Can You Be Charged with a Crime if You ‘Dine & Dash’ in Texas?

gavel and money
Everyone has heard stories of people “dining and dashing,” and some even admit to doing it once or twice in their life. But some people do it all the time without fearing any consequences.

But is dining and dashing, which is also known as dining and ditching, actually a crime in Texas? Can you be charged with a crime for eating/drinking at a restaurant or bar and leaving without paying for the food and drinks?

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime for dining and dashing, do not hesitate to speak with a Round Rock criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options.

What is Dining and Dashing?

The phenomenon of dining and dashing is not new. This form of “theft” occurs when customers take advantage of the so-called honor system. Basically, when you go to a restaurant, you can order and consume as much food and drink as you want and then pay for it after you finish your meal.

However, some people leave the restaurant without paying. While some people walk out without paying because they simply forgot to pay, others do it intentionally. Dining and dashing has a negative impact on the restaurant:

  • The establishment loses money;

  • The waiter/waitress does not get a tip; and

  • The restaurant may end up increasing menu costs to make up for the loss of income.

But what are the consequences for the customer who leaves the restaurant without paying? Can you be charged with a criminal offense for dining and dashing in Texas? And why do people dine and dash in the first place?

Why Do People Dine and Dash?

There are many reasons people leave restaurants and other establishments without paying for the food they consumed or services they received. Common reasons people dine and dash include:

  1. For fun. Many people leave a restaurant without paying just for fun because doing something that is against the law brings them excitement.

  2. Long time to get the bill. Other people may leave the establishment without paying because it takes a long time to receive the bill.

  3. No money to pay. Some customers may refuse to pay because they have no money to pay the bill. While some of these cannot pay because they forgot their wallet, others knew that they had no money to eat at the restaurant in the first place.

  4. Not satisfied with the service or food. It is not uncommon for customers to refuse to pay because they are not satisfied with the qualify of the service or food.

Regardless of the reasons people dine and dash, they can be charged with a crime for refusing to pay for the services they received.

Is Dining and Dashing a Crime in Texas?

Many people mistakenly believe that they can only be charged with a crime if they commit theft of any physical property. However, contrary to popular belief, you can be charged with a crime if you do not pay for the services you receive.

Texas law recognizes the offense of “theft of service” to punish people who receive services from other people or entities but refuse to pay for the services. Under Texas Penal Code § 31.04, a person can be charged with theft of service when they intentionally receive services and do not pay for them.

In most cases, criminal charges for theft of service are the result of a customer’s failure to pay for services received from establishments such as:

  • Restaurants

  • Bars

  • Hotels

  • Beauty salons

  • SPA centers

  • Coffee shops

While all of these businesses are most susceptible to walk-outs, restaurants are more likely to become victims of dining and dashing, which explains the name of the term. Most often, people leave the establishment without paying under the pretext of going to a restroom.

Dining and dashing is a serious crime in Texas because theft or service is charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the service stolen:

  • Less than $100 – Class C misdemeanor

  • Between $100 and $750 – Class B misdemeanor

  • Between $750 and $2,500 – Class A misdemeanor

  • Between $2,500 and $30,000 – state jail felony

  • At least $30,000 but no more than $300,000 – a second-degree felony

  • More than $300,000 – a first-degree felony

For example, if you go to a restaurant to order and consume food for $200 but refuse to pay for it, you will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and no more than $2,000 in fines.

Can Restaurant Staff Chase or Confront a Person Who Dines and Dashes?

Most restaurants and other businesses prohibit members of their staff from confronting customers outside of the premises. However, a restaurant employee may take the situation under his/her control and pursue a customer who refuses to pay. If they catch the dine and dasher, they can make what is called a citizen’s arrest and call the cops.

Can Restaurants Hold Servers Financially Responsible for Losses Caused by Dining and Dashing?

The short answer is, “Yes, restaurants can hold servers financially responsible for losses caused by dining and dashing.” Like many other states, Texas is an at-will employment state, which means employers do not need any reason to fire a worker, and an employee can quit for any reason or no reason at all.

If a server’s employer wants them to pay for losses caused by dining and dashing, but the server refuses to pay for it, the employer may lawfully fire the employee for their refusal. In addition, many employees in the service industry are required to sign employment agreements before beginning to work.

If the agreement states that the employee is liable for losses caused by customers not paying their bills, the employee can be held financially liable for walk-out tabs if they signed the agreement.

Unlike some other states, Texas does not have laws to protect employees in the service industry from being held financially responsible for dine-and-dash losses.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with theft of service or any other criminal offense for committing dining and dashing in Texas, it is in your best interests to speak with a criminal defense lawyer before it is too late.

While dining and dashing may seem harmless, you can face serious criminal penalties for refusing to pay for the services you received. Consult with our criminal lawyers at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to discuss your options. Call (254) 220-4225.
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