We’ve heard stories. We wonder if people really do it. And yes, some of us may have even done it.
Dining and dashing (also known as a “chew and screw” or “dine and ditch”) is when you eat (or drink) at a restaurant or bar and leave without paying the bill. Morally, this is wrong, but what about legally?
At the heart of the issue is taking advantage of the honor system. The restaurant (usually) delivers food to you before you pay, and the restaurant trusts that you will follow through by paying after you eat. When someone breaks this trust, it hurts:
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. But other states, like Mississippi, have laws that make it a felony to refuse to pay for a restaurant bill over $25.
In some states, a server must pay for the dine-and-dash customers, especially when a particular server has multiple walkouts. Most states have rules that require an employer to alert an employee of any deductions from their wages in advance.
That being said, many restaurants budget for walkouts, and the server does not have to pay.
For most companies, the general rule is that you shouldn’t confront customers outside of the premises. Chasing someone who did not pay is done at your own risk. You will likely not have support from the manager or owner if you pursue a customer.
If you do catch someone, you can make a “citizen’s arrest.” The police can take over at this point. You can also report the person’s license plate so the police can run a DMV search. If the police find them, they will review the bill and prior behavior. They can make the diner and dasher pay for the bill, and they may be charged with a misdemeanor.
Check with the manager or owner, but most restaurants do not want you to seek vigilante justice for an unpaid bill.
Many restaurants realize the cost of the food is not worth potential injury to an employee chasing after someone. In fact, you could injure someone accidentally while chasing after a fleeing walkout. That becomes a bigger issue since both the employee and the employer could be found liable for any injuries or damages.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense.