UnderCover Waitress: Exposing Dine and Dash

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Exposing Dine and Dash

Always99 has asked about the legality of posting photographs of people who dine at the restaurant then do not pay for the meal and service they received.

"Dine and dash" refers to people who attempt to make a run for it and escape the restaurant making no effort to pay. Another problem restaurants have is people who write bad checks. With the wide use of debit cards, this may be becoming a thing of the past. There are, however, business owners too cheap and, forgive me: stupid, to get with the program and do business in the 21st century. I've had plenty of friendly conversations with owners (not necessarily of restaurants) who wax eloquent about the expense of taking Visa/MC and about their virtuous customers whose good deeds rival that of Christ himself; therefore, they would never write a bad check. Each one I can think of has since gone out of business.

One of these "we take cash and checks" owners was my boss for a time. She owned a greasy spoon diner that was losing money, in part because she hadn't raised prices since the Middle Ages, and in part because she was unable to compete with a new restaurant in town that offered tastier fare, took plastic as payment, and wasn't run by a habitually angry person.

But I'm getting off-topic. When I started waiting tables at the diner, I noticed that under a piece of glass at the counter were a bunch of checks. The sign that accompanied them instructed employees not to accept checks from these people, but both employees and customers could easily see the names, addresses, and any information on the front of the personal checks. This was a transparent attempt to embarrass the check writers.

I recognized one name. A woman in her twenties with a high-school education had been living with her boyfriend. They had two young children together. Before the eldest was old enough for preschool, they broke up. She ended up leaving town to live near her parents and family so she would have help and support raising two children by herself as an uneducated woman.

Her situation does not excuse the bad check, nor does it make the economic loss any easier on the diner's owner. Because I know the people involved, I am prevented from falling back on stereotypes and villifying the "irresponsible welfare queen" who may be publicly shamed and punished for writing a bad check. Rather, I knew her well enough to have seen her work hard to make her new family work. I saw the stress and strain take a toll on her as things started to fall apart. I saw her heart break. I was glad she made the decision to move closer to her parents and family; I believe that was best for her and her children. I dare say she would not have knowingly written a bad check, but was likely in over her head and made a mistake. If anybody from the diner had called (and I don't know whether they did) to ask the woman to make good on the check, they may have gotten a cancelled number.

The point is that while the diner owner was legitimately upset, engaging in angry, spiteful behavior only reflected upon herself. I wonder if some paying customers stopped coming back because they were turned off by the display of bad checks.

Always99 is wondering if it is legal to post people's pictures who do not pay for their food and service. She indicates that perhaps the public shaming will encourage people to return to pay up.

It won't. Public shaming results in people not coming back.

But, is it legal? Great question. I'm not a lawyer, I'm just a stupid waitress (you knew that was coming!) so if I get anything wrong real lawyers are welcome to weigh in.

Laws regarding what you can and can not record have changed, and I am not sure where YouTube fits in. YouTube may or may not be an example of the laws' inability to keep up with technology. George W. Bush's "Patriot Act" removed some rights to privacy and allowed the government to listen in on telephone conversations without a warrant.

I believe it is legal to post a person's photograph on the wall, but I strongly suggest you not do it for the purpose of shaming a non-paying customer. For one, you open yourself up to allegations of slander. If you mistakenly post a picture of somebody who did NOT dine and dash, you open yourself up to complaints, lawsuits, and bad PR.

And if they did dine and dash, posting their picture on a wall of shame makes you look like a nasty, angry person. My old boss was one of the angriest, most obnoxious people I have ever met.


  1. We had a shame board at my mother's restaurant where we would pin the customer's dine-in ticket onto and then it big read letters, their name (we knew everyone but picture would have been better).

    Regular customers would also go up on the board if they got a bit tipsy the night before and forgot to pay up. They would typically come in the next day apologizing profusely. :)

    1. I have had regulars forget to pay or even just tip me. They always come back extremely apologetic, it's true! :)

  2. You end up coming across as petty doing that. Your ex-boss fits the bill.

    And it does astonish me that in this day and age, with the fees credit companies charge businesses, that any shop or restaurant wouldn't go out of their way to get debit in instead.


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