Ottawa

ByWard Market deli turns to social media after filming dine-and-dash

A ByWard Market restaurant is confident that a group of customers that allegedly skipped out on their bill will be returning to settle up after their images were shared online.

'Something had to be done' after latest late-night theft at Dunn's on Dalhousie, says manager

William Rodrigues, day manager at Dunn's Famous Deli in the ByWard Market, says the frequency of dining and dashing at the 24-hour restaurant recently prompted them to take to social media to catch a group of suspected criminals. (CBC)

A ByWard Market restaurant is confident a group of customers who allegedly skipped out on their bill will be returning to settle up after their images were shared online.

Dunn's Famous Deli on Dalhousie Street recently posted a short video on its Facebook page showing diners whom management allege ordered food early on the morning of Sept. 10 and left the premises without paying their $77 bill.

"There were four guys, one girl. They sat down and had dinner and just, as soon as nobody was watching, they got up and left," said William Rodrigues, the daytime manager at Dunn's.

Ottawa restaurant Dunn's Famous Deli recently posted this video of a group of patrons who allegedly dined and dashed on social media. 0:57

Rodrigues said his boss decided to put the video online to send a message about the frequent dining and dashing at the busy 24-hour diner — a crime, he said, that costs Dunn's about $200 a month.

"It was a drastic measure that he took, but something had to be done. And we tried calling the police, but it's just hard — after the people were gone, there's not much we can do," he said. "We had the video footage and we just thought that some people might recognize [them]."

It turned out that, after the video was posted, the young woman in the group called, apologized, and volunteered to come in and cover the entire bill herself.

"She felt really embarrassed. She said she didn't know the bill wasn't paid for," said Rodrigues. "[It's] pretty brave of her. She's trying to do the right thing."

Dining and dashing taken 'very lightly'

It's not the first time a restaurant has turned to social media in an attempt to convince unlawful diners into returning to pay up.

Last year, a Regina steakhouse posted photos on Twitter and Facebook of a pair who allegedly ordered a meal and left without paying. Within 24 hours, the photos were viewed more than 100,000 times.

Soon afterwards, police tracked down the couple and brought them to the restaurant, where they settled their bill.

In 2013, a Nevada restaurant was also able to track down a man who absconded without paying the bill for his table after sharing his image online.

Restaurants are increasingly turning to social media to identify diners who dash because it's a crime that's historically been "taken very lightly," said James Rilett, the Ontario vice-president for Restaurants Canada.

"I don't think it should be their only tool. Obviously, they should call the police first. But you know, if it works for other crimes, I don't see why it wouldn't work in this case," Rilett said.

Concerns with 'shaming' online

Joanne St. Lewis, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, agreed that dining-and-dashing is a situation where it's "very difficult to get any kind of enforcement" and that social media is making it easier for businesses to solve those sorts of cases on their own.

It's this whole idea of the public pillory, or the public shaming ... There's a kind of permanence that's there.- Joanne St. Lewis, law professor at the University of Ottawa

But there can be unforeseen consequences down the road with "shaming" suspects online, she added, particularly if not everyone captured in the video was part of the crime.

"It's this whole idea of the public pillory, or the public shaming, as the ultimate way of dealing with it ... There's a kind of permanence that's there," said St. Lewis.

"I'm not saying it's okay that people dine and dash. But I can think of someone who's young and does it on a lark, or they're dared by their friends to do it. [And] there it is, as a public record."​

As for whether Dunn's would continue to post videos of suspected dinner thieves, Rodrigues said it's a call that's out of his hands.

"I hope this won't be necessary. But it's my boss's decision. So I can't really say."

With files from Hillary Johnstone