This Week in the Mercury


Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Art of Dine and Dash

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Thu, May 28, 2009 at 10:13 AM

4d24/1243530649-yvs4dad.jpgSunday evening, Arcata California. My wife Kitty and I are in Mazzotti’s Italian Restaurant on the main square, and we want nothing more than enormous plates of carbohydrates, which the menu promises in spades. As we consider which monstrous dish of starch to order, we are both struck by the conversation at the table beside us. They are very close, and very loud. It’s not as if we’re trying to eavesdrop, it’s just impossible to not listen. And what’s remarkable about the conversation isn’t how interesting these two people are, but how amazingly pretentious and snobbish they seem to be.

The young man is dressed in tight knickers with a sweater of some sort, and a driving cap. The young woman across from him is decked out in a skin-tight, low-cut red shirt. The young man is going on and on about all the insights he’s gained studying philosophy in Canada. There’s no doubt in his mind that he’s right about everything, and he speaks as if every word is a hundred dollar bill he’s been inconvenienced to pull from between his teeth. He peppers his conversation liberally with the names of obscure philosophers and their obscure maxims in order to prove his points. The young lady smiles, nods, and makes small interested noises.

The wife and I look at each other and get to work on our booze. After ordering, we try to strike up our own conversation, but the table beside us is joined by a third who drags a chair into the brief space between our table and theirs, affectively bridging the psychological buffer zone that offers some semblance of privacy in the intimate setting. The conversation, once merely interminable, now becomes completely unavoidable. Luckily, the third doesn’t stay long. Kitty notices that as he leaves, the young woman immediately pours his wine into her glass. Odd.

Our food arrives: mine, a calzone that dwarfs my head, hers, a startling serving of eggplant parm. For a moment we are lost in our food, but I’m pulled out of my gooey, cheesy, salty reverie by the sudden realization that the couple beside us is now speaking gibberish. It’s some kind of secret code language consisting of single letters and numbers in rapid succession with the occasional wet tongue click. Their tone is strange and conspiratorial. And I suddenly feel guilty thinking they must have caught on that we were privy to their conversation. I try to mind my own business.

We are sharing a waitress with their table, and every time our server comes to check on us, they lean in and interrupt to request something new. So far they’ve amassed on their table: one whole pizza, two pasta dishes, a bottle of wine, cocktails, and various other unrecognizable dishes that have been picked apart and left to cool and congeal.
This time they request coffee—the young man ordering with the kind of entitled flourish I’d come to loath from certain patrons I’d had the misfortune to serve myself in the past.
These two have now become the evening’s entertainment for Kitty and I. Dinner and a show, so to speak. But we’re also trying to do our best to ignore them, make small talk, etc.

When the coffee arrives at their table, the young woman leaves, passing us with a cherubic smile. The young man is left to request the check. When it comes, he spends a few minutes chatting up the waitress. He’s a philosophy student from Canada, blah blah blah, on a road trip in the US, blah blah blah. Oh, and he’ll be paying cash, he informs the waitress. He makes a point of that. Cash.

For all of our interest, Kitty and I don’t notice he’s gone until we realize we’ve been able to speak to each other freely for five minutes. Then several restaurant staff gather at the table beside us:

“Are they gone?”

“I don’t know. The coffee is still warm, should I bus it?”

“No, the check hasn’t been paid and there’s still a lot of food. Just leave it until they come back.”

Minutes pass. They don’t come back. We watch as our waitress angrily snatches the bill from the table, stalking out the door with an angry look and a sense of purpose. We’d just witnessed a dine and dash of significant proportion. The table beside us is littered with the remnants of what was easily a hundred dollar meal. Kitty and I start replaying everything we witnessed. Should we have seen it coming? Could we have warned someone?

We pay our bill and vow that as the night progresses we will keep an eye out for the hoodlums. Later in the evening I think I see the young man exit the bathroom of the bright naugahide bar where we’ve propped ourselves up. I spring from my barstool and give chase, popping out a back door into an alley. I look both ways, but he’s gone. I have no idea what I would have done if I caught him. Eventually our boldness is done in by alcohol and we drift back to our hotel room to sleep.

I post this story as a kind of learning tool. In the last week, I’ve wondered about the dine and dash. As a server, I never really thought about it happening to me. But I wonder if it’s ever been a concern for any Blogtownies in the service industry. Are there signals to look out for? Can you catch them before it happens? What are the consequences for a server after someone skips out on the check? On the other hand, I wonder how many Blogtownies have dined and dashed. And do you regret it? Let’s get into it in the comments.

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