One Thousand Words on the Dine and Dash

Add the “dine and dash” to the list of things about which I’m over sensitive.

I was just watching an episode of Parenthood. One of the characters was eating with a stereotypical teenager who got upset about something and ran out of the restaurant. The character jumped up and followed the teenager out the door.

Normally in scenes like that, they make a point of dropping some cash on the table as they leave. I always imagine that the waitress gets a big tip because they left a fifty for a $12 hamburger.

But that didn’t happen this time, which makes me think it was an intentional dine and dash. Maybe it was supposed to be that he was overwhelmed with concern for the anguished teen, but he glanced back over his shoulder as he was leaving so it seemed like he knew he should have tossed down some money but didn’t.

So now I don’t like the character as much as I did, even though he is played by the always adorable Jason Ritter.

The dine and dash has always caused me to feel panicky, a mild form of post traumatic stress disorder from a horrible childhood incident. Or at least it seemed horrible at the time. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that bad.

I used to spend every other Sunday afternoons with my father. He always struggled with ways to keep me entertained, so we often ended up going to the movies and getting a bite to eat.

One Sunday we went to Pizza Hut after a matinee.

My father ordered a pizza and got himself a beer. Trying to encourage vegetable eating in an effort to appear like a good father, he ordered me a salad too.

I ate my salad and he drank his beer. No pizza arrived. We sat and still no pizza. I don’t remember if he asked the waitress or couldn’t get her attention. I just remember him getting angrier and angrier until he said, “Come on. We’re leaving.”

When he dropped me off back at home, I was inconsolable. Not about missing out on pizza, but that we had left without paying for my salad and his beer. I felt like a criminal, like I was on the run from the law.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was a good five years before I set foot back inside that Pizza Hut. You can ask my mom. She couldn’t get me back there. And she tried, but I refused.

I was convinced that if I returned, the Pizza Hut people would have me arrested for stealing a salad.

Now that I’m an adult, it doesn’t feel like my father’s response was all that unreasonable. I don’t know how long we sat there, but it was quite a while. And if no one bothered to say there was a hold up in the kitchen or a mistake with the order, I can imagine getting frustrated and leaving.

But at the time, it was very distressing.

Because of this experience in mind, I would never dine and dash. Even if it was a restaurant I never want to eat at again.

I had never seen an actual dine and dash live until I was in college.

I was an intern at the college’s professional theater company so I was living on campus all summer. My mother had driven up to do some shopping and take me out to an early dinner.

We went to this little Mexican place and sat outside on their deck. The restaurant was fairly quiet and the only other customer on the deck was a guy eating alone.

I have a thing about people eating in restaurants alone. I feel sorry for them. There’s something about it that just looks so lonely. I’ve eaten alone in a restaurant and know that it’s not that bad, but it’s a depressing visual.

Because of hyperawareness of single diners, I found myself glancing at the guy throughout our meal, wondering why he was eating alone and trying to figure out if he was sad about it. (And yes, I’m sure that staring at people while they sit alone doesn’t make them feel even better about it.)

So when the waitress gave the guy his bill, I saw him act like he was reaching into his back pocket for his wallet and, once the waitress walked away, leave without paying.

I guess I should have yelled or something, but I was too surprised to react. Or maybe the PTSD froze me in a vivid Pizza Hut flashback. I didn’t say a word.

It was the audacity of pretending to reach for his wallet that blew me away. It was so deliberate and calculated. It was as if he shouted “Here I am, reaching for my wallet so I can pay this bill!”

It made the dash even more malicious.

Now I suppose that he could have actually been reaching for his wallet and realized he had left it at home. But the way he snuck out the moment the waitress wasn’t looking suggested that it had been planned all along.

What happens when a customer dines and dashes? Is the waitress responsible for paying for the meal?

I don’t know if I saw it in a movie or read it in a book once but for some reason I have always thought this was the case.

If it is true, it doesn’t seem very fair. I worked a lot of retail when I was younger and if I was on duty when someone shoplifted a pair of shoes I didn’t have to pay the $19.99. (I worked at a very cheap shoe store.)

So why should a waiter or waitress be responsible for someone else’s theft?

All of these thoughts ran through my mind when that character ran out of the restaurant on Parenthood tonight.

Which reminds me, can someone tell me how the episode ended? I wasn’t paying attention after the dine and dash.

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