Restaurants, servers open up about ‘dine and dash’ customers

Jenny Johnson, a server at Schu’s Grill and Bar, talks with a few customers Monday afternoon in downtown St. Joseph. Restaurants and servers have to be watchful at times to prevent walk outs. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Jenny Johnson, a server at Schu’s Grill and Bar, talks with a few customers Monday afternoon in downtown St. Joseph. Restaurants and servers have to be watchful at times to prevent walk outs. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

A server’s worst nightmare on the job is a “dine and dash.”

Many times the act of eating and running out by avoiding to pay the check can have a large impact on both employees and the businesses themselves.

221 Main Restaurant & Cocktail House suffered a dine and dash last Saturday. Jennifer Cowsert, a server since she was 18, said it happened when 221 Main normally gets them – during the busy night scene.

As a server on weekends and a manager on weekdays, Cowsert said the staff often gets credit cards from customers before they start tabs. This past Saturday, the group that walked out had come in from a different restaurant that had lost power.

“They were under the impression that they would have it under the tab for the other business,” Cowsert said. “There was a $105 tab that a group of them had and they decided to leave, thinking they had put it on the other business’ tab. Since we didn’t get the credit card beforehand, the servers had to pay.”

Cowsert said the largest bill anyone ever stuck her with was $264.

It also hurts the server in other ways.

“If there is a walkout, we still have to give out 2 percent to the bartenders, to the food runners, to the busboys,” Cowsert said. “We tip out quite a bit. When something like that happens, we are basically paying you for eating here.”

Jim Kramer, owner of three downtown St. Joseph restaurants and one in Dowagiac, said while walkouts happen, it’s not as frequent as one might think. He said one a month is typical.

Kramer said rush hour presents the most opportunity for walkouts. He estimated that they cost his restaurants more than $1,000 in sales each year.

“There’s really not much that we can do,” he said. “We let it go. We’ve never really called the police.”

“It’s not something that happens a lot for us,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t notice it. When it does, it’s usually because one of them uses the bathroom, while the other leaves.”

Repeat offenders

Randy Deaton, a manager for Redamak’s in New Buffalo, said normal protocol there is to speak with the server after it happens.

“Every once in a while we’ll call the police if it is a repeat offender,” Deaton said. “Most of the time it happens with our smaller parties. The more people there are, the harder it is for them to walk out on us. Although with the amount of people that come in, it’s surprising we don’t get more.”

At Coach’s Bar and Grill in Stevensville, co-owner Jeannine Van Liere said she has yet to experience an actual dine and dash.

Van Liere said people have forgotten to pay and then come back the next day to pay.

In the event of a walkout, Van Liere said employees are instructed to print out the ticket and write it off as a walkout for the books.

“It’s bad because you’re affecting the actual business and the employees that work there,” she said. “Someone has to cover that. It hurts everybody.”

Kramer said he has sympathy, if the issue is that someone simply can’t afford to pay.

“If you dine and dash here, there is a good chance you’ll get caught,” Kramer said. “If you are that hungry and can’t afford to eat, just let us know and we’ll take care of you. There are two or three homeless guys that we feed at least once a week.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2015)

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