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How to avoid dine and dash at your restaurant

Given how difficult it can be to manage restaurants with low margins, long hours, and rising inflation, the growing trend of dine and dash incidents is a significant concern. A growing number of restaurant owners are facing the recurring problem of losing money to customers who don’t pay for meals.

Notably, a recent study found that one in 20 diners have walked out of restaurants without paying

The good news is that there are actions restaurant owners can take to mitigate the painful results or prevent dine and dash from happening in the first place.

Dine and dash as a trend: Its effects on the industry

“Dine and dash” refers to the act of people ordering and consuming food and/or beverages and leaving without paying. In some cases, violators pay insufficient amounts, while others skip the check entirely. 

There is a growing online discourse about whether it’s acceptable to dine and dash after waiting for slow service. For instance, a diner who waited almost an hour for their bill gained millions of views on TikTok after asking, “When’s the appropriate time to dine and dash?” 

That sparked nearly 2,000 comments from other users, with many claiming to leave without paying after as little as 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, laws about dine and dash vary per state. In the state of California, offenders may be sued for petty theft, while Mississippi has stricter laws where repeat offences can be felonies. 

When customers try to leave, some offer excuses, such as forgetting their wallet or talking to someone outside. However, these cases directly affect restaurant owners and food servers – the ones to pay for the food offenders eat. That financial loss is another obstacle in an industry still recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and shrinking profit margins. 

That said, it’s not the only way dine and dash affects the food industry. 

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A reputation that may invite other violators

This can be supported by how the criminal mind processes information. If word gets out about numerous incidents, it may suggest lax security measures or a lack of control over the premises. In turn, this may cause further incidents or deter prospective customers.

Damage to staff morale 

In some places, the staff are the ones to shoulder the unpaid amount. Restaurant owners can expect decreased productivity, with staff losing confidence and morale in the workplace. This then leads to poor service quality or high resignation rates.

Other customers have to pay for it

As margins shrink even further due to theft, restaurants will be forced to raise prices to compensate. Those losses will essentially be passed on to the other customers. 

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What can restaurants do to prevent dine and dash?

The good news is that there are logical ways to manage dining and dashing. Whether before or after the incident, a combination of these techniques is optimal for the safekeeping of the sales and reputation of food businesses. 

Re-evaluate the floor plan

With two or more exit points for customers, dine and dash is bound to happen. Restaurant owners can start by permanently locking the other doors and ensuring only one way in and out of the restaurant. This way, the manager and staff can keep track of customers and watch out for offenders. 

Add a security system

It is essential restaurant owners invest in a security system that covers all the areas in the establishment. Aside from the cameras recording dine and dash incidents, they can also add an extra layer of security for other crimes.

Concentrate on reservations

With reservations, the restaurant staff gain a clear record of patrons: names, contact details, and payment information, if a deposit is required. This system not only aids in managing capacity but also acts as an effective deterrent against potential defaulters. 

Alter payment systems

Aside from having the customers wait for their bills and pay in cash, food businesses can implement QR codes, e-wallets, and online payments as additional modes. This may push owners to opt for handheld devices that servers can offer customers before or after their meals. 

Train staff efficiently

Jo Bargery, owner of Jo & Co Restaurants, implies that part of driving sales is “ensuring you have the right people in the right places, working to maximum efficiency.”

This rings true for dine and dash incidents, too. One way to do so is by hiring a host or extra staff, such as a bouncer for licensed establishments. With a POS system, hosts can track which tables have already paid. 

Call the police

Should a violator get past the exit, this is the only thing restaurant owners should do.  Yes, trained staff can try to approach them, but they should not escalate the situation into a physical altercation or chase. 

Chasing the offenders may result in violence and, later on, injuries. While this is a different case when you have bouncers as staff, it’s always best to leave it to the police. 

This is much easier when you have security cameras to identify the perpetrators. With the footage, the police can help restaurants force payment or recoup some part of their losses. 

The management can also ask the authorities how to bar such people from entering the establishment, filing a case, and/or making the case public to prevent such incidents from happening to other food businesses.