It seems as of late that public behaviour has deteriorated to such an extent that people simply shouldn’t be allowed out of their houses anymore. COVID-19 flashbacks much? The latest proof that adults nowadays seem unable to follow the basic etiquettes of society is the increasing number of people dine and dashing. Let me explain.
Leaving a restaurant without paying your bill isn’t anything new, it’s a crime as old as dining out. But it’s having a bit of a renaissance right now as every week, there’s a news story about it. And it isn’t just the recent frequency of dine and dashing that’s contributing to its time in the spotlight. Usually, in the past someone who had the nerve to run out on their bill would scuttle off unrepentant into oblivion. However, the rising adoption of social media as a business tool and how people, especially gen Z, interact with these businesses online is foiling the crimes of bill dodgers.
So, are people running out on their bills more than before or is it just media attention making us more aware of it? The crime survey for England and Wales classifies “making off without payment” offences in the “all other theft” category which was up by 19 per cent in 2023 compared to the previous year. The dine-and-dash cases from just the last six months which received media attention were so numerous that I’ll exceed my word limit simply stating them all.
These stories follow a singular pattern. Some dingbat makes a runner from a restaurant and the place in question posts the unflattering CCTV footage of them committing the crime on Facebook, Twitter (now X for some reason), YouTube, or TikTok. The post implores people to help identify the scoundrel, meanwhile, some bored local news website takes the now-viral post and turns it into a story.
One of two things happen now: being put on blast so publicly engenders sudden guilt in our dine-and-dasher and they return to pay the bill, or the police get involved to quietly amalgamate the case into next year’s crime statistics rather than solve it.
On 11 August 2023, two people dashed out on a $150 bill from Oyster Bar in Sacramento, California. The manager, Kevin Subac, wrote in a Facebook post that he didn’t want to embarrass them in any way and just wanted them to come back and pay their bill. “It’s all about your ethics and morals,” he wrote. Considering the bill remains unpaid, it appears their ethics and morals weren’t sturdy enough.
Shaming the criminal through viral content, on the other hand, has proven results. Whether it’s two women in Swinton skipping out on a £56 bill, a family in Cornwall who ditched a £215 bill, a group in Guisborough who ran out on a £70 bill (and threatened to burn the place down if the owner shared their images on Facebook), or the peculiar case of Italian tourists having their ditched €80 bill in Berat, Albania paid by the Italian embassy; in all these cases their bill was eventually paid (overpaid in some instances) because the original social media posts went viral.
Considering that users aged 18-29 make up the largest group across Facebook, X, and TikTok according to compiled Statista figures, it’s mainly gen Zers who electronically transmit this viral content. Some people are lucky enough to look younger than they are, but a thorough glance at the faces and bodies of the culprits in dine-and-dash stories mostly conjures the image of people who couldn’t possibly be younger than their mid-30s.
Not to say such behaviour is beyond the characters of gen Z—see the video just below—but the majority of offences come from millennials, suggesting a shift in morals and ethics. As digital natives with a cornucopia of information at their fingertips, gen Z are, by virtue of interconnectivity, generally more compassionate and empathetic.
Their empathy extends beyond the businesses losing money to the staff who served the dine-and-dashers and ended up in hot water. Especially because it’s people their age who are working these jobs. The Office for National Statistics’ 2021 figures have people aged 16-24 making up almost half of the total hospitality workforce, occupying 50 per cent of waiting and 48 per cent of bartender and barista roles.
If a heathen runs out on their bill, it’s highly probable the manager will take the money out of the server’s paycheck. Already strapped working under-paid and low-skilled jobs, gen Z don’t wish their fellows’ lives made any harder, so they have a greater impetus to serve justice. Furthermore, their strong sense of justice comes through better nowhere than in the comment sections of these social media posts.
One user commented, “Just going out for a smoke is the oldest trick in the book. Disgraceful.” Another had to say, “That’s sad. If you’re broke don’t come out and eat, simple.” A surprise came with, “I remember this guy! He tarmacked my drive.” One quipped about Italy picking up the tourist’s tab in Albania: “I can’t wait to pay taxes so they can be used to settle the bill of a gang of assholes abroad on holiday.”
“Eating like kings, behaving like peasants” was another comment. One guy went hard with, “I can smell the chip-pan grease, ciggies, desperation, and men’s public bog through my phone. Definitely a result of 10 generations of inbreeding.” And who could forget gems like, “pure slink that” and “Absolute dings, nowt wrong with your top-notch scran, give her mug to the police mate.”
The comment sections of these posts read like the culprit is made to walk naked and blindfolded through the town while citizens fling bits of dirt at them. The idea of such public humiliation is enough to make the guilty return and pay their dues.
When some crime is committed, the shapeless multitudes of the internet tend to coalesce into a unified organism that speaks and acts out against the wrongdoing. Gen Z users make up a vital organ of this social media activism, acting as its moral spearhead.
In sharing and commenting on the social media pleas of hard-done-by restaurants, the online populous (comprised largely of the youth) come together and pass swift judgment until the bill is settled or an example is made of the criminal. As the Casey Review into the police conduct finds them too busy being institutionally corrupt to give a damn about dine-and-dashers, sometimes taking the law reasonably into your own hands does the trick.