Diners are notorious for pilferage.
They waltz out the door with silverware, glassware, and salt shakers stuffed into pockets and handbags. They load up on bottles of hot sauce, straws, and thick stacks of paper napkins. Artwork disappears from walls and flowers from from tables. Restrooms have their own subculture of thievery with patrons treating it like a Costco run, stocking up on toilet paper and cleaning products.
If it’s not nailed down…and sometimes even when it is.
This not about need. You’ll find sticky-fingered diners in every class and category of restaurant. Sizzler gives up a lot of steak knives but so does Peter Luger. Particularly exalted locales are often especially targeted. The Stockholm hotel that hosts the Nobel Prize winners’ banquet replaces silver teaspoons by the hundreds after every awards ceremony, and the restaurant at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria runs a no-questions-asked amnesty program for larcenous guests with troubled consciences. But troubled consciences are rare; whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, most pilferers tell themselves that it’s practically a victimless crime.
Restaurant thieves have a knack for rationalizations.
They shift responsibility to the restaurant: ‘If they didn’t want me to have it they wouldn’t have put it out'; or ‘They want the PR.’ They’ll call it a ‘memento of a special occasion’ or justify the theft because ‘it has my initials on it.‘ There are brazen ‘collectors’ who display stolen treasures in gilt frames and china cabinets, and serial scroungers who boast that they haven’t bought their own coffee creamer in years.
Who among us doesn’t grab a few extra Starbucks napkins for the glove compartment? Or a handful of mints from the bowl? What about those teeny, tiny Tabasco bottles you sometimes see? Aren’t they perfect when you bring lunch from home? Whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, the perpetrator is convinced that the moral stakes are low; it’s not like you’re stealing an old lady’s handbag. Restaurant thievery has been called a crime of the moral majority, committed by otherwise upstanding citizens.
Neon signs, plumbing fixtures, taxidermied animals, novelty urinal mats: read about the most epic, outrageous, and audacious acts of restaurant thievery in Eater’s ongoing series Shit People Steal.