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Dine-and-Dash: What Should Businesses Do?

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

What should businesses do when they encounter a "dine-and-dash" situation?

When patrons walk into a restaurant, it is usually expected that they will pay for the goods and services received at the end of their meal. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen.

Here are some tips on how to deal with the situation, both before and after.

Before a Dine-and-Dash

While it is often impossible to predict that a dine-and-dash situation might occur, it is very possible to help prevent one by ensuring that a few things are done. For example:

  • Provide good customer service. This should be the default goal of any restaurant, of course. But, ensuring that your servers are attentive and well-liked by the diners can often go a long way on the scale of humanity and helping to prevent the freeloading to happen.
  • Require payment beforehand. While fine dining establishments may not prefer to use this method of collecting payment, it is very common and acceptable at fast food or casual dining establishments where the emphasis tends to be less about the ambiance and experience than it is the meal.
  • Ensure an employee is always near the door. It is not uncommon for the host's stand to guard the entrance. This can be an extra precautionary step that may help deter those who eat-and-run from doing so.

After a Dine-and-Dash

Even if the freeloading diners have already left the restaurant's premises, there are still certain steps that you can take -- and some that you probably shouldn't take -- while attempting to remedy the situation:

  • Check videos and reservations. Are there surveillance cameras in your business? Or is there a parking lot at your restaurant? All this should be scoured immediately for incriminating footage, or perhaps information that can serve as identifiers. License plate numbers, for one, are extremely helpful in helping the police locate a person.
  • Do not ask the server to pay. It's not only unfair, it's illegal to take a cut of your server's wages to make up for a customer's dine-and-dash. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, tips are not counted as wages. This means that a server's actual wage is well under the minimum wage.
  • Be careful if performing a citizen's arrest. If you decide to take matters into your own hands and attempt to approach the suspects yourself, keep in mind that you run the risk of identifying the wrong person or facing assault and battery charges if you threaten or go beyond what is necessary in restraining them.

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