New Plymouth’s eateries have been dining out on their customers’ honesty – and have no plans to change after a scammer was served up in court.
Bradley James Thomas pleaded guilty to six charges of obtains by deception in the New Plymouth District Court on Wednesday after scamming meals and beverages from six different restaurants in the city between March 31 and April 4 – running up an unpaid bill of $144.80.
Each time his card was declined and he promised to come back and pay – but never returned.
But the general consensus among some of the city’s established eateries is that people ordering and eating and then not paying were few and far between.
* Man scams six restaurants out of food and drink with promises to pay later
Joe’s Garage on Devon Street East was one of the restaurants Thomas scammed, and general manager Candice Matthews said all employees received an email afterwards.
“It’s just about having awareness,” she said.
“I’ve worked here two-and-a-half years and we haven’t had any incidents. New Plymouth people are pretty honest.”
Matthews said the March 31 incident, in which Thomas ate food and drink worth $19.50 and then revealed he couldn’t pay, was handled quite well, and had not changed their approach.
“I’m comfortable with how it is. I don’t want to be going ‘pay now, pay now’ because it’s not in our nature.”
She added: “A lot of our customers are regulars so we have built that trust.
“If it happens again it will be something we need to look into.”
Matthews said it was often a simple matter of reminding customers to pay before they leave.
If they did have people saying they couldn’t pay, staff asked why and took their details so they could go to the police if they did not see the money within a couple of days.
They also put the problem back on to the customer, pointing out they had eaten food or consumed drinks on the premises. “That’s not really fair to us.”
Phil Smiley, general manager of Monica’s Eatery, where Thomas had a meal worth $23.10 before failing to pay for it, said it was usually more a case of people forgetting to pay, and then being very embarrassed when reminded.
“The vast majority of customers pay. Every now and then you get one that forgets…[and says] ‘Oh I’m so sorry’.”
He said it was “certainly not” a big issue that made them want to change their approach.
Peter Hardgrave, the owner of Marinovich’s Seafood Restaurant & Cafe, said he had been in the restaurant business for 18 or 19 years and had never really had a problem.
“We’ve never had that situation. I have had someone go down the road to the eftpos machine and come straight back.”
That customer had already used their eftpos card, so Hardgrave said he would have been able to track them.
However, he said he wouldn’t let someone leave without paying, unless they left something of value to cover the cost.
He once had a man come in and ask for fries, saying he could only pay $2.30 instead of the full price of $2.50.
Hardgrave gave it to him for $2.30 but told him not to come back unless he could pay full price.
He also had someone who he knew was unable to pay and he rang their friend – who he also knew – and they came in and paid for it, he said.
Hardgrave did not think people failing to pay for their food was a big problem.
“It happens, but I’d say it is a very small percentage.”
Dylan Firth, Advocacy and Policy Manager for Hospitality New Zealand, said it is “probably not the best practice” to rely on customers coming back to pay.
“I’d say it’s probably not done in most places.
“You get people trying to get away with a free meal all the time, I guess. It’s not a massive issue that people are losing tens of thousands of dollars on.”
He said to “eat and run” is more common than actually eating at a restaurant and then not paying.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a common one.”
He said each restaurant would handle the situation differently depending on their policy, but suggested taking the customer’s details and a photo of their ID.
“It’s a reminder to the industry that there are people out there who are trying to get a free meal.”
However, some people clearly think New Plymouth’s restaurants and bars are too trusting.
A poll on Neighbourly showed that 60 per cent of respondents thought Thomas should never have been allowed to leave without paying.
The other 40 per cent thought staff were right to give him the benefit of the doubt.