Working in food service is not easy. Dealing with rude customers, busy rushes, and getting blamed for situations out of your control make the job stressful and chaotic. But the absolute worst thing that can happen on the job is the dreaded "dine and dash."
Here, restaurant workers tell the story of when customers ordered food and walked out without paying.
(Comments have been edited for clarity.)
The Man Who Was Waiting For His ‘Friend’
“I work at a very nice, decently classy establishment in D.C.
A man came into the restaurant and asked to sit on the patio. He was dressed nicely, suit and tie, and had with him a bag of colorfully wrapped presents. He ordered a glass of red, and told me he was just waiting for his friend to show up.
After a half hour or so and some phone calls, he decides to order a couple of tapas. He offers apologies for his late friend, and says she’ll just be a bit longer. His tapas come. He eats them. He orders another glass, which he drinks and then excuses himself to the restroom.
After 15 minutes, I start getting concerned. Someone checks the bathroom for the man. He’s nowhere to be found. No one else ever shows up looking for him. He’s gone, after consuming about $50 worth of food and drinks.
He left the bag of presents behind. Upon inspection by the management, it turned out they were all just wrapped up boxes of rocks.”
Dine And Dashers Give Away Too Much
“It was my first bartending job in NYC and a few months into it, these two guys came to the bar and started ordering drinks. It’s pretty empty and late so when they don’t immediately throw down a card I’m not freaking out (even though usually that’s a red flag). Anyway, they decide they want to flirt with me, and no joke, this guy goes, ‘Let me show you around Queens.’ I was politely declining but the guy was pretty pushy so I had to be more forceful with my no. It got awkward, so one guy goes out to smoke and a minute later the other guy goes to the bathroom. 30 minutes later, no one comes back. I check outside and they’re both gone. It was terrible because I had to pay their bill as per the bar’s policy, which left me going home with zero tips (it was also a slow night).
I was on my way home, freaking out, super upset. Then I had a moment of clarity: the guys had told me where they worked… as waiters! So the next day I roll up with my girls (strength in numbers, right?) and tell the manager of their restaurant that I’d like to see the guys. Only one is there and the manager’s confused so I tell her exactly what happened the night before. She drags this guy over to me and makes him pay me in full, plus tip. Later I found out they both got fired as a result.”
Dine And Dasher Forgets His Phone
“Two guys come in on a date who have clearly never met before, probably from Craigslist or something. It’s a fairly upscale steakhouse so they order a dozen oysters each, martinis, manhattans, $15 salads… before the entrees drop, their check is already $200. As I’m walking with their steaks (which are very good quality and another $200), they say they’re going for a smoke. No problem, they’ve been flirting heavily and just ordered a decent bottle of red. They’ll be back for the steaks, obviously. Just want to make out for a minute or so outside… right?
Nope! 45 minutes later, there’s no sign of them. I’m left with a $500 open tab. I almost cried/vomited/freaked out.
Luckily, my manager (who was awesome) saw them leave and had even offered them their coats since it was too cold to smoke outside without them. Never crossed her mind they were jetting – she SAW them notice and comment on the delicious steaks heading towards their table. As soon as we realized they were gone, she fretted for a minute, then told me not to worry about the check, and said she’d deal with the big boss as it absolutely wasn’t my fault.
But wait – it gets better. This was the week the iPhone came out. After giving them a good 90 minutes to be sure, I cleared the table. Oh ho, what’s this? A phone that costs more than the value of the dine and dash bill? Into the safe it goes, with your unpaid bill. The slightly older, wealthier-seeming guy turned up about three hours later.
‘Uh, I left my iPhone here. I’m gonna need it back.’
‘Uh, you left a $500 tab here too, so you pay for one, you’ll get the other.’
‘I’ll call the cops, you’re stealing my phone!’
‘Well, I didn’t call them on you, despite having your information. I’ll be happy to tell them what happened tonight, though.’
He just goes, ‘GrrrrrrrAAAARRGHHHHHHHH!’ And then runs out of the building and tries to jump into an occupied cab.
It gets better! He was so angry when he realized the cab was occupied, he started beating the heck out of it – the car, not the driver. A patrol car showed up within a couple of minutes and all of us in the restaurant got the satisfaction of seeing him cuffed and taken ‘downtown’. It was freaking hilarious.
The very best part – he came back two days later, verrrrrrrry sheepish. Owners had already forgiven the tab, but he paid it AND tipped 100%. Didn’t apologize much, since he was too embarrassed. But he did apologize. And him paying, plus overtipping, made it all okay. And we did give him his phone back.”
Customer Doesn’t Know He’s On Camera
“I work at a casino in the bar and have had many dine and dashes. Now because it is a sports bar inside a casino we show stuff like UFC fights, the Superbowl, and the Stanley Cup Finals. These nights we often have 150-200 people (the number of people who can fit easily in this bar is like 100 tops) in the bar and eating area. I have had so many people dine and dash on these nights lately.
It’s a UFC night, and on these nights lots of freeloaders come into the bar to watch the fight and don’t really drink or eat, just sit there getting their free pop and tipping a nickel per drink. This one regular guy comes in (he’s never gotten any food before in the past) and he orders 2 pounds of wings with fries and gravy and for once he orders a hard drink instead of his free pop. He stakes out his normal location before the fight and his food comes down. He destroys the 2 pounds of wings and fries and orders another 2 pounds with another drink. About half-way through the fight, he orders ANOTHER 2 pounds of wings with fries and his 5th beverage. No big deal, we just keep adding it to his tab making his total roughly $100 with tax and everything included. At this point, the bartender goes over and drops off the bill. By this time we have 3 fights left to go, 1 smaller one, 1 non-title main event and the main title event. Sure enough, right after the smaller event he still has not paid and the bartender goes over to remind him and he shoves him off and says something like, ‘Don’t bug me till the fights are over.’ Typical for working in a casino, where some people think they can treat us like dirt. The non-title main event is about to begin and suddenly the bar is PACKED. Like, you cannot move through this sea of testosterone. So I lose sight of the guy. The main event starts and the restaurant fills up even more, so we have really lost track of this guy. Sure enough, fights end and everyone clears out, including our $100 bill man. It’s not a big deal. This has happened to us many times so I just call up security and I give them a basic description of the man. Sure, my supervisors get super irritated but it’s really no big deal because they have the guy’s picture and everything on tape. Fast forward to the next big UFC fight. I spot this guy as he’s walking into the casino through the front doors. I radio my manager and security about him and its the same manager from when he left last time. I see my manager, 2 security guards, and 2 cops beeline it into the casino. They surround the guy and say something along the lines of, ‘Pay this or we will charge you for theft and trespassing.’ Dude gets all flustered saying that’s not his bill so he’s not gonna pay it. Manager pulls out a file and shows him the pictures of him eating the wings, him receiving the bill, and him sneaking out when the fights ended. He elected not to pay the bill so we had him arrested and charged.”
Driving Off As If They ‘Forgot’
“I used to work at the Cracker Barrel, which is a restaurant that has a gift shop attached to each location. I had a table I did not expect to walk out and leave. First, they spent over $100 in the retail store. I watched them – they were taking awhile to pay so I went to check on them. They paid, I went to check my tip and noticed the bill was still open. I figured maybe they just forgot (it happens), so I grabbed a manager and we went to the parking lot. They saw us, jumped in the car, and tried to leave. Except there’s only one exit to our parking lot, which they apparently did not know, as they drove the wrong way. So they had to circle back around and drive past my manager, who pretended to write their plate number down (seriously, we’re not going to call the cops over a walk-out). They came back, pretended they forgot about the bill and paid. No tip.”
When Customers Run For The Door
“I’ve thankfully never had somebody run out on me on a tab higher than 20 bucks, but it’s almost even more insulting. You’re that cheap that you don’t even want to pay 20 bucks? Or you’re just that conceited and have that audacity to think, ‘Hey, I deserve this meal for free.’ I work in a bar and we’re supposed to take credit cards from anyone who seems like they might walk out, but how are you supposed to assume ahead of time? Sometimes the people who are dressed up the fanciest are the cheapest ones. Plus, on busy days it’s difficult to carry around 20 credit cards. But anyway, the one story that made me the angriest was when a couple I’d been serving had had a couple of drinks and their tab was only $4.40 (their drinks were on special for $2). I’d seen some money sitting out on the table, so I thought they were going to use it for the pool table or maybe they were going to leave soon and they wanted to use that to pay. I walk away and all of a sudden see them walking really fast towards the door. I think for a second and realize that they haven’t paid their bill, but they’re already out the door and almost turning the corner of the building. I call out to them, ‘Did you pay your tab?’ and the guy turns around and acts almost offended, saying, ‘Check the table.’ I remembered the cash I’d seen on the table earlier, and stupidly felt bad. I go back, and they actually skimped me on 40 cents. 40 rotten cents. It’s not about the money – it’s about the fact that you’re too cheap to pay the entirety of a $4.40 bill. Looking back I should have asked, ‘Then why are you running away?’ I’m sorry for all the servers who’ve had to pay really high bills on walkouts though.”
“One time these two couples come in together and have a big dinner. The guys leave and the girls tell the server they’ve been dumped there by a couple of guys they don’t know who promised to buy them dinner and then left them with the check. They put on this big act like they have no money and can’t pay themselves because the guys promised to pay. The manager didn’t believe them though they swore up and down they had no money, no ID, no nothing. Finally, the manager says they can deal with the cops, who he will call. Then one of the girls pulls out a credit card out and pays; no tip of course.
A couple of nights later a guy comes in in a suit and eats by himself and at the end of the meal realizes he doesn’t have his wallet with him. Left it at work or something. Seems really embarrassed and uncomfortable. Manager believes this guy and lets him leave; dude says he’ll be back in about half an hour. Two hours later the manager is saying how he couldn’t believe how good an actor the guy was since he truly believed the guy would come back and pay. All of a sudden the guy walks through the door, pays his bill and leaves a good tip. Thank yous all around.
I guess our manager had a good lie detector.”
A Family Operation
“I work part-time in a Chinese fast food restaurant. Even though I’m only part-time, I still encounter a lot of people who skip their bill. Around 1-2 times a week, which is quite high considering that the shop is tiny and there are not a lot of customers. I should mention that this is a pretty poor area.
The weirdest one was when a huge family came to the shop. Each of them ordered some food and a drink. Most people pay right after they order but they wanted to pay afterward. Happens sometimes, so I was alright with it.
They eat while talking really loud and practically yelling. Now, the shop is really small so most people take their food to go instead of sitting down. After the family finally finishes their meals, I remind them they haven’t paid yet. I tell them the price and after hearing how much it all cost they say that it’s too expensive (the food at the restaurant is really cheap, even cheaper than McDonald’s). After that, they try to say that they’ve already paid. I was 1000% sure they hadn’t paid! I was the only one working (outside of the kitchen) and no one else could have collected the money from them.
I still insisted on them paying but they refused. So I called the cook from the kitchen to help me with these people. At this point, most people would either pay or try to run off but this family called the cops! They don’t pay and then they are the ones who call the cops? Anyway, the cops came. I was already mad as heck ’cause with the cops there, no people wanted to come into the shop. I’d had enough. I called the owner who told me to tell the cops that even though they didn’t pay us, we wouldn’t be complaining.
The family explained that they were okay with this and then the cops left. After the cops were gone, the family threw their leftovers all over the shop (the window, the door, the floor, some of it even went out to the street), took a soda from the fridge and left.”
Kid Thinks He Can Refuse To Pay
“I used to work at a pizza buffet place, $4.25 for all you could eat pizza and pasta for lunch and dinner. After a while, the owner started to offer a ‘late night’ buffet – $1.99 for all you can eat pizza from 9-10 PM. So one night this group of 9 kids comes in, 8 girls and this dude with Sideshow Bob hair. They are the only ones in the restaurant and sit in a big round booth altogether. All the girls get the pizza buffet but our friend Bob is not eating and just orders water.
So, of course, I get them plates and drinks and kick back in the bussing station (behind the pizza bar and in clear line of sight to the table, by the way) and wait for Bob to start eating, and when he did I walk out to the table and hand him a plate and let him know that he would be charged for the buffet. He insists that he has no money and that he is absolutely not paying. In fact, he invites us to call the cops, so we did. The cop shows up, listens to the story and asks the guy if he is going to pay. When Bob says no, the cop says, ‘You’re really willing to go to jail for $2.12?’ and proceeds to cuff him.
At that point one of the girls ran out to her car and dug up the cash, so they all paid and left. We thanked the cop profusely and offered him free pizza, any time. Sadly I think we had more people try to cheat at the late night buffet ($2.12 with tax if you got water) than we did for the lunch/dinner buffet, which was $5.”
Some Servers Aren’t Afraid To Chase You Down
“I worked at an Applebee’s back in the late ’80s. I had two walkouts:
One was a table of 6 or so college guys. It was late at night and they were one of the few tables left. I gave them really good service and they claimed it was one of their birthdays so they scored a free sundae. They ordered another round and while I was standing at the bar waiting for it, they all just strolled right out the door. I yelled, and the bartender ran out after them. We called the cops, and the bartender managed to catch two of them and they were arrested. The next day their parents showed up and begged us not to press charges. We made them pay the whole bill plus a good tip. We also charged them for the ‘free’ sundae. I don’t know if they ever collected anything from the rest of the group.
The second time was an accident. The customer was actually one of my regulars. It was James Dickey, the author of Deliverance. I used to wait on him a good bit. He would come in by himself or with his young daughter. He tipped well and would sometimes talk with me about this or that. One time he came in with his wife. I’m not sure what happened, but I went to give him the check and saw them heading for the door. I ran out and caught up with them. He laughed and gave me cash for the bill and the tip. The wife flipped out and started screaming and smacking him. It was really awkward.”
The Guy Who Ordered Everything To-Go
“It was a slow Sunday night, with only a handful of tables trickling in every few hours. Very boring. The only servers on the clock were me and my coworker, Rachel.
Rachel has been in the industry for a long time. Like 12 years. She is the best server I know. That being said, she always connects well with her customers and treats them like old friends. Which was why this night was odd.
This guy walks in, sits down in a booth. Doesn’t wait to get seated, just plops right down in a booth close to the door. He doesn’t even swing his legs under the table, just sits sideways with his feet still in front of the booth. Weird vibe number one.
Rachel walks over to him, greets him warmly, and the dude just sort of looks at her nervously and glances around at the empty dining room. He orders a tall glass of hot chocolate and a glass of water or something like that. Rachel brings it out to him. Dude is still looking around like he’s searching for something. Doesn’t even make eye contact with either one of us (I was cleaning the dining room so I saw this whole thing go down).
Weird vibe number two: Dude orders a really complicated dinner order with tons of extra sides and add-ons. Some of the things he wants aren’t even available to punch into the computer system, so Rachel makes special orders for the whole meal and has to discuss it with the cooks on how to ring it in. 10-15 minutes later, the dinner is ready. Rachel brings it out, but the dude asks for a few to-go boxes. He says something like: ‘Whoa, didn’t realize there was so much food! Can you get me a box or two?’ Which wouldn’t be terribly weird if he was acting like a sane person. Every word he said sounded really scripted and he was acting very nervous and jumpy. He mentions that he is going to buy a whole cheesecake. Rachel says: ‘No problem, I’ll just box it up for you and keep it up front until you’re ready to leave. I can take those other boxes out of your way too, if you’d like.’ Guy just sort of nods. He isn’t really eating his food, just picking at it and still looking around. He flags down Rachel and tells her that he needs to put in a to-go order. Again, it was a really weird specific order.
I’m already getting sort of a weird vibe from this guy, something just doesn’t feel right. I’ve never seen a customer want to buy a whole cheesecake. And usually, if they do want a pie or cake, they tell the cashier at the front on their way out.
Anyway, Rachel puts in the order and then goes to the employee restroom. I watch over the order and make sure things are going right. I’m also keeping a close eye on the dude because he’s the only person in the dining room. So, his order is ready, and I bring the boxes up to the front behind the cashier counter. The guy is watching me put the boxes on the counter with an odd expression on his face. I guess it was at this point he realized he couldn’t get his food without coming to pay first.
Rachel comes out of the breakroom, and the dude jumps to his feet. He says something to Rachel, and walks out the front door. She doesn’t seem too concerned, so I go ask her what he said. She said that the guy told her he was going to go to his car, but he left his keys on the table and he would be back. HUGE RED FLAG.
I looked at her funny and said, ‘Rachel, how is he going to go to his car without his keys?’ She just opened her mouth in a sort of ‘UH OH’ expression. We hurry over to the table to see what he left. The only thing on the table was a piece of cloth lanyard sticking out from under a plate. She pulled out the scrap of cloth and cursed. I ran over to the window. Dude was gone. The parking lot was completely empty. I asked Rachel what car the guy was driving. She got mad at herself and went, ‘Oh my goodness, I’M SO DUMB. THE GUY WALKED IN.’
We went over to our (very cool) manager and explained what happened. He wasn’t too angry, as most of his order was behind the desk, and never got to him anyway. He was a little annoyed because he would have to explain this to the General Manager who was a huge tightwad. Our manager told Rachel not to even worry about it. Sometimes the good thing about working for a corporate restaurant is (usually) the company is rich enough that they don’t have to shake every last penny out of the server’s pockets to cover damages.
We ended up eating the food and putting the cheesecake away.”
Nothing The Server Could Do
“I worked at Applebee’s, and if someone ran out on you, they expected you to pay the tab! They said we should be able to prevent it and know the signs. On some occasions maybe, but definitely not every time. This one guy on a really busy night had a table of 6 teenage girls. They acted so nice, like he was so great. At the end of the meal they wanted takeaway boxes and a few of them asked for to-go drinks. He went to the back to get the stuff they’d just asked for, and when he came back up they were gone. The tables beside them told the server they saw the girls literally run out as soon as he went to the kitchen. Applebee’s wanted him to pay the $75 ticket! How in the world could he have prevented that?”