One of the worst situations that a restaurant staff has to deal with is when a customer walks out of the establishment without paying his or her bill. This is also known as the classic "dine and dash." Often, those who avoid paying their bills are younger customers, and the tabs they run up on these occasions can be excessive.
While there's no industry-set protocol in place for how a restaurant should respond when a dine and dash occurs, there are some clear dos and don'ts. And while it's not easy to predict when this unfortunate situation will happen next, you and your staff can take a couple precautionary measures to minimize the chance of these scenarios unfolding in the future.
Minimizing Dine and Dashes
A smart way to cut down on patrons walking out without paying is to have a host stand set up next to, or facing, the entrance. This allows your host or hostess to see if any shady business seems to be going down and alert the proper managers to respond accordingly. Restaurant owners and chefs can also instruct their staff to always have someone standing near the door. Guests may feel intimidated if they see an employee blocking their only escape route.
Exceptional customer service may also lessen the likelihood of dining and dashing, but the only way to truly eliminate the chance of it happening is to process payments before patrons receive their food. Unless you're trying to compete with a successful quick-service restaurant, this option is likely off the table.
Dealing with the Server
The only people to blame for dining and dashing are the guests who chose to perpetrate such a heinous act. The server or servers who handled the table are not at fault. Despite how tempted you may be to dock their paycheck to make up for the lost revenue, this is not good for employee morale.
Instead of reprimanding your server, remain calm and understand that he or she is probably upset and afraid that they may lose their job. Have empathy and realize that these acts, unfortunately, are common in the restaurant world. You'll simply have to deal with the lost revenue, and just in case it happens again, make sure your menu prices and your budget reflect that possibility of loss.
Reacting in the Right Way
You already know not to dock your server's pay, but you shouldn't fire them either. If you do, you run the risk of the employee slapping a lawsuit on you in retaliation. Because of the public nature of legal proceedings, your restaurant's reputation may suffer as a result.
You also shouldn't chase after the offending party. This could lead to an unnecessary injury, so call the police and let them handle it instead. If anything, try to get a good look at the patron, their license plate, and the make and model of their vehicle. If you have cameras installed, you can also take a look to see if you have video evidence of the suspect or suspects, and you can even check your list of reservations for any possible helpful information.
Unfortunately, every restaurant owner will probably face a dine-and-dash incident at one time or another. It's best to be prepared, train your staff on how to handle the situation, and react in the right way. Start with these tips, and you'll know exactly what to do if, or when, the scenario occurs.