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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.