That’s why we can’t have nice things…


Nick Reed

Recently one of the big banks ran an advertising campaign praising the honesty of average Australians. A characteristic I’ve observed myself. Handing in a wallet, returning a lost pet, pointing out being undercharged for an item of clothing—most people (in my experience) do the right thing when given the opportunity. However, I’d dearly like to know why some otherwise upstanding, law-abiding members of the community dispense with all propriety while in bars and restaurants.

Theft is not a new issue, nor is it isolated within the food and drink industry. Hotels have encountered the disappearance of towels and bathrobes since they started supplying towels and bathrobes. However, large hotel chains usually have credit card details for all guests or can incorporate the costs replacement into their charges. Unfortunately, cocktail bars can’t keep every punter’s details on file and already battle the perception of being overpriced. So, the options afforded to hotels are not practical for bars. Instead, we are forced to endure hard-earned dollars walking out our doors, in the form of menus, candle holders, cutlery and even soap dispensers. Anything that can fit into a bag, really.

1806 recently re-launched its menu at considerable cost. To recoup some of the expense it was also released as a book available for purchase at the bar. We expected selling the book would result in fewer ‘lost’ menus. This expectation was, unfortunately, misguided. Menus continue to be stolen at an alarming rate. And—short of frisking patrons as they leave—it’s a phenomenon we are completely powerless to stop.


One of the hardest tasks managers face is keeping a venue current. Unique selling points are of paramount importance when trying to maintain high levels of trade. But this effort can become unsustainable. For what does it profit a bar owner to gain word of mouth and forfeit an awesome tiki mug? Or the expensive glassware, gold olive picks and silver absinthe spoons that are slyly transported into living rooms across Australia every weekend.

But it is people who walk out without paying their bill that truly, truly makes my blood boil. Don’t they realise the act is equivalent to strolling into a store and stealing a laptop? Come to think of it, it’s worse than that. A stolen laptop harms large, faceless corporations. A forfeited bill directly harms individuals who have worked tirelessly to serve the thief’s needs. There have been too many times I’ve sprinted up and down Exhibition Street in the hope of catching people with the cheek to stiff a bill. Though, frankly, my options are limited if I do actually catch them. I guess I can only hope that there is a special place reserved in Dante’s nine levels of hell for those who take advantage of our trust in the common decency of people.


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