Eat ‘n’ steal

Sticky-fingered diners are taking more than "little souvenirs" from their favorite Seattle restaurants.

Shiny flatware! Tempting, eh?

Shiny flatware! Tempting, eh?

RESTAURANTS DON’T like to talk about how diners sometimes walk away with not just a stomachful of the restaurant’s food but pieces of the restaurant itself. We can understand a little reticence with regard to health code violations, but what’s the problem when the patrons are at fault? Restaurants fret that they will become known as “a good place to steal things,” and short of placing metal detectors at their doors or locking the entire city up in the pen, we can’t think of a way to assure them otherwise. Thus we have cleverly disguised the lovely places mentioned here (or at least not mentioned them by name). They all sell more than food; they also provide a memorable experience. Apparently, the experience of propping open our purses and dumping in a pile of forks brings many of us a deep and lasting joy.

The things we steal range from the ridiculous to the remarkable. Saltshakers and pepper grinders are the most common items and, not coincidentally, the most difficult for the staff to detect. At a swank Belltown spot that is lauded for its Decidedly Northwest cuisine, the shiny “robot egg” saltcellars are highly coveted (especially by a certain Seattle Weekly editor, who proudly announced that she “doesn’t steal” and is still pining for a little salt-filled buddy weeks later). When one of these critters disappears at the hands of less moral creatures than editors, the staff here (specially trained in saltcellar theft detection) notes the absence and tacks a $45 charge onto the bill. They don’t profit from your pilfering; that is simply the wholesale replacement cost.

Less understandable are the things people take from bathrooms. People, please: If you can afford to dine at these swanky joints, then certainly you can afford to purchase your own paper towels! You do not go to Costco for your anniversary dinner, and you should not restock your powder room supplies while dining. Half-empty tubes of French hand cr譥 are frequently removed from a classically highbrow Ballard establishment. Darling, do you have any idea where that’s been? Ask your server where they get it. Mention that it’s your birthday. Smile pretty. Perhaps you will be gifted with a new tube from their unused supply; perhaps you will be told where to buy your own. No one ever said, “Thou shalt not steal, except in cases of extreme desire when you’re unobserved.” Why should your hands be clean and sweetly scented if your conscience is dirty?

OCCASIONALLY, patrons go all-out insane and steal big stuff. An extremely pink and shiny place under the monorail once had an antique rocking horse as part of its decor, but an unknown horse thief lassoed it for their living room. Small photos have a way of disappearing from cluttered walls, and lamps and candlesticks sometimes go missing as well. While no Seattle restaurant reports any sconces being ripped out of the wall, as has happened in New York, one of the Great God Douglas’ outposts made national news when a precious fish lamp was looted (they are now bolted to the table, much like the televisions in cheap hotels). When you admire the pared-down feel of some new restaurants, know that a sparsely decorated space has an added benefit—fewer opportunities for the sticky-fingered.

Most of us know someone who has lifted an item or two from restaurants. Yours Truly once removed a bright green napkin holder from a university dining hall; as some time later this same napkin holder ended up in the theater props department, I prefer to think of my little episode as “department allocation” rather than outright theft. One nameless (and shameless) woman liked a particular restaurant’s style so much that she eventually procured eight full place settings. That is fairly extreme, but who among you (my editor aside) can claim to have no special-delivery spoons in your silverware drawer?

Perhaps you may be guilty of “needing” a glass from your favorite landmark bar. Those cute little Needle-shaped swizzle sticks and the notepads at two fish-themed eateries are written into their advertising budgets; theoretically you could swipe as many as your pockets can hold! Stick with these little treasures and take a bite out of crime. And who’s stealing the big-ticket items? The Shiny Pink Place says, “It’s never who you’d really suspect,” but Decidedly Northwest begs to differ. They claim they can target future owners of their saltcellars the second the potential pilferers walk in the door, through some supersecret identification process they don’t care to comment further upon.

Generally speaking, restaurants spot you when you take stuff and deal with it in a polite way—no worries about being flung to the ground and beaten because you’ve stashed a pepper grinder. Charging the amount to your bill is common, and the staff welcomes later inquiries about those charges: “Well, if your wife hadn’t pocketed the silverware, it wouldn’t cost so much, chump!” (This is their internal dialogue; they are far more polite on the phone. But don’t think they don’t enjoy putting you in your place.)

Strangely, customers are rarely ashamed to be caught—some have even brought up the theft on future visits and giggled about it. It seems like a little old-fashioned public shame might nicely solve the problem, but luckily, Seattle restaurant management is nicer than that. No thanks to you, you little klepto.

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