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A lengthy meal of appetizers and cocktails ended with some pretty harsh words from a group of eight diners at Bangkok Joe’s in Georgetown on Aug. 5. “My dog wouldn’t eat this food,” one of the diners spewed when the check arrived, according to chef/ownerAulie Bunyarataphan. This struck Bunyarataphan as odd, because the group had eaten every morsel, with the exception of one spring roll and one potsticker.
Bunyarataphan says a server checked on the table periodically throughout the meal and there were no complaints. “Everything was fine until we put thebill down, which was close to $250,” she says. “They even ordered a repeat order of spring rolls.” Despite the fact that five of the eight diners submitted credit cards, there’s a chance the group may get out of paying for the meal.
That’s because the diners wrote “bad food” and “disputed” in large letters all over the credit card slips and crossed things off. Bangkok Joe’s elected to run the cards anyway, since the diners signed the checks. Now they sit and wait to hear if the charges are going to be disputed by the diners’ credit card companies. “So far, we don’t know yet,” Bunyarataphan says.
“This has been happening so many times,” she adds. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s summer, but people try to take advantage of us.” She says the incident is part of an epidemic of diners angling for free food. “The customers, they get in the habit of complaining so they get away with free food, and that’s not good. We didn’t do anything wrong, and the profit from restaurants is very small.”
She describes several other examples, including one in which a fly landed on a whole fried fish that diners were enjoying on the patio. The restaurant comped the fish because of the fly’s unfortunate landing pad, but the diners thought the whole meal should have been free, Bunyarataphan recalls. Fight back, she says, and you risk incurring a one-star Yelp review.
In addition to complaining with the hope of securing freebies, diners still complete the old fashioned dine-and-dash with surprising frequency. Chef Alex McCoy of Crisp Kitchen + Bar and Tchoup’s Market estimates that it happens about once a month. “We train the staff to look for warning signs like uneasy or nervous patrons, and if there are multiple people at the table that get up or split up,” he says. “It’s a fairly common restaurant practice.”
Chef Travis Weiss of Rebellion DC and The Commodore Public House & Kitchen echoes McCoy, saying it happens about once or twice a month. “It happens from time to time, honestly it’s not usually intentional, but more so the bourbon’s fault,” he jokes.
If servers trained to catch shifty patrons miss a beat, there’s always social media. Chef/Owner Dean Gold of Dino’s Grotto shares an incident that happened in March. “A party who had used a credit card to secure their reservation did the old going-out-to-take-a-smoke-break-and-left routine,” Gold says. He ran the bill because he had the card on file, and their snap happy fingers made it difficult to dispute the charge later. “They had posted to social media with our hashtag, so we had proof in case they tried to charge it back! I guess if you are smart enough to run out on your check, you may not be smart enough not to post to social media.”
Gold explains that they were shorted only a little because when a restaurant keys in a credit card number for authorization, it must pay a 1 percent credit card fee. But other times, diners behaving badly can cost restaurants hundreds of dollars.