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A Bane of Restaurateurs - the Dine and Dashers
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By Kathie Jenkins, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 11, 2007 - Employees at Barker's in Hudson, Wis., go all out for customers. Sometimes, they have to go after them.

Recently, a couple in their mid-40s walked into the downtown bar and grill on a busy night and ordered a Tuscan chicken sandwich, stuffed bacon cheeseburger, fries and drinks -- pale ale for him; chardonnay for her. After finishing their meal, they left without paying the $30 tab. As soon as the staff realized what had happened, they ran out to confront the couple. They were long gone.

It's called dine and dash, and it's a bane of restaurateurs. Most offenders used to be drunken frat boys skipping out on paying for tacos and beer. But now, the crime has become more widespread.

Dr. Jim Ayres, a clinical psychologist who heads the free, no-questions-asked Walk-In Counseling Center in South Minneapolis, says dining and dashing could be about a lot of things -- thrill seeking, a sense of entitlement, social pressure to push the limits, sticking it to the establishment or simply living in a fantasy world where people behave without consequences as if no one is going to get hurt.

"They don't realize that it's stealing," he says. "But if it were done to them, they would be greatly concerned."

What's more, there's even a Web site that gives tips on how to dine and dash. On another site, dine and dash is on a list of things people aspire to do, right up there with attending a film premiere, visiting the Grand Canyon and finding a purpose in life.

Hollywood celebs like Paris Hilton, Tyra Banks and Foxy Brown have reportedly dined and dashed. And right here in the Twin Cities just a few months ago, charges were filed against Reginald Wilder and his cross-dressing companion, Lance Burrow, for skipping out on a $410 tab at Temple restaurant in Minneapolis.

"We're all kind of screwed when something like this happens," says Barker's owner Pete Foster. "There's no tip for the server, and the restaurant's out the money for food."

At Hell's Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis, the very first customer was a dine-and-dasher.

"I was busy in the kitchen, and no one told me that had happened until we were closing that day," says chef/owner Mitch Omer, a former bouncer who once toured with the Rolling Stones. "If I had known, I'd have beat the living s-- out of him. Nobody gets by with it at my restaurant if I can catch him."

Sam Beberg, chef/co-owner of Hot Plate, a Minneapolis neighborhood restaurant, says it's hard to know whom to trust. Some of the most innocent-looking diners have come in for breakfast and then claimed they forgot their checkbooks.

"They'll say they live in the neighborhood and will be right back," says Beberg. "We totally believe them, and we never see them again."

These days, Beberg isn't so trusting. If someone doesn't have money, Beberg will ask him to leave something as collateral until he returns. "You can only get burned so many times," he says.

After scarfing down a stir-fried beef with garlic sauce at Duc's in Maplewood, a diner ran out without paying. The other customers offered to chase him down, but owner Duc Kim told them not to bother.

"It was only a few bucks," he says. "Maybe he just didn't want to stand in line and pay."

Barbara Hunn, who founded Keys Restaurant, gets a dine-and-dasher now and then, but she takes it all in stride.

"After 35 years, I don't get too excited over it," she says. "I figure, well, they probably need it more than I do."

Kathie Jenkins can be reached at 651-228-5585 or kjenkins@pioneerpress.com.

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To see more of the Pioneer Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.twincities.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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