What does "Dine and Dash" Mean?

Dan Cavallari

Dine and dash is an illegal practice in which a person eats a meal at a restaurant and then leaves without paying. It is considered theft and is punishable by law; the repercussions will vary by region, and by what type of crime the perpetrator is charged with. In some cases, for example, dine and dash may be considered a civil offense and may only result in a fine. In other cases, it is a criminal charge of fraud, and more severe punishments may be doled out. If the dine and dash perpetrator is not caught, the waiter or waitress may be held responsible for paying the cost of the meal.

When an individual eats a meal at a restaurant and then exits without paying, it is known as a "dine and dash".
When an individual eats a meal at a restaurant and then exits without paying, it is known as a "dine and dash".

The person perpetrating a dine and dash usually has no intent to actually pay for the meal they are eating. In other words, there is an element of intent; not paying a bill when it is issued is not necessarily a crime, but having the intent to avoid payment makes the dine and dash practice a criminal offense. A dine and dasher will sit down for a meal and then make an excuse to leave the table — a common excuse is a trip to the bathroom, while others simply leave the restaurant without an excuse at all. He or she must avoid being noticed by a waiter or waitress as well as other employees of the restaurant.

The server may be asked to cover the costs of the unpaid meal out of pocket.
The server may be asked to cover the costs of the unpaid meal out of pocket.

If the person doing the dine and dash is not caught, several ways of dealing with the matter may occur. Some restaurants have a policy in place that the waiter or waitress must cover the cost of the meal, but this practice is illegal in some places, so the restaurant may be left to cover the cost of the meal. In the former case, waiters and waitresses may have to count the money they have received throughout the night, including tips, and compare that number to the checks they have issued for meals. If the numbers do not reconcile with each other, the waiter or waitress may need to pay the cost out of pocket.

Remaining alert to customers could be a good way for a server to avoid dine and dash.
Remaining alert to customers could be a good way for a server to avoid dine and dash.

It can be difficult for restaurant staff to recognize when a dine and dash is taking place, and the primary responsibility for monitoring guests falls on the waiter or waitress. He or she must regularly visit the tables being served, and while difficult, he or she must also monitor the tables when not visiting them to ensure patrons do not leave without paying. Some restaurants have security personnel on staff to monitor guests, and sometimes the manager is responsible for such monitoring.

"Dine and dash" is more likely to occur at a nice restaurant.
"Dine and dash" is more likely to occur at a nice restaurant.

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Discussion Comments

Grivusangel

When I worked as a hostess at a hotel restaurant, I had to make sure I wasn't a victim of a dine and dash. There were several different ways out of the dining room, and I couldn't watch all of them and do my job, too. I know there had to have been a few customers who played the dine and dash game over the years, but not on my watch.

One time I was finishing up a shift and counting my drawer when one of the security guards came over to my booth. He was holding a plastic bag with several to-go food boxes in it. He wanted to know if the food had been paid for or not. They apprehended a man at the other end of the hotel, and they suspected he had ordered the food and one of the kitchen workers let him go out a back way without paying for it. I ran the receipt and it was paid for by an employee, so it wasn't strictly a dine and dash situation. I would have had to cover the loss myself if it had been theft.

Rotergirl

My brother and I did a "dine and dash" one time at a local pizza shop, and we actually did get away with it for a little while. It wasn't a very sophisticated plan. When the waitress got distracted by a spill and the cook went to the back room, we just got up from our table and walked out the front door. I felt bad about it later, but we were just stupid kids acting on impulse.

I thought we were in the clear until our mom took us out to dinner at that same restaurant, and we had the same waitress. She remembered us, and the dine and dash game we played. I thought she was going to say something out loud, but instead she wrote a little note on the meal ticket and Mom read it. I think the final price included the cost of the pizza we didn't pay for the last time we were there. Mom took care of it, and we were grounded for a week.

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