Sticky Fingered Diners

By Laura Martin

When Rotorino opened its doors in April, ex-River Cafe chef Stevie Parle made sure the restaurant had all the little perfect finishing touches to evoke a high-end Italian joint, including bills that were delivered in retro lozenge tins. By the end of the first week, all 20 had walked out of the venue.

Cue an impassioned plea from Stevie on Twitter: “ALL bill holding liquorice tins have been nicked at Rotorino. Holding an amnesty. Give up your tin- I'll give you cake.” A bit of sad state of affairs when a restaurant has to bribe people to give them their property back. They never had anything returned. And their cake is REALLY good.

Similarly, other light-fingered guests also treated themselves to the giant bottles of Aesop handwash and handbalm that hadn't been placed in brackets in the Rotorino loos. Yep, that would be a half a litre bottle, smuggled out of the Kingsland Road restaurant either because of an excess of the 2008 Barolo or simply because someone fancied a superior hand-washing experience at home, gratis.

Jamie Oliver complained back in 2012 that 30,000 napkins a month were being nicked from his restaurants, but he also said that it wasn't only the table accessories that were going walkabouts: “Every restaurant of mine has the old-fashioned Thomas Crapper toilets because I’ve always thought they look wicked. But they’re really expensive and we’ve had to have the handles and flushers welded on because people were unscrewing them and nicking them. Honestly, some people were coming out for a meal and going home with half a toilet.”

It's not even posh restaurants that have guests going klepto in the bogs. Incredulously, in May an American man was wanted by police for walking off with an entire toilet cistern in a black bin bag from a West Seattle branch of Subway, which really brings a whole new meaning to supersizing a meal.

Back in Hackney, and L'Entrepôt chef Patrick Hanna has a theory on what tends to be taken away most, in his restaurant, at least: “Randomly things like oyster forks seem to go missing here. I wonder how often they have the opportunity to go use them at home? I think people see trinkets and think “ooh, that’s shiny, I’ll have that,” then take them home and sit them in their kitchen forever unused.”

And there are still people willing to up the ante on the take-home trophies, as Patrick adds: “I did witness a women in Hix bar nicking one of the beautiful fish jugs from Dartmoor that they have there. I saw her surreptitiously put the jug in her handbag, get completely shitfaced and then put her bag up on the chair to leave and the bar man and me were just like 'love, that’s really obvious'.” Ballsy. So do the thieves ever get an attack of the guilts? Patrick says: “No – the lady got really angry! She did take it out again in the end. Other than that, I’ve never seen anyone come in and give it back.”

Drunken amnesia aside, it's got to be pretty embarrassing to be busted nicking anything from a restaurant. Not to mention waking up with both a hangover and a possible criminal record. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police office said: "Anything that is taken from a restaurant without permission is simply theft. You could be arrested and brought to court for it. Once the restaurant calls the police, it wouldn't be for them to press charges, as we'll arrest them and put them in front of the court with or without the restaurant owner's permission. It would all depend on the circumstances and the individual factors, of course, but if people are arrested for theft, they have to face the consequences." And it wouldn't matter if it was a toilet handle, some posh soap or an oyster fork, according to our Met friend: "In the eyes of the law, theft is theft."

So, just to re-iterate to those sticky-fingered few...Restaurants: for dining. B&Q: for all your toilet and household needs.