Sticky fingers

When I was 15 years old, I traveled without my family for the first time, going over a thousand miles from home as part of a school club. To remember this momentous occasion, I tucked a glass from the hotel restaurant, emblazoned with its logo, into my suitcase. I used that glass for years, until a moment of clumsiness led to its breakage. 

beer glasses

It turns out that this scenario is not uncommon – in fact, it is part of a larger phenomenon of people stealing from restaurants. One current popular target of sticky-fingered guests is metal straws – theft of these small items costs some Manhattan bars up to $5,000 USD. In the UK, theft of glassware from pubs accounts for a loss of £186m annually, with almost one-third of guests taking them home.  

As for my hotel restaurant glass, it was a one off. I did not steal anything before or since, and generally abhor the thought of taking things that don’t belong to me. So why did I feel that this theft was permissible? There are many reasons why people take everything from flatware to ashtrays to table linens from eateries. For me, it is a way to commemorate a special occasion.

That might be the reason that Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants Nopi and Rovi report that people are constantly pinching the eateries’ bespoke, handmade napkins and napkin rings.  Restaurant magazine’s editor, Stefan Chomka, sees it a bit differently.  “It’s a combination of alcohol and handing over significant money – an ‘I’ve paid for it’ mentality,” says Chomka. “Plus it’s an opportunity to get nice one-offs,” he notes.

Some restaurants don’t mind people nicking an item now and again, likening it to advertising. A few even embrace it – Manchester UK restaurant Yes bar opened last year with mugs emblazoned with “stolen from Yes.” About 500 mugs have disappeared since September. 

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