food, Italian was a really nice change). I handed over my credit card and it came back rejected -- so I tried another. My wife tried hers. No dice, and we hadn't got any cash on us.

                              I ran down to use an ATM, but my ATM card was also not working, because apparently the Spanish banking system had decided that the U.S. banking system was an infidel and wouldn't talk to it. It was a Sunday, and Sant Jordi to boot, so we begged the waiter to take American dollars -- I felt like such a horrible tourist! Fortunately he came back and said the manager would be willing to do that. They suggested $40, but I gave them $50 for the trouble and for the expense of having to convert the money.

                              Let me tell you, that night -- we were checking out of the hotel in the morning -- I could NOT sleep for worrying. The next day, though, everything worked fine.

                            2. This all reminds me of the time when I was about 13 and a new friend and I went to the local coffee shop for hot chocolate.

                              As soon as we were served, we put our money on the counter to pay, and my friend and I kept talking.

                              Just as we were getting ready to leave the waitress said "that'll be $2 ladies" and I said "we already paid for them" so she apologized.

                              Ten minutes later my friend and I were walking down the street, and she admitted *she* stole the money!! And to boot, she didn't even give me my money back!

                              It was YEARS before I could return to that coffee shop because I was convinced I'd be arrested on the spot--I was so scared I couldn't even bring myself to return to pay them back. And I never talked to that girl again.

                              1. I once observed a related, but very different situation. I was eating at a lovely Italian restaurant here in Seattle and an obviously homeless (large bag, very worn and unwashed clothes, quite confused) man came in and sat down for a meal. They served him, he ate. I believe he had a glass of wine with his meal. Somehow the topic of his ability to pay didn't come up. At the end of the meal, the waitress put down the check and he said something (I couldn't hear) which clearly communicated his bewilderment and his lack of funds. She walked away, talked to someone at the front, brought back his leftovers (packed up in the intervening time) and told him it was fine. He left. That was that. Not an inexpensive place, but I've always felt that it was a restaurant with soul, as well as marvelous food. That visit certainly proved the point.

                                1. It seems likes it is always the drunk customers that cause problems. One New Years Day my friends and I went out for a late sushi dinner at the only restaurant open in the neighborhood. After drinking and eating our fill one of the men I was with refused to pay his bill because the waitress "forgot his order" . We tried telling him that we cancelled the order because he was too drunk and that we wanted to leave, but he wouldn't listen. So he stormed out of the restaurant. Because it was a holiday and I didn't want the waitress to start the new year on a bad note I ended up paying his bill. The worst part about it was later he bragged about his actions and said that his father taught him to argue at restaurants to get out of paying.

                                  1. When I was a server, I recall we had 3 teenagers in the restaurant and they left without paying. The owner called the cops and the cops caught the kids and brought them back. The owner was an ex-drill sargent and I think he really scared them when he talked to them. He then called their parents to come pick them up and their parents ate at this restaurant quite a bit and were terribly embarassed.

                                    On a side note, although I've never done the dine and dash, I have had a couple of accidents at 7-11. Once after a night at a bar my wife and I went to 7-11 and I opened a bag of chips and started to eat them. I walked up to the counter with my wife and shebought something and we walked out together. About a block down the street, she looks at me and asks if I bought those chips. As it turns out, I actually just wasn't thinking and walked out without paying for them.

                                    The other incident was again at a 7-11 the day after a night of drinking. I walked into the 7-11 with some friends and I get a gatorade. I go up to the counter and put down the gatorade. The clerk scans it and says it's going to be 3.50 (or whatever the price was). I said ok, thanks. I pick up the gatorade and casually walk out. The clerk looks confused and then realized that I just walked out without paying. My friend who was in the store ends up paying for me. It wasn't anything deliberate, I guess I was still a bit glassy from the previous night.