Dine and dash is an issue most restaurants have had to deal with at one point or another.
At minimum, a dine and dash incident can ruin a server's night. And when it’s pervasive, dine and dash can undermine a restaurant’s profitability.
Restaurants are fairly unique in that they provide a service with the understanding that the price on the menu is what will be paid after the service is complete — there's a trust between the customer and the business that all tabs will be paid, barring any big mistakes made by the staff. But unfortunately, not every customer holds up their end of the bargain.
What is dining and dashing?
Dining and dashing is when a customer orders and consumes a meal from a restaurant or bar with no intent to pay their bill. They dine, and then dash out the door. This is a form of restaurant theft: where the customer slips out the door before payment is processed and intentionally evades the cost of their meal.
The restaurant industry already has notoriously small profit margins, and dine and dash can seriously harm the profitability of your business.
How common is dine and dash?
Dine and dash is shockingly common: one study found that 1 in 20 people have left a restaurant without paying their bill.
If it happens once, it might not be a big deal. But over the course of a year, multiple dine and dash incidents could add up to a significant amount of lost revenue.
Why do people dine and dash?
There is no one reason why people dine and dash. Sometimes, it’s teenagers acting rebellious, or finding a thrill out of doing something illegal. Or, it could be out of embarrassment: a forgotten wallet or lack of funds. Other people might get tired of waiting for the check and decide to leave early to try and prove a point.
In all cases, dine and dashers might not realize the serious impact that their actions have on your restaurant.
But regardless of intention, dine and dash can have some very real implications for your business. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening in the future.
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How to Prevent Dine-and-Dash
While there may not be a way to completely eliminate this type of theft at your restaurant, you can at least make it more difficult for potential dine and dashers.
Get the right tech
Server handhelds and pay at the table technology both come in handy here, and are helpful for more than just increasing efficiency.
When servers ask parties if they are ready for the check, this leaves a window of a few minutes for diners to dash. However, when these servers come carrying a handheld POS, the guest pays the bill immediately — removing any opportunity to leave without paying.
This also helps solve the problem of impatient guests getting tired of waiting for their server to come with the bill. Handhelds shave minutes off of the dining process and have been proven to increase servers' tips — so guests will leave happier overall.
Order and pay at the table is another immediate solution. Pay at the table technology allows restaurant guests to order items or pay their tab by scanning a QR code with their smartphone. This means that guests are paying immediately upon ordering, eliminating the option of skipping out on the bill.
If you operate a bar, preauthorization is another immediate solution. Preauthorization allows a server or bartender to swipe a guests card and securely save that information as their bar tab. This process verifies that the card is real and makes sure it has a predetermined amount of funds on it.
Connect with guests
Build a relationship with your guests. It’s much harder to run out on your bill if you find yourself connecting with the people who are serving your meal – and this goes for management, host, and all front of house positions in the building that day.
Whenever possible, make a personal connection with guests. While it may not completely solve the problem of dine and dash, it can help diners understand that their actions have consequences on real people, and they might be less likely to go through with it.
After all, building a connection with guests is the foundation of a great guest experience, and will likely lead to first-time visitors becoming regulars.
Have FOH staff around at all times
Ensure there's someone in the front of the restaurant at all times. Your host is the hero of the day here, who can be sure to welcome and send off each and every guest.
You’ll need to make sure that they are not gone for more than a few seconds at a time while seating.
If your host is busy prepping take out orders for the bar or answering a lot of calls, you may need to think about an improvement to your current system which enables more automation (for example, integrated online ordering can help orders bypass the host and fire right into the kitchen, leaving your host with more time to entertain customers).
Attempted dine and dashers may not feel comfortable risking the act if they feel they are being watched, or have to pass by someone at the front before leaving.
What to do if Someone Dines and Dashes
Check your CRM software
If you have a CRM (customer relationship management) software or log book, check to see if you know the customer or if they have dined with you before. This can offer valuable information about their previous dining behavior and help you either contact them to follow up on payment or make a note on their file, and prevent it from happening again.
Review security footage
If you have security footage, look back and see if you recognize the customer. Similar to the CRM strategy, this can either help collect payment or prevent a recurring problem with the same customer.
Alert neighboring restaurants
It's likely not an isolated incident, so whether you identify the customer or not, it’s a good idea to let your neighbors know that this happened. A heads up to other restaurants could help them deter new instances of dine and dash.