December 6, 2022
Lauren Platero

Dine and Dash: Preventing Dine and Dash at Your Restaurant

Dine and dash incidents are major concerns that any business owner in the restaurant industry can face. Restaurant staff members are constantly striving to maximize profits. But when customers choose to dine and dash, they’re bound to encounter massive financial losses. 

In this article, we’re going to discuss all the nitty-gritty details you need to know about the crime that is dining and dashing or “dine n dash.” Then, we’ll discuss different scenarios and how you could respond to them, in addition to steps restaurants can take to prevent such an issue. Now, let’s get started!

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Dine and Dash Meaning: What Is Dine and Dash?

Dine and dash is a crime that falls within the category of theft. More specifically, it’s when a customer receives food and/or drinks, then leaves the food service establishment without paying the bill. Any time a person steals from a restaurant, the business incurs a financial loss. From the food and drinks to overhead expenses, there are many costs that go into serving customers. 

It’s also safe to say that dine and dash incidents disturb day-to-day restaurant operations. Payment processing is an essential part of serving customers. Plus, dine and dash crimes can alter the balance between revenue and kitchen inventory. As a result, earnings and inventory forecasting efforts may not level out. As you can imagine, this kind of issue can certainly disrupt work duties for the restaurant manager

Dine and dash can also hinder your whole labor force. The wait staff in restaurants rely on tips to earn an income. Well, at least that’s the case in the United States. So whenever somebody leaves without paying their tab, there’s zero chance of the server earning additional money from that party.

How Common Is Dine and Dash?

Dine and dash incidents are way more common than you might think. Believe it or not, there was actually a study where it was discovered that 1 in 20 customers have walked out of a restaurant without paying the bill. That's 5 percent of all diners.

What Happens If You Dine and Dash In the United States?

Customers who are involved with a dine and dash case must face criminal penalties. Criminals who are charged with this offense can spend up to six months in jail. Meanwhile, some or all might also end up paying fines that can amount to $50,000. If you ask us, such penalties certainly aren’t worth a free meal! In the event that the restaurant presses charges against the person(s) who left the building without paying, they might have to pay restitution. Generally speaking, restitution refers to the costs of the food and other restaurant expenses dining and dashing might have caused. 

If somebody gets caught after a dine and dash incident, it's always best to cooperate with the business and the police. If not, you may cause yourself to receive larger penalties.

How to Prevent Dine and Dash From Happening In Your Restaurant

Luckily, there are so many clever and effective ways to prevent dine and dash incidents from taking place in your restaurant business. The following list of eight precautionary measures should assist you in keeping your restaurant free of criminal activity. 

  1. Install a high-tech security system. Let's get the most obvious suggestion out of the way first. Once you open your restaurant to the public, install high-definition cameras in the dining room and at the entrance of your restaurant. Not only do you want a camera facing inward, but as you're leaving, too. This way, you'll be able to provide the cops with clear imagery of who left without paying. 
  2. Ensure that the host or hostess is right near the door. People are much less likely to dine and dash if they have to walk past the host. So, always make sure they're standing at the podium. 
  3. Make sure that there are always employees present. Similar to our last point, always make sure that there are staff members around. As a result, dine and dashers may feel like they'll be seen if they leave.
  4. Prompt customers to open a tab before they order. This is common in bars, but there's no reason why it can't be done in restaurants. Once you have the customer's cards, you can add their information to the POS system. This way, you have evidence if their cards should decline. Plus, you know they won’t want to leave without their card!
  5. Require a credit card for all restaurant reservations. The worst kind of dine and dash incident is when it's a large group of people. So, require that parties larger than five people must have a reservation. Then, keep a credit card on hold. This way, you have their name and payment information if something goes wrong.
  6. Ensure that there is only one entrance in and out of the restaurant. Multiple exits make it easy for people to dine and dash. However, some brick and mortar restaurants are so large that by law, they must have more than one exit. If this is the case for your restaurant, station a security guard by each door that's out of the host's view.
  7. Rearrange the restaurant seating chart. It might be easy to dine and dash if there are a lot of seats right next to the exit. Even if there are a lot of staff members around, it would still be easy since it could be done quickly. With this in mind, make sure there's ample space between the first few tables and the door. 
  8. Train your staff to properly handle such occurrences. Not everyone is cut out for confrontation and altercations. Besides, these aren't things that many people prepare for when getting a job in a restaurant. Therefore, it's always a good idea to train new hires on these matters before they begin. 

There are many ways to prevent dine and dash incidents from taking place in your restaurant. However, these are the top solutions that many restaurant professionals find a lot of success with.

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Is Dine and Dash Illegal?

Yes, it is absolutely illegal to dine and dash. The act of walking out of a restaurant without paying the bill is considered theft. Therefore, those who commit such a crime will be charged accordingly. Depending on the state in which the crime takes place, penalties can consist of up to six months in jail and upward of $5,000 in fines. 

Shockingly, many people view dining and dashing as a petty crime that doesn't warrant hefty penalties–even though it’s theft. In some cases, diners might even justify the act based on poor food quality and customer service. Despite these negative qualities dampening a whole customer experience, it's still illegal activity.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dine and Dash

Dine and dash incidents are serious problems within the restaurant space. From learning how to handle them to implementing effective precautionary measures, there’s so much to become familiar with. So, check out the following FAQ section to better prepare yourself and your staff. 

Do Servers Have to Pay for Dine and Dash Incidents?

In some cases, state and federal law may require servers to pay the bill when a dine and dash incident takes place. The only exception would be if the bill's total causes the employee's wage to drop below their state's minimum wage. However, there are also many business owners who will forfeit a portion of their profits in order to make up for the loss. After all, the wait staff shouldn't be held responsible for criminal behavior.

Can a Restaurant Make Servers Pay for Mistakes?

Yes, there are many times when servers must pay for mistakes in a restaurant, but it's not likely. Under federal law, restaurant owners can't decrease a server's pay where it would be less than the state's minimum wage. But, it's important to remember that wait staff get very low salaries in the United States and rely on tips. So, business owners probably wouldn't have a leg to stand on in this situation.

What Should You Do When a Customer Walks Out Without Paying?

There are several steps that a restaurant can take when someone walks out without paying, including the following:

  • First, collect as much evidence and information about the person as possible. This will help in identifying the suspect in the future. 
  • Try contacting fellow restaurant owners in your area. For all you know, they might have had similar experiences, giving you useful advice. 
  • Consider what you can do within your restaurant's infrastructure to prevent this from happening in the future. Things like higher security measures and reservations are just two ideas. 
  • Most importantly, file a police report. Documenting the crime will protect you and other businesses in the event that someone is caught.

What Should You Say to a Customer Who Refuses to Pay?

When a customer refuses to pay the bill, there are a few things you can say, including the following topics of discussion:

  • Begin by finding out what exactly is wrong with the meal.
  • In the event that the customer didn't realize the cost, you must politely explain that they have an obligation to pay the bill. Even if you work out some kind of payment plan or scheduled payment, you must find a solution. 
  • If the worst case scenario takes place and the customer keeps refusing to pay, it's time to get security or the police involved. If anything jolts them into paying, it'll be this. But if not, authorities will certainly handle it. 

Always remember to remain calm in this kind of situation. For one, it will prevent any confrontations and altercations from getting out of hand. Plus, it'll keep you safe in the event that law enforcement gets involved. 

How Do Restaurant Staff Deal With Customers Who Can’t Pay the Bill?

Restaurants deal with customers who don't pay in a number of ways. However, it all depends on the situation at hand. Below, we'll paint the picture of two different scenarios where a customer might not pay and what the restaurant can do about it. 

  • Scenario #1: The customer realizes once they see the bill that unfortunately, they do not have enough money to pay it. If the customer doesn't have enough money to pay the bill, there are a few things that you can suggest. Some ideas include getting money out of an ATM and paying with a card. You can also request that they download something like Venmo or Apple Pay on their smartphone, since contactless payments are quite popular nowadays. 
  • Scenario #2: The customer refuses to pay the bill entirely. Whenever a customer refuses to pay the bill even after reasoning with them, it's time to get your security personnel involved. If you don't employ this kind of position, call the cops and file a report. 

In many cases, the customer will escape the restaurant before you get the chance to confront them. But if you catch them in time, or they're the ones to initiate the confrontation, these are two of the most popular scenarios. Just always remember to use your best judgment in any intense situation.

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Putting An End to Dine and Dash Incidents

Everyone in the restaurant sector should be familiar with dine and dash incidents, common signs, and appropriate protocols. It’s a major issue that can quickly disrupt restaurant success. But with an eye for suspicious behavior and proper precautions in place, all restaurants can prevent such crimes from happening in their business.