The Dawn of the (Legal) Dine and Dash

If you’ve owned or operated a restaurant for any length of time, you’ve likely been in this situation at least once.

Guests come in for a fantastic evening of drinks and food, getting top-notch service from your team. They eat, drink, chat with their server, and then happily leave. By all accounts, they have a great time, but there’s only one problem.

They didn’t pay.

Dine and dash incidents are nothing new to restaurants. Unfortunately, what might be annoying in small amounts can quickly spiral into a problem if it becomes a persistent issue. Losing potential profits is hard enough, but too many losses will drastically impact the bottom line.


The Truth About Stealing Meals

Restaurants often operate on very slim margins, making every dollar critical to keeping the doors open and the lights on.

In 2018, a study concluded that about 1 in 20 people, or 5%, have left a restaurant without settling their bill. It could be as simple as not paying for a soda or beer, but there are also examples of entire parties leaving without paying for their meals.

Dine and dash incidents are still pretty rare, but that doesn’t mean they don’t impact restaurants. Owners can’t absorb too many lost meals, especially when it happens more frequently than anticipated. Thanks to inflation, the cost of everything is going up. In many cases, those price hikes are getting passed to patrons through higher prices and longer wait times, thanks to short-staffed eateries doing what they can with their smaller staff.

Thankfully, technology has stepped up recently to help give restaurateurs a fighting chance. There are plenty of innovative products and services available today that ensure diners have a great experience while reducing the risk of theft.

Why Do Guests Dine and Dash?

Not every dine and dash is malicious, though that isn’t much consolation for a restaurant owner who just lost out on $75 worth of Beef Wellington.

So why do people do it? The answer is a little bit complicated.

  • They’re upset about slow/poor service. If a customer receives their drinks, then doesn’t see their server again for half an hour, they’re more likely to leave without paying because they feel forgotten.

  • They’re running late for something. Baseball games, concerts, family events, whatever it may be, no one wants to be late for something they want to go to. If guests are running out of time, they might make a run for it.

  • They want to get away with something. This one is just plain wrong. In the same way an angsty teen steals nail polish from a drug store, diners might just want to feel the rush of getting away with doing something wrong.

  • They don’t actually have any money. It’s embarrassing for someone to spend an entire evening enjoying a wonderful time with friends or loved ones only to find out that they’ve left their wallet at home. Rather than try to figure something out and risk an even more uncomfortable situation, it might be easier for them to not pay and sneak out.

  • They’re trying to prove a point. Rather than voice an opinion and risk upsetting someone, it’s easier for them to show their displeasure by skipping out on the bill. They could be upset for any reason, but you’ll never know because they left without telling you.

How Do You Prevent Dine and Dash Incidents?

The truth is that for as much time, effort, and passion you put into your food and your business, there will always be a few bad apples trying to spoil the whole bunch. But it doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to reduce customer theft as much as possible.

In many cases, reducing dine and dash events doesn’t have to cost a ton of money or make life more difficult for your guests. In fact, you can achieve peace of mind without altering the dining experience at all for your guests.

Invest in a Camera System

Cameras aren’t always cheap, but having one in place makes it easier to identify theft and put a face to an action. They also help you find teachable moments to share positive actions with the team while keeping an eye out for areas of improvement.

The downside is that cameras are expensive and cost money to set up if you don’t have experience doing it yourself. If you don’t have the money to invest in a system, you may have to find another solution.

Be Friendly

People are much less comfortable pulling a dine and dash if they personally know the people who stand to lose because of it. This can be as simple as introducing yourself to people and asking them how their meals are. Be kind - people will return the favor.

The only downside here is that during busy hours, it may be tough to find time to mingle with guests when the restaurant is already understaffed. In this case, just do what you can and ensure the people you talk with are happy.

Pre-Authorize Meals and Drinks, Especially for Large Groups

This one is straightforward. Pre-authorizing allows the restaurant to keep a customer’s information on file and ensure there is enough money on the card to cover the costs. This is great for bars and other places where servers are often slammed during busy hours.

The only problem here is that guests have to give you a physical card to hold onto, and in the case of a bar, they could leave their card at the bar and go home. If that’s the case, there isn’t a whole lot you can do until they show up for it.

Invest In Pay-at-Table and Contactless Options

New technology makes it possible to remove most of the hassle from the dining experience. Order food and drinks quickly and even pay the bill without waiting for a server to pop by and ask.

Pay-at-table technology is great, but sometimes it can get in the way. In some cases, pay-at-table means having a big, complicated, black screen hanging out on the table. Different systems also have unique quirks, sometimes making it harder to use one over another.

birdbill Brings a Fun Spin to the Dine and Dash


About 85% of Americans own a smartphone, making technology nearly ubiquitous in our way of life.

It’s pretty safe to say most smartphone users feel comfortable downloading and using apps, whether for banking and investing or games and payments. birdbill, for its part, makes the entire restaurant dining and payment experience seamless.

With birdbill, restaurant owners know when guests arrive, making it easier to delight them the second they walk through the door. Guests can then use the birdbill app to scan a QR code to look through the menu and see their bill in real-time. Although servers still have to physically take guest orders, it allows staff to connect with guests.

Depending on the restaurant’s preferences, guests’ cards can be pre-authorized. The amount selected is up to the restaurant but can be an arbitrary amount, average check size, or simply the highest amount they’ve seen over the past 30 or 60 days.

Offering pre-authorization is optional protection the operator doesn’t have to have. By opting out of pre-authorization, the restaurant is not protected from dine and dash attempts.

If pre-authorization is in place, guests can pay from their app with the tap of a button. No more bothering servers, waiting for them to process your card, and then watching them wander back just in time for your guests to miss the first pitch.

The birdbill app is easy to use and even works when customers choose not to pay at the restaurant. Guests can pay their bills simply by getting up and leaving the restaurant. The app automatically settles their bill in real-time, allowing them to avoid contact with servers and get to their event on time without missing a beat.


The New Restaurant Frontier

For years, the dine and dash has been a painful thorn in the side of restaurant owners and operators, but it doesn’t have to be.

Technology is making it easier for restaurants to avoid losing out on money while still ensuring guests have a great time. Even better, apps like birdbill give guests the power to leave when they want while freeing up servers to take care of other guests without missing a beat.

There are plenty of ways to prevent guests from skipping out with a free meal, though some are more costly than others. It’s up to the restaurant owner to determine how big an issue dine and dash incidents are and how best to approach the situation.

For birdbill, we believe our app is an easy way for guests to come in, have a great time, and connect with their favorite restaurants without missing the first pitch of the Red Sox game!