I'll have that to go, please

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY: Tony Astle no longer offers  perfume in the bathrooms and avoids roses in  arrangements.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY: Tony Astle no longer offers perfume in the bathrooms and avoids roses in arrangements.

Sticky-fingered diners are walking out of restaurants with more than full bellies.

Frustrated restaurateurs have revealed how they have to spend thousands of dollars annually replacing items stolen by customers.

For seafood restaurant owner Martin Bosley, greywacke riverstones from the Waikanae River, used to hold down napkins, are the most regularly stolen items.

WEIGHTY PROBLEM: Martin Bosley's restaurant is losing its greywacke stones.
WEIGHTY PROBLEM: Martin Bosley's restaurant is losing its greywacke stones.

"There's nothing special about them but I've probably gone through tonnes. They get nicked all the time. They're just stones!"

Tony Astle, of Auckland, said the strangest thing anyone's taken was a $5000 vase full of complimentary tampons from the women's bathroom.

"How they got it out I have no idea," he said. "There was no way they could have put it in their coat because it's quite a big vase and not something they could put in their hand bag. It's frustrating. You go out of your way to make things comfortable for people and things just disappear."

KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM: Zak Cassels of The Brewery with a table like the one that was stolen.
KNOW WHEN TO HOLD 'EM: Zak Cassels of The Brewery with a table like the one that was stolen.

In Christchurch, The Brewery once lost a table weighing 80 kilograms. "It was one of our large wooden handcrafted tables," said manager Rick Stevens. "We moved it outside one night because we had a band. It was a bit shocking for everyone here."

Anything branded goes to the top of the most-stolen list.

When Bosley first opened his restaurant in Oriental Parade, on Wellington's seafront, the popular stones were engraved with his logo, but after too many were nicked he gave up on that. Plain riverstones, he thought, would not be so appealing - but he was wrong.

He has also stopped embroidering his logo on napkins because they were getting too expensive to replace. Branded ashtrays, beer glasses and salt shakers also go missing in big numbers. "They like to take things from restaurants as mementos."

Leonardo Bresolin, who co-owns Scopa, Crazy Horse Steak House and Duke Carvell's in Wellington, said he was told while studying hotel management to be prepared for anything emblazoned with a logo to be swiped by customers.

Every six weeks he trawls secondhand stores and Trade Me to keep Duke's in supply of quirky old ashtrays and souvenir teaspoons, which are regularly stolen.

Stevens has come to accept thefts as part of the job. "Between breakage and theft we would lose around 50 pint glasses a month," he said.

"I'll be working here and look out at the houses around us and in the window I can see pint glasses from bars I have managed around town. It's one of those things, but I think ‘you gotta be kidding me'."

The things that most upset restaurant owners are when they try to offer something special for customers, only to have it disappear.

Bosley says women are notorious for walking out with flowers, candles and hundreds of plain hand towels every month.

"I once had an argument with a woman on the street. I asked, ‘Can I have my flowers back?', and she said, ‘What flowers?'

"I said, ‘The leaves are sticking out of your handbag', and she said, ‘How dare you accuse me of stealing?' Now I don't get into confrontations."

Astle said he no longer offered complimentary perfume in the bathrooms, avoided roses in flower arrangements and didn't put his brand on anything movable.

Botswana Butchery in Auckland had large cushions in an outdoor area and some punters liked them so much they often tried to take them home.

"And they're huge, bigger than your normal couch cushion," waitress Juliet Dixon said. "A couple of times it's happened and a security guard told us he had just caught a guy walking off with one . . ."

Wai Waterfront Restaurant manager Katie Bowden, of Queenstown, believed thefts were fuelled by alcohol. "It's people out to have a great time and have a few too many drinks. We had a group of Aussies on a stag do who stole our electrical candles."

Lovers of freshly ground pepper are missing out. After losing about 30 grinders in a year, at a cost of $100 each, Bosley stopped leaving them on tables and now provides small dishes of pepper for guests.

"A customer said to me the dining experience was good but she was disappointed there was no pepper mill at the table . . . [but] I'm sick of having them stolen."

For Astle, it's not pepper but salt spoons, which cost about $40 each. "I think people are using them for a little habit."

Mike Marsland, owner of Cuba St restaurant El Matador, said anything that was not bolted down was at risk. He buys about three dozen knives and forks every couple of months to replace those taken, costing about $350 each time.

"People do like souveniring things, it's very, very common and it's dead money, having to keep up with replacing things.

"I literally nail things to the wall if I don't want them disappearing."

But even that didn't work for Astle, who said someone once stole a John Weekes painting off the wall of the restaurant.

The work was about 30 centimetres by 60cm and wasn't in a prominent place. "It took us about a week to realise it had even disappeared, but then one night I was at a person's house for dinner and I saw the exact same painting. I turned it over and sure enough it said Antoine's on the back."

He confronted the culprits and reclaimed the painting.

Kermadec restaurant duty manager Ksenia Eliseeva said the biggest loss was a tablet computer, used to scan coupons as part of a daily deal service. "It was really dumb because you can't do anything but scan coupons."

On a different scale, in 2007 a girl took David Beckham's dirty dishes from Nando's restaurant in Courtenay Place. The haul included a half-eaten corn cob, a knife and fork with food still on them, a glass and a half-filled Coke bottle. All were then listed on Trade Me.

Sunday Star Times