Jesse Matsuoka, 28-year-old co-owner of Mecca Sen Sushi in Sag Harbor, was thrilled when longtime customers invited him to their dinner party in the Hamptons. After mingling with the lawn, he walked into the kitchen to chat with his hostess – but when someone opened one of his cupboards, Matsuoka’s jaw dropped.
“Over the years, we have carefully selected beautiful Japanese handcrafted sake cups, and they were distinctive,” he explained. “When the practice opened, I saw years of multiple styles. Our entire collection on its shelves!
Matsuoka is just one of many New York restaurateurs whose goods have been stolen by customers. From crockery and cutlery to artwork, diners with sticky fingers brazenly claim off-menu items as their own.
“People are especially interested in taking items with logos because they become collectibles,” said John McDonald, who owns several downtown hotspots, including Bowery Meat, Lure Fishbar and the new Smyth Tavern. . “Our steak knives that had Bowery Meat embossed on the handle were $50 each, so we put them on sale. Yet people just took them. Now we make them without logos.
Pens bearing restaurant names are constantly taken and are usually charged to marketing costs. But Jin Ahn, owner/partner of Hawaiian restaurant East Village Noreetuh, was surprised to find his personal Montblanc pen – engraved with his name – missing after offering it to a table of three to sign their check.
“I explained that it was a personalized pen that I had received as a gift, and at first they acted like they hadn’t seen it,” he recalls. “You want to give customers the chance to save face, but I wasn’t going to let them walk away with my pen, so I said I probably dropped it at their table. Eventually a woman did. pulled out of her bag and apologized, saying she mistook it for hers because she had had a few glasses of wine.
It has become so serious that restaurateurs are taking steps to protect themselves from loss.
Mathias Van Leyden, owner of Chelsea’s Loulou, said the bird-shaped glasses his bistro uses for cocktails need to be replaced weekly. So he slightly increased the price of drinks.
“Sometimes customers come out with a drink and the drink,” he said. “People will see them in someone’s house and know it’s a glass of Loulou. It’s the price of doing business, and it’s happened so often that now we charge $2 more per drink.
The cute little bottles of hot honey at Zazzy’s Pizza’s three Manhattan locations were disappearing so quickly that owner Richie Romero switched to larger vessels that are less likely to be swept away. “We’ve replaced them with refill bottles that are too clunky and ugly to steal,” he said.
Most owners don’t want to confront or embarrass their customers over a few bucks. So when a waiter at the T-Bar in Southampton reported that someone was pocketing glass salt and pepper shakers bought from Crate and Barrel, owner Tony May asked him not to tell guests.
“I tell the staff to just close your eyes,” May said. “It’s not worth the confrontation and every time they use it they’ll think of us.”
He decided, however, to attach soap dispensers to the bathroom walls, as the small bottles used before were quickly disappearing.
Liz Pavlou wasn’t so jaded about the salt containers at her swanky Water Mill Bistro Summer. After a customer slipped one of the substantial, carved teak racks into her pocket, she was furious.
“Anything small and cute, people take it, but I wouldn’t have thought someone stole it, until I saw it on our camera,” she said. “We had it on video, so I just added $60 to his credit card.”
And although Loulou had factored in the theft of bird glasses, when a woman put three in her bag, owner Van Leyden said enough was enough. “We confronted her and the gentleman holding the table, and he quickly offered to pay them,” the restaurateur said.
In a recent New York Times article on the $149 Pina Pro lamp — the hottest outdoor dining accessory of the moment, thanks to its warm glow and understated silhouette — a well-known Soho restaurant staffer liked Altro Paradiso noted how the lights tended to mysteriously disappear.
If it’s hard to imagine how someone slips a lamp into their bag, it’s nothing compared to what was happening at the now closed MercBar. McDonald, who also owned this Soho spot, recalled how customers lifted expensive cowhide throw pillows from the couch and an oil painting hung on the far wall.
Years later, it still stings. “It was so unique; if I ever see it somewhere, I take it! he said.
At Laurent Tourondel’s Chelsea spot, The Vine, a framed piece of lingerie by artist Zoë Buckman has been stolen. “I don’t know how they got away with it,” the chef admitted.
The iconic September 1995 inaugural cover of JFK Jr.’s George magazine – featuring Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington – hung on a bathroom wall at the American Bar. But a few months ago, two women decided to get away with it, and were so shameless that they later posted their booty on Instagram.
“The bartender knew who they were, so we contacted them and told them that if he didn’t come the next day, we would bring in the police,” said Carolina Santos Neves, the restaurant’s consultant executive chef. “The next morning he was back, but now he’s gone again and we don’t know who took him.”
Sculptures of the evil eye from bars in Kyma in New York and Calissa in Water Mill were also pocketed – when Calissa’s manager confronted the woman who dragged him from the bar, she claimed the bartender sold her , which the employee firmly refused.
And Olmsted chef Greg Baxtrom is tired of diners leaving with the charcoal-and-citronella candles from the bathrooms of his Michelin-rated Prospect Heights restaurant in Brooklyn.
“Surprisingly, they are lit, hot and dangerous, but [customers] sneak them out and sometimes make a mess by throwing hot wax down the sink,” he said. “They think food is expensive now and they’re a version of Robin Hood.”
Someone even appropriated a framed drawing of quail that one of their employees had created. And Baxtrom is dying to know who it was.
“I hope I catch someone!” If you take something that belongs to me, I have no qualms about taking it,” Baxtrom swore. “The customer is no longer always right.”