Dealing with dine and dash

Dealing with dine and dash by Ann Elliott

Former Camden councillor Sarah Hayward certainly caused a stir on Saturday night when she tweeted from Wahaca in Kentish town: “Hi @Wahaca. Just ate in your Kentish Town restaurant for the last time. People next to us left without paying and their server is made to foot the bill from his wages. Apparently, company policy. Utterly shameful employment practice.”
Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers picked up the issue the following day, responding to Hayward by tweeting: “@Sarah Hayward. We will definitely ensure our managers know the full policy as carelessness definitely isn’t the same thing as gross negligence (gross negligence is totally standard practice in the industry). It is discretionary, though, hence us looking into what happened. Thank you.”
Later in the week Wahaca said it had changed its policy on the issue from: “If, through your negligence, a customer leaves the restaurant without paying you will be liable to pay the full bill including service to the company or it will be deducted from your wages. Once you have taken an order, whether for your own table or not, until you hand/transfer the table to the correct person you will be personally responsible for collecting the money and required to repay any shortage or it will be deducted from your pay.”
To: “In situations of a walk-out, while the waiter is responsible for the table they won’t have to pay any element of the bill. However, if the manager suspects the waiter was complicit in the walk-out there should be a full investigation, which will be taken to the operations manager to decide the appropriate action.”
From my own experience Thomasina is a person of utmost integrity, an inspiration to other entrepreneurs with huge passion for her business and commitment to providing a great working experience for her team. I think she’s brilliant. I can imagine, but don’t know, that this is a policy written years ago when the business began and hasn’t been reviewed since – as may be the case with hundreds of other restaurant businesses.
Of course this has become a huge topic of debate within the sector and the public having featured on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show. How responsible should a team member be for ensuring none of their tables leave without paying their bill? How many really are complicit with those who walk out? Should team members be made to pay for walk-outs? How many other companies have the same policy as Wahaca did but we just don’t know (but may find out soon)?
I have known restaurants with zero walk-outs, largely due, I believe, to the vigilance (and intuitiveness) of the manager on the floor. They understand customer behaviours, watch every table and can spot a potential walk-out miles off. It’s about the tiny things exceptional managers are so good at. They also have strategies to deal with incidents before anything kicks off – they don’t want anyone from their team chasing a customer down the street asking them to pay. They train their teams well on recognising “dine and dash” customers so neither the team nor other customers are embarrassed by the situation.
There are places where walking out without paying could be easy – venues that don’t appear to be on the ball, with management thin on the ground. There must be a good deal of quick service restaurants where not every customer pays for everything they take out of the shop. I assume the profit and loss (PNL) allows for a percentage of “wastage” caused by theft? Perhaps many full service restaurants do the same?
The general feedback on dine and dash has been pretty unequivocal. Waiting teams shouldn’t have pay deducted for walk-outs whatever the situation. Managers should be on the ball, processes should be in place, recruitment of honest team members is vital, and there should be allowance for “wastage” on the PNL. Oh, and crisis management processes must be in place in case it all goes wrong. It would seem prevention really is better than the cure in this instance.