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Dine and Dash California: 7 Preventing Strategies Explained

In California, “dine and dash,” or leaving a restaurant without paying for your meal, is considered a form of theft. The penalties for dine and dash can vary depending on the value of the meal and the circumstances of the case.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is a “Dine and Dash”?

According to Wikipedia, “Dine and dash” is a colloquial term in the United States that refers to the illegal act of “defrauding an innkeeper” [1].

In the US, to dine and dash is a form of theft, typically in which a patron or patrons order and consume food and/or beverages from a restaurant or similar establishment with the intent not to pay. The act usually involves the client placing an order for a meal, consuming the meal, and then exiting the establishment before or after being presented with the bill.

What are the Laws Pertaining to Dine and Dash in California?

Under California Penal Code 537 PC, dine and dash constitute a form of theft crime. It occurs when an individual consumes services, such as food or beverages, at a hotel, restaurant, motel, campground, or similar establishment, without intending to pay, thereby defrauding the proprietor or manager.

If the value of the meal is $950 or less, the individual may be charged with a misdemeanor. In such cases, if convicted, the person could face a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of up to 6 months.

If the amount of the meal was more than $950, the individual could face either a misdemeanor or felony charge. A conviction could result in up to 1 year in county jail or state prison.

Can a Server be Forced to Pay for a Dine and Dash?

Waiters are protected by federal regulations regarding dine and dash incidents. According to these rules, restaurants cannot require their employees to cover the financial loss resulting from dine and dash if doing so would cause their earnings to fall below the minimum wage.

Can You Chase or Confront Dine and Dashers?

According to Law Info, it’s generally advised that employees should not confront customers outside the premises regarding unpaid bills. Chasing someone who did not pay is considered risky, as you may not receive support from the manager or owner if you pursue a customer in such a situation [2].

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.

However, there are significant risks associated with chasing or confronting customers. Most restaurants do not encourage employees to seek vigilante justice for unpaid bills. Business owners often prioritize the safety of their employees over the cost of the food, recognizing that pursuing someone who has not paid could result in injuries.

In such cases, both the employee and the employer could be held liable for any injuries or damages incurred during the pursuit.

How Can Restaurants Prevent Dine and Dash?

To mitigate revenue loss from dine and dash incidents, it’s crucial for restaurants to implement preventive measures. Here are some strategies:

  1. Smart Restaurant Floorplan: Design the layout to prevent quick exits without payment. Place the entrance far from the dining area or station a host near the door to monitor guests.
  2. Payment Counter: Require pre-payment at a counter before customers receive their food. This approach eliminates the risk of dine and dash.
  3. Customer Service: Provide attentive and friendly service to build rapport with customers. This can discourage them from leaving without paying.
  4. Efficient Service: Offer prompt and high-quality service to reduce the likelihood of customers leaving due to slow service.
  5. Table-Side Payment: Allow customers to pay at the table, which can expedite the payment process and reduce the chance of dine and dash.
  6. Pre-Authorize Credit Cards: Keep a credit card on file for large parties or require a credit card for all reservations to minimize the risk of non-payment.
  7. Security Cameras: Install security cameras to deter dine and dash incidents and provide evidence in case of theft.

Implementing these strategies can help restaurants prevent dine and dash incidents and protect their revenue.

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