- Glasses and silverware go missing all the time at restaurants — often at the hands of customers.
- Now, TikTokers are posting videos of themselves appearing to steal coveted items from eateries.
- Restaurant owners say the trend shows just how often things go missing at their establishments.
Sticky-fingered diners have a long history of swiping irresistible, and often collectible, tableware from restaurants but a TikTok trend is bringing the petty crimes to light.
“You’re coming home with me,” TikTok creator and YouTuber Chris Klemens can be heard saying in a 2021 video where he reaches his hand out to grab a tiny three-tine fork, known as a ‘threek,’ in what appears to be a busy restaurant. Klemens did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“I am home and the fork is secured,” the caption reads.
The audio quickly became popular. There are around 150,000 videos online that use Klemen’s original audio, many of which show restaurant patrons swiping cute cocktail glasses, a fancy pizza server, or unique utensils from restaurants while lip-syncing “You’re coming home with me.”
There’s no way to tell whether the posters are in fact stealing these items or just kidding (in some videos, in fact, posters clarify that they did not steal the items).
Restaurant owners told Insider that customers who deploy the five-finger discount have been around for as long as they can remember but TikTok has given people an opportunity to share their exploits.
”‘I’m sure this TikTok trend will inspire more cutlery kleptos and glassware thieves,” Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, told Insider.
“People think it’s funny or cute, but for the most part these are small business owners struggling to recover from the pandemic,” he said, adding that missing glassware and decor is unfortunately a common — and fairly accepted — part of running a business.
When Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction opened in 2019, theme park visitors stole futuristic looking sporks from one of the themed restaurants. Many of them were found online, selling for as much as $80, according to the Orange County Register. Eater has a story entitled “Why Are Customers Stealing So Much Shit From D.C. Restaurants?” An article from Food & Wine calls restaurant customers “a notoriously thieving bunch.”
Wil Dee, a 26-year restaurant veteran in Southern California, said for as long as he can remember, diners have been swiping everything from copper Moscow mule mugs to steak knives from his bars and restaurants.
“It’s the nature of the business,” said Dee, founder and CEO of Haven Craft Kitchen + Bar and founding partner of Chapman Crafted Beer & Coffee in Orange, California.
And it comes at a cost. Dee estimates that his restaurants lose about $10,000 annually from customers who can’t resist smuggling tulip-shaped beer glasses, charcuterie boards, plates, and cutlery. A nice plate can cost $50, he said.
One time he caught a diner in the act, and told them: “Would you mind leaving that mug in your purse on the table when you leave?”
Dee hadn’t seen the viral TikTok video. He said these trending videos pose a challenge for restaurants because they are promoting a crime. “This is what’s wrong with social media.”
Mathias Van Leyden, owner of Loulou Petit Bistro, which opened in Manhattan in 2019, told Insider he’s had to train servers to take certain cocktail glasses back to the kitchen as soon as they’re empty because otherwise they disappear.
“People just take stuff. It’s sad because we have to always get new stuff and it makes the place not as nice for the next people who visit us. And it’s just kind of annoying that we have to replace stuff all the time,” he said.
Diners at his restaurant are paying the price for these bad players. Van Leyden said that he’s resorted to charging $1 to $2 more per drink to offset the high cost of losing so many glasses so often. In fact, he keeps a stash of the most popular glasses close by so they’re never caught in a pinch.
“I actually have to stock them in my apartment,” he told Insider. “When they’re low, I bring them straight from my apartment to the restaurant, which is a block away.”
Some restaurant owners are trying to look at the bright side.
Fritz Brogan, managing partner of a Washington, DC-based hospitality company called Mission Group, told Insider he thinks of people taking glassware from Mission’s bars as a form of marketing. In fact, he calls it “five-finger marketing.”
“I’m an optimist, so I always try to find the positive in everything,” Brogan said. “I think we look at every problem as sort of, how do we turn this into a solution and how do we drive revenue and business out of this?”
He said that as a result, his newest bar, Royal Sands Social Club, designed its glassware knowing that it might end up in people’s home bars or cabinets. Occasionally, he said, he’s even seen people post videos of house parties where, in the background, he can see partiers drinking out of one of his bar’s glasses.
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