Please Stop Stealing Stuff from Restaurants

Most people (hopefully) wouldn't steal from a store or a home, so why do diners think it's OK to come home with a pilfered fork, glass, toilet paper, or shaker?

Salt and pepper shaker bottles at a burger restaurant

Jayson Photography / Getty Images

Restaurant customers are a notoriously thieving bunch. If it’s not nailed down, someone will try to take it and I’m not just talking about the patience they sometimes snatch from those who serve them. Their fingers are stickier than a laminated breakfast menu at a Waffle House

A recent viral TikTok video of a woman proudly displaying all of the things she had lifted from restaurants amassed over four million views before it was wisely deleted. She had stolen enough plates and silverware to host a state dinner at the White House and I believe she is the sole reason I can never find a soup spoon when I’m at work. Maybe some customers see it as a challenge to walk out with a molcajete after ordering chips and guacamole, but it’s nothing more than brazen robbery.

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From ramekins to salt and pepper shakers to steak knives to chopstick rests, customers feel like it’s their right to take what they want from a restaurant. The price of an appetizer and entree does not include anything other than the food on the plate. The food goes home with the customer either in their belly or in their to-go box and everything else stays at the restaurant. 

It's a condiment, not a keepsake.

When I worked at a well-known hotel chain, we had individual servings of 100% pure maple syrup. They came in adorable little jars emblazoned with the hotel’s logo and an image of the Brooklyn Bridge. The jars rested at the end of the buffet line so guests could help themselves to one after having a waffle made for them. Those jars sold out like hotcakes, except they weren’t actually for sale. Throughout the shift, they had to be continuously restocked to make up for all of the jars that ended up in purses and bags as souvenirs from Brooklyn. Eventually, the syrup bottles became something we gave out as needed. Once, a woman asked me for another jar of syrup. I looked at the unopened jar sitting in front of her and said, “When you finish that one, I’d be happy to bring you another.” Hey, I owned stock in that hotel chain and food costs really mattered to me.  

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People often justify their theft saying it’s free advertising for the restaurant. Is it though? Taking a cactus-shaped Margarita glass that doesn’t even have the restaurant’s name on it and then storing that glass inside a cabinet at one’s home where no one except the person who stole it will ever see it, isn’t really a great advertising strategy. It’s just shoplifting. Unless the menu says “comes in a keepsake glass,” it’s pretty assured that the glass should not go inside a bag when the server isn’t looking. If a diner feels they simply must have the ceramic creamer that came with their coffee or the wooden mallet that came with the crab, they might consider buying those at the same place the restaurant did. It’s called a restaurant supply store and they sell all the things customers want to steal from restaurants. They’re usually much more affordable than buying them at Williams-Sonoma, but admittedly not as cheap as stealing them. 

Tea and TP aren't free.

Customers take plenty of other things from restaurants too. Toilet paper is a hot commodity. If there are a few extra rolls of it on a shelf over the sink in the bathroom, those aren’t the same thing as the complimentary mints at the host stand. They aren’t there for the taking. Splenda and Sugar in the Raw packets are not on the table to restock a pocketbook. “All-you-can-eat” doesn’t mean it’s okay to cram a baggie full of rolls for the road. 

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Ordering one glass of iced tea that has unlimited refills and then sharing that glass of tea is also stealing. The same goes for couples who ask for one cup of coffee after dinner and leave the cup in front of one of them even though they both take turns drinking out of it. The server knows what’s happening and they don’t like it. It’s pure thievery and customers like that may as well throw the sugar caddy into their backpack while they’re at it. 

Don't steal the server's pen.

The one thing that’s okay to take from a restaurant is a pen, but only if it has the name of the restaurant on it. That’s an indication that it was provided by the establishment for the server to use. Any other pen was probably paid for by the server and anyone who tries to take it deserves to be chased down until it’s retrieved.

It costs a lot to go out to eat in a restaurant these days and it’s getting more expensive all the time. Inflation is a big part of it, but any time a customer steals something from the restaurant, it means prices can go up even higher. Stop stealing from restaurants. I’m not an economist or anything, but I feel like our country could avoid a possible recession if customers would only stop taking every copper mug their Moscow Mule came in.

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