Finance & Operations

How to Prevent Dine and Dash in Your Restaurant

By Katie McCann

Illustration of a burger with legs running away from coins

Every now and then, you hear a dramatic story about a group of people ordering copious amounts of food at a restaurant and running away before settling the check. While dine and dash may seem like a made-for-TV problem, it’s pervasive throughout the restaurant industry. 

Although it’s the most outrageous cases of dine and dash that make the news, it’s the everyday, small-scale crimes that chip away at the financial health of a venue. Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take to prevent dine and dash at your restaurant.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What dine and dash means
  • What dine and dash could be costing your restaurant
  • How to prevent dine and dash at your restaurant
  • What to do (and not to do) if your restaurant is a victim of dine and dash

Restaurateurs already have enough to think about without having to be wary of customers turning into criminals. When you implement our advice, dine and dash will be the least of your worries!

What Is Dine and Dash?

Dine and dash is a type of restaurant theft that usually happens at full service restaurants. The practice of dine and dash is when someone orders and consumes food or beverages at a restaurant or bar but leaves before paying, stealing their meal.

Woman whispering to another woman about a dine and dash

How Much Could Dine and Dash Be Costing Your Restaurant? 

As we mentioned, the news covers the crazy dine and dash stories. 

You hear about the group of 120 dine and dashers in Spain who literally conga danced away from a $2,000 restaurant check. There’s also the man who went viral taking women out on dates at expensive restaurants and leaving the restaurant before the check came – he’s now the face of dine and dash on Google search!

While these stories are equal parts hilarious and terrifying, they don’t paint an accurate picture of how dine and dash impacts the restaurant industry. 

These cases make the news because they are extraordinary. What doesn’t make the news are the small dine and dish cases that happen on a regular basis. One report says that one in 20 people dine and dash – that’s 5% of diners!

To put that into perspective, let’s say that a restaurant generates $50,000 in revenue each month. If one in 20 diners or parties leave without paying, that’s a loss of $2,500 each month, or $30,000 each year. That’s money that could be spent on rent, staff, equipment, or marketing, to name a few areas. 

8 Tips for Preventing Dine and Dash at Your Restaurant

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to keep that $30,000 in your pocket. Choose just one loss prevention technique and you’ll see benefits, or combine them all for maximum protection.

1. Focus on Reservations

Reservations help you run an organized house, but did you know they can also be a form of loss prevention? 

When a customer creates a reservation, you get their contact information on file. Knowing that they can be identified deters customers with reservations from dining and dashing. Even if the guest gives a fake name, you can use the phone number or email address they provided to help law enforcement find them.

Restaurant security camera to spot dine and dashes

2. Install a Security System

A security system can help prevent dine and dash and make it easier to find the culprit if somebody skips out on the bill.

Put surveillance cameras in all front of house locations at your restaurant, like the entrance, waiting area, dining rooms, or hallway in front of the restrooms. You can even install cameras at all exits and throughout your parking lot. 

If you can’t afford a security system, put up fake cameras or signs that tell guests that they are being filmed. Guests won’t know the difference between a real or fake camera – it should be enough to help deter anyone trying to pull a fast one one you! 

3. Implement Tableside Payments

What’s the number one reason why diners dash without paying? Because the check takes too long to come out. In fact, one in four restaurant customers say they would dine and dash if they had to wait half an hour for the check!

When you implement tableside payments at your restaurant, you’re able to ring customers up immediately, instead of going back to the POS to generate a check, waiting in line for other servers to do the same, and then bringing the credit card back to the payment processor. You can accept cash payments and swipe credit cards at the table using an iPad instead of a cash register or standalone credit card reader.

When payments can be processed as soon as the check is requested, you greatly reduce your restaurant’s risk of dine and dash.

4. Switch to Counter Service

Another restaurant theft prevention method is to switch your service model to one in which customers pay upfront instead of at the end of their meal. With counter service, customers don’t receive their food before payment.

However, most customers don’t expect to tip their servers at counter service restaurants, so you’ll have to look into adjusting how you pay your servers. 

A waitress spending time with customers in the restaurant to prevent dine and dash instances

5. Spend More Time with Customers

Dine and dash happens when customers are alone at their tables, not while servers are present. When servers spend more time with customers, the odds of dine and dash will decrease!

With tableside ordering, it becomes even easier for staff to spend more time with guests. This makes your guest experience better since servers aren’t having to dash off to input multiple orders and allows your staff to connect more with guests – hello tips!

6. Ask for a Credit Card to Start a Tab

Ask bar customers to give your bartenders a credit card to open a tab with. Keep cards behind the bar until customers ask to close out their bill. At that point, the bartender can swipe the credit cards, so non-payment isn’t an issue.

If customers don’t want to keep a tab open, present them with their check immediately. If they commit dine and dash, at least it’s for one or two drinks rather than several, as would be the case for an open tab.

7. Have a Host at the Front Door at All Times

Just like dine and dash can be prevented when servers hover near tables, it can also be prevented when a host stands at the front entrance of the restaurant.

Hosts can monitor the restaurant’s table management tool to check table status. They can see who’s asked for the check… and who is attempting to leave without paying it.

8. Reduce Entry and Exit Points

Dine and dash is more common in outdoor spaces because the crime is easier to commit when you don’t have to walk past gatekeepers or exit through a door. If you have an outdoor space at your restaurant, keep it enclosed or put it in the back of your restaurant so that diners still have to exit through the front door. 

Giving diners one way in and one way out – including patio access – can make it even more difficult for dine-and-dashers to sneak out. If it seems like someone is leaving without paying, it’s simpler to prevent them from leaving if there is only one path out of the building. 

Warning: Obey local fire codes by creating emergency exits where appropriate to keep your customers safe!

Caution tape around a patio table after a dine and dash

What to Do – and What Not to Do – If You’re a Victim of Dine and Dash

Even with all the precautions taken, customers might still get away with dine and dash.

Here are some dos and don’ts for how to handle it and minimize its impact.

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Dine and Dash

If your restaurant falls victim to a case of dine and dash, the first thing you should do is contact the police.

Theft is a crime and should be taken seriously. Even if the value of the goods and services stolen from your restaurant was relatively inconsequential, the total value of the goods stolen from restaurants in your area by that same perpetrator could add up to a lot. You could help the police catch a serial dine and dasher! 

In order to help the police with their investigation, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about the perpetrator. Review camera footage, get contact information from a reservation, or ask your staff to describe the person in question. 

Next, reach out to restaurateurs in your community. Describe the perpetrator to them and warn them to look out for this person. You don’t want fellow businesses to fall victim to the same person.

What NOT to Do If You’re a Victim of Dine and Dash

Here are several things you should not do if you’ve been a victim of dine and dash.

First, do not bring public attention to the incident. If you advertise that people got away with restaurant theft at your business, you’re letting other criminals know they might be able to get away with the same thing. When you tell the public about dine and dash instances, you increase your chances of becoming a target. 

Second, while you shouldn’t tell the public about the theft that occurred at your restaurant, not telling your team about what happened is a mistake. Be as transparent as possible about the incident to your staff. Explain what happened and what could have been done to prevent it. 

Your staff members need to work as a team to prevent future thefts. Staff negligence may be to blame for dine and dash on a rare occasion, but most of the time, dine and dash is no fault of the server. 

Third, in most places it’s illegal to make servers pay for the losses inflicted by a dine and dash incident at a table that they were serving. Check your local laws before taking any action. 

Dine and dash is an expensive problem that is pervasive throughout the restaurant industry. Fortunately, there are measures that you can take to decrease the chances of falling victim to it. When you combine restaurant technology with security-focused training, your team can maximize loss prevention in your business.

Photo of Katie McCann
by Katie McCann

Katie is a former Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she writes about food and restaurant experiences. She doesn’t shy away from the finer things in life, but no matter how much success she continues to acquire, she stays true to her roots and still considers imitation crab as gourmet. If she isn’t writing, you can find her on a patio with friends and a pitcher of white wine sangria.

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