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That's a massive number. Even scarier for restaurant owners, most of the losses don't come in the form of easily foiled capers in which employees are stuffing their pants with steaks or siphoning beer off the taps. Instead, presumably well-meaning servers are giving away appetizers, failing to ring up coffees and helping themselves to fountain drinks. With management's blessing, my coworkers and I probably drink about 40 to-go cups of soda and tea every night.
But restaurant workers aren't the only culprits: A startlingly high number of customers filch what doesn't belong to them, and their motives are rarely innocuous. Intent on securing a souvenir or, perhaps, saving money on silverware, many restaurant guests treat the table like an all-you-can-take smorgasbord. And as the recession wears on, the problem seems to be getting worse.
Cutlery's by far the most popular item with thieving foodies, who seem to fancy specialized utensils like oyster forks and lobster crackers. A pint glass with the restaurant's name on it might as well be inscribed with the words "steal me." And while I've heard of customers pinching plates, candleholders and art, diners in my section seem to favor smaller trinkets.
I once worked at a fine-dining restaurant where every place was set with a pair of miniature salt-and-pepper shakers. They were irresistibly cute. Although it seems reasonable to assume servers might side with their light-fingered guests, adopting a "screw the management" stance, I've yet to meet a server who doesn't delight in policing criminal activity at their tables: At the salt-and-pepper place, we competed to apprehend thieves in the most white-tablecloth-worthy way.
When the salt and pepper shakers were spotted scrunched between a guest's purse and leg of her chair –- a place they appeared with remarkable frequency, we'd retrieve them, stage-whispering, "You seem to have dropped something." But an especially brazen coworker of mine concocted possibly the best blush-inducing line: After noticing the shakers were missing from a table, he announced, "Sirs and madams, I am now returning to the kitchen for your foie gras. I shall return and trust the shakers will as well." They did.
What do you think? Do exorbitant restaurant prices entitle diners to steal? How should servers handle customer theft?