When you go out to eat at a restaurant, you pay for the service and the experience as much as for the food. The server will bring you a bill based on these dishes that you ordered, and you will pay not just for the food itself but also for the service in the form of a gratuity.
When the food was not up to your standards or the service was inadequate, you may feel like it is unfair to have to pay for a meal you did not eat or for a server’s attention when they never once refilled your cup of coffee.
Although you might want to leave the business without paying, doing so could lead to your criminal prosecution. Dining and dashing or leaving a restaurant without paying the check is absolutely a form of theft under Virginia state law. You could face misdemeanor or even felony charges for your attempt to leave without paying.
The value of the meal determines the charges
Depending on the restaurant that you go to, the number of guests and your personal palette, an unpaid bill from a restaurant may only be $20 or $30. The charges for dining and dashing would be misdemeanor charges in that situation.
However, if you went to a nice establishment, enjoyed multiple courses, consumed alcoholic beverages or had several guests, your bill could easily exceed $500. Under Virginia law, $500 is the cutoff between misdemeanor and felony theft offenses under state law. Once the total amount of your check is higher than $500, you could potentially face grand theft charges all over a meal that didn’t meet your personal standards.
The penalties if you plead guilty or get convicted might include prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.
How do you respond to allegations that you dined and dashed?
As with any criminal charge, you have the right to defend yourself against a theft charge stemming from an incident where you didn’t pay at a restaurant. Showing that you weren’t the person who ate the meal or recounting a conversation where the manager promised to comp your bill because of your complaints could help you defend yourself against those charges.
Learning more about the rules that govern Virginia theft offenses can help you limit the criminal penalties you face for what was likely an act of frustration and not an attempt to steal from a business.