Customers who "dine-and-dash" are costing some Taranaki restaurants and bars hundreds a week.
But rather than being a deliberate act, it's more a case of people walking away and forgetting to pay.
Mayfair manager Dave Haskell said people walked out of the New Plymouth bar without paying at least once a week.
It tended to be even more of a regular occurrence over the warmer months when people often chose to sit outside.
"I think some people genuinely forget. Some of those turn around straight away and come back to pay."
He said it could cost the newly-renovated bar and cafe up to $200 in a week, but there was little they could do to remedy it.
"I'm never going to chase them down the street, I think that's embarrassing for both of you. You just remember that person."
Frederics bar staff Kahli Elvin said people skipping out on their bill was also a problem at their establishment, but only occurred about once a month.
"At night we've got table service upstairs which is easy to keep an eye on, but it's bar service downstairs and when it's busy it can be hard to keep track of everyone, especially if they're sitting outside."
She said she thought the bill would usually come in around $30-$50, which was then taken out of staff tips so the tills would still balance.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said a survey of their members last year showed dine-and-dash was a reasonably common problem.
"About 20-30 per cent had experienced a skipper in their business."
She said people forgetting or avoiding paying could be extremely expensive for restaurants, especially those at the higher end and could cost them thousands of dollars a year.
"Their profit margins are already so low, it's certainly not something they can afford."
She said there were many ways it could come about.
"Some people go to the bathroom and come out and leave, others think other people in their party have paid, some people do just forget."
There were some shocking stories about people ordering lavish dinners before hightailing it without paying, she said.
"Some people do it deliberately and say, this is what we're going to do tonight, but others are just opportunists and will see a busy bar and think it will be easy to take advantage of."
But it is difficult to predict whether people are going to do a runner.
"You can't tell by looking at people what their means are."
She said the best way for businesses to protect themselves was to have a staff member allocated to keeping an eye on any outside areas.
Dining and dashing is an offence, and restaurants and bars could go to the police, she said.
"If you're considering a dine-and-dash just beware it could have consequences and you could end up with a criminal record."
Taranaki Daily News