We’ve heard stories, always wondered if people really did it, and yes, some of us may have even done it….dined and dashed.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a dine and dash (also known as a chew and screw or dine and ditch) occurs, as the name implies, that you eat (or drink) at a restaurant and then leave without paying a bill.  Morally, this is wrong, but what about legally?

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

At the heart of issue is that someone is taking advantage of a system of trust.  This system, which delivers food to you usually before you pay, requires certain levels of trust in that the restaurant expects you to pay after you eat.  When someone breaks this trust, it not only hurts the restaurant financially (they do lose money) and the waiter/waitress (no tip), but it also makes the restaurant and its employees far more suspicious of every other guest that walks through the door. 

Consequences of Dining and Dashing

First, there’s the ethical issue of stealing to deal with, but assuming you have no problem with dining and dashing morally, what about legally?  In many states, dining and dashing is not considered a serious criminal issue.  Some states, like California, charge those who are caught with petty theft.  Other states, like Mississippi have laws that make it a felony offense to refuse to pay for a restaurant bill over $25.  

Do Waiters/Waitresses Pay For Dine And Dash Customers?

There have always been rumors that a server will have to pay for the dine and dash customers.  In some states, this may be the case, especially if one particular server has multiple walk-outs.  However, many states have rules that require an employer to alert an employee of any deductions from their wages in advance. 

Can Waiters/Waitresses Chase You Down?

Assuming you’ve gotten out the front door, how far can a waiter/waitress/busboy/manager chase you?  For many companies, the general rule is that you shouldn’t chase people outside of the premises.  However, assuming someone continues to chase you, they are likely doing so at their own risk.  The person chasing you can arrest you, but only so far as a “citizen’s arrest.”  They can call the police as they are chasing you, or report your license plates so the police can run a DMV search.  However, even if caught, depending on the bill and prior behavior, you are likely going to have to pay for the bill and may be charged with a misdemeanor. 

That being said, many restaurants budget for walk-outs.  They realize that the cost of the food is not worth the potential injury to an employee chasing after someone.  In fact, if an employee was to injure someone accidentally while chasing after a fleeing walk-out, both the employee and the employer could be found liable for any injuries or damages. 

What do you think, should there be stricter laws for dine and dashers?