Scams at restaurant tables

Busy waiters at outdoor restaurants.
Busy waiters at outdoor restaurants.

A restaurant table is a good place to be had. The latest in low-tech scams happened last month in Hoboken, NJ, when a man appeared tableside to collect cash after diners had received their bills. He took their money and walked out the door. Pretty clever.

Why didn’t the customers question the new face? I can answer that, as one who visits restaurants some 200+ days a year. Sometimes we just don’t pay attention to who’s serving us. We’re seated by a host, served water by a busboy, solicited by a sommelier, finally the waiter comes, and sometimes we’re greeted by a manager. The meal might be a business meeting which demands our attention more than faces.

Last week, I had a long, late lunch at Postrio in Las Vegas. When our waiter’s shift ended, she did what customer service people call a “warm hand-off:” she introduced us to the waiter who would continue with us. She could have just left, and when the replacement waiter showed up, we’d have just accepted him.

So the Hoboken bogus waiter simply took advantage of our innate trust. He manipulated his victims by presenting himself as the person they expected; he didn’t even have to say anything. Hand out, money in, bye-bye.

So what did the restaurant do when the customers told the real waiter that they’d already paid someone else? Management did not make them pay again. Which invents an entirely new scam: diners claiming they already paid the bill (even though they haven’t). Perhaps the bogus waiter plans that as his next trick.

In the case of the bogus waiter, the victims were not out-of-pocket due to the goodwill of the restaurant management. Other potential losses while dining out:

© Copyright 2008-2009 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • The Real Hustle in the UK had a scam like that. OTOH in Brussels they brought the CC machine to the table. Dunno if that’s safer. I once lost over £4 K at a Mayfair hotel. Bartender was to bring the CC to our table. He did – and quickly – but not before getting someone to swipe it.

  • yea this reminds me of a scam to i used to watch this guy walk up to a couple and pick up a few props from the table and ask if they had orderd yet he would take the order and since they were sitting outside ask for a debit/credit card. (for obvious reasons). He then used to walk in the diner and hand in the props. and just walk right out while shouting an excuse to leave into the diner.

    (this used to happen in the summer in london but it could happen anywere!)

  • Fascinating. Reminds me of a small scam many years ago. Eight of us were chatting after dinner. A nicely dressed man approached the table, put his arms around a couple, and asked if we enjoyed our dinner. Then he said the group at the door was waiting for our table. We all said of course, we were quite ready to leave, and as we did, he and all the others sat down at our table. Clever.

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