Why Can’t People Stop Stealing From D.C.’s Restaurants?


Peter Ogburn’s life of crime began with a copper mug stuffed down his pants. The radio producer was drinking a Moscow mule at the bar at Senart’s Oyster and Chop House not long after its 2011 opening when the impulse struck him: He’d always wanted one of the shiny cups but had no idea where to find them. So he unbuttoned his pants. And he took one.

“If you are a restaurateur and you see somebody walking out of the restaurant with a giant bulge in the front of their pants,” Ogburn says, “they’re either having a really good date, or they’re robbing you.”

Since then, Ogburn has accumulated three more mismatched mugs, taken from D.C.’s Boxcar Tavern and other bars in Las Vegas and Charleston, S.C. He regularly busts them out to make Moscow mules for friends. He admits he has a tinge of guilt about it, but he still ranks the thefts low on the scale of bad etiquette and crime. “People that are bad tippers and people that walk out on a bill are the most deplorable people,” Ogburn says. His justification is simple: “I always overtip bartenders, so karmatically, I think it’s all kind of worked out.”

Copper mugs, which are traditionally used for Moscow mules and help keep the vodka, ginger beer, and lime cocktails icy cold, have become a particularly hot target for covetous bar-goers. But they’re not cheap: The mugs can cost anywhere from $15 to $25 each. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace stopped using them because so many were stolen; Bar Pilar lost its entire collection of 50 mugs and doesn’t plan to replace them. Lincoln Restaurant tried requiring drinkers to turn in IDs to use its mugs, but that created a new problem—too many people just forgot their IDs—so the anti-theft measure was quickly dropped. Instead, Lincoln, which has lost about 30 dozen mugs to thieves, stopped engraving the mugs with the restaurant’s name to at least make replacements cheaper.

Copper mugs, forks, paintings, candle holders—it doesn’t matter. Patrons will take just about anything from bars and restaurants. The problem is so rampant that Eater has a recurring feature called “Shit People Steal,” highlighting pinched items ranging from a bulldog sculpture at Bearnaise to bar stools at Poste Moderne Brasserie. But restaurant thieves aren’t just your run-of-the-mill kleptos (though there are surely plenty of those, too). Fueled by some combination of thrill, sentimentalism, and alcohol, people who wouldn’t dream of taking a pack of gum from a 7-Eleven have no qualms about sticking beer glasses in their coat pockets. For some reason, many otherwise-law-abiding citizens don’t consider stealing from bars and restaurants to be stealing at all. And unlike in retail stores, where there are price tags, diners don’t always think about how the costs of their impulse grabs add up for restaurants.

More HERE Via Washington City Paper