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Emma Valdiserri

The Dilemmas of Dine and Dash: Definition and Consequences

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Are you familiar with the saying, “The customer is always right?” It's not simply restaurant lingo-in most industries, this phrase is the standard to live by. But when it comes to dining and dashing during restaurant operations, the customer is always in the wrong.

Dine and dash affects a restaurant’s operating costs and can make a happy hour a little less happy. However, if the customer is caught in the act, they can face serious fallout too.

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What Does It Mean to Dine and Dash?

Simply put, dine and dash implies a customer dines at a restaurant, orders a meal, and leaves before paying for the bill. The act is disrespectful. It also leaves the waiter without tips and the burden of explaining the situation to upper management. So, why are restaurant patrons inclined to dine and dash? Here are a few reasons:

Poor service: Time truly is money if a server takes too long to ask for orders, deliver food, or bring the check. Barclaycard reported that 25% of customers consider leaving a restaurant without paying if they have to wait too long for the bill.

The forgotten wallet: Even if customers have every intention of paying the bill, sometimes they’ve left their wallet at home. This may cause panic and make them feel as though fleeing without paying is their only option.

For the thrill: Sadly, some restaurant goers dine in with the intention of dashing. They do it simply for the rush and the benefit of a “free” meal.

Keeping these leading reasons in mind, how often does dine and dash really happen?

How Common Is Dine and Dash?

While it’s common to assume the majority of restaurant patrons are loyal, many of them have other intentions once they’ve taken their last bite. A recent study on restaurant goers says 5% of people have dined and dashed. And that doesn’t even account for the bar scene. From summer cocktails to winter cocktails, a drink and dash (aka “stealing alcohol”) is far more common. It’s unfair to bartenders who follow bartender duties and who make a living on tips. It’s also bad news for owners who have to handle inventory tracking, pay for their liquor licenses, and sustain their restaurant expenses. A drink and dash is far more common and can be bad for bartenders who make a living on tips. It’s also bad news for owners who have to handle inventory tracking and pay for their liquor licenses.

How to Prevent Dine and Dash

Restaurants can’t control the behavior of their customers. However, they can take measures to prevent the shameful dine and dash. From more effective security training to the layout of your restaurant, here are five feasible ways to keep customers accountable:

Floor plan strategy: Many restaurants structure their floor plan by keeping the entrance door far away from the main dining area. They may also test out different bar layouts. These tactics make it harder for customers to leave the restaurant without their server or upper management seeing them. There's a lot you can do with your bar equipment layout to deter dashers.

Hire a host: Assigning a host or hostess to the entrance during your hours of operation can discourage customers from leaving without paying. In addition, installing point-of-sale (POS) software allows hosts to track which tables have paid their bills.

Ramp up security: Larger restaurants should invest in security cameras, security staff, or extra bar staff. Doing so can help them keep an eye out for any restaurant runaways.

Payment options: Fast food or casual dine-in restaurants can benefit from using payment counters where customers have to pay before eating. Other, more formal restaurants may consider giving servers a handheld device. This can be used to process orders from the tableside and accept card payments at the end of the meal.

Provide stellar service: While this may seem like the more obvious strategy, it is one of the most important ones. When servers are friendly, they can build quick relationships with their customers to develop trust and loyalty. When that happens, customers are less likely to dine and dash.

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What Happens If You Dine and Dash?

When a customer sneaks out of a restaurant without paying for the check, they’ve executed the perfect dine and dash. Sadly, they’ll leave with a skewed moral compass, their waiter will have no tip, and they’ve shirked their personal duty. If the customer is caught in the act, they’re at risk of paying a fair fine. Keep reading for insight on what this entails.

Do Waiters Pay for Dine and Dash?

Federal rules protect waiters in this regard. Restaurants can’t force their employees to make up for the financial loss of dine and dash if it means they would earn less than the minimum wage. A waiter is not at fault for a customer that dines and dashes. That said, there’s always the concern that their superiors perceive them as less responsible or inattentive at work.

What Are The Effects of Dine and Dash?

As mentioned before, the customer is in the wrong if they dine and dash––and they’ll quickly realize that if they’re caught. The effects of dine and dash vary by state. For instance, in California, they may charge the customer for petty theft. In other states like Florida or Mississippi, they have stricter laws and will treat the act as a felony. This makes the customer instantly regret their decision to dine and dash. The severity of dine and dash penalties also depends on the bill’s total. If the meal was under $25, a restaurant may let it slide. However, if the check came out to be over $1,000, the person responsible can face up to several years in jail. And they'll have to pay a fine much higher than the bill they left at the table. Considering the risks at stake, it’s always best to ditch the idea of dine and dash.

What Can Restaurants Do After a Dine and Dash?

It can be quite tempting to chase after a customer who’s escaped without leaving a penny. Most restaurants, however, avoid confronting customers outside their property. If an employee manages to catch the customer, they can make a citizen’s arrest and involve the police. However, most business owners and managers don’t want to deal with issues in case of injury and don’t see the value in risking their reputation. The best way to avoid dine and dash is using the prevention methods listed above, with a focus on customer service. The last thing a restaurant wants to do is make dine and dash sound more appealing than their menu because of poor service.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Dine and Dash

How Often Should a Server Check on a Table?

It is recommended that servers check on their tables after each phase of the meal. This includes the drink, appetizer, main course, and dessert orders. Doing so shows quality service, reducing the risk of dine and dash.

How Often Does Dine and Dash Happen?

Dine and dash happens more often than you’d suspect. It can happen due to things like poor service or long wait times for food.

Is It Illegal to Dine and Dash in Florida?

Dine and dash is considered a felony in Florida. Individuals who dine and dash in Florida can face serious fines or jail time depending on the size of the bill.

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