Is Dining & Dashing Illegal in Singapore?

Last updated on March 14, 2024

food at a restaurant

Are you aware that the act of dining and dashing could fall foul of the law in Singapore? Whether you are a restaurant owner seeking guidance on confronting such diners and demanding payment or simply a reader interested in understanding the legal ramifications of dining and dashing, this article aims to address some common questions on this matter.

This article will explain:

What Does It Mean to ‘Dine and Dash’?

Dine and dash refers to the act of leaving a restaurant or food establishment without paying the bill for the food and drinks that were ordered and consumed.

One way dine and dash occurs is by ordering substantial quantities of food and drinks and subsequently requesting for the receipt to be left at the table but leaving before making any payment.

For example, in a well-publicised case, two individuals were arrested for their alleged participation in dine and dash incidents at multiple eateries along Prinsep Street. They would leave the restaurant without paying after reportedly informing restaurant staff that they would settle the bill or attempted to pay using a defunct bank card, resulting in declined transactions. This led to accruement of unpaid bills exceeding $2,000.

Is it Illegal to Dine and Dash in Singapore?

While there is no direct offence under our current laws criminalising the act of dining and dashing, offenders could potentially be charged with other offences under the Penal Code.

Offence of cheating with conspiracy

For one, offenders may be charged with the offence of cheating with conspiracy for the act of dining and dashing. The offence of cheating with conspiracy can be found under section 420, read with section 120B of the Penal Code.

For the offence of cheating with conspiracy to be found, the offender must have:

  • Cheated and thereby dishonestly induced a deceived individual to deliver or cause the delivery of any property to another person; or
  • Make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security or anything which is signed or sealed and is capable of being converted into a valuable security; and
  • Agreed with another person to commit an offence or cause an offence to be committed (this agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy under section 120A of the Penal Code)

The offence carries a jail term of up to 10 years as well as a fine.

To illustrate, you and your friends agree to dine at a restaurant and not pay for the meal. At the restaurant, you and your friends place a food order under the pretence that the meal will be paid for, thereby deceiving the restaurant to prepare and serve the food. Once the meal is finished, everyone quietly leaves the table without paying the bill. This scenario demonstrates how individuals conspire to deceive a restaurant by leaving without settling the bill, potentially constituting the offence of cheating with conspiracy.

Offence of cheating

Alternatively, an offender can be charged with cheating under section 415 of the Penal Code.

For the offence of cheating to be found, the offender must have:

  • Deceived a person, regardless of whether the deception was the sole or main inducement; and
  • Fraudulently or dishonestly induced the deceived person to deliver or cause the delivery of any property to another person; or
  • Obtain consent from the deceived person for someone else to retain any property; or
  • Intentionally induce the deceived person to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit to do if he were not so deceived; and
  • The resulting act or omission causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to any person in body, mind, reputation or property.

The offence carries a jail term of up to 3 years and/or a fine.

For example, you visit a restaurant for dinner and order the most expensive dish without intending to foot the bill. When approached by the waiter, you claim to have left your wallet in the car and assure the waiter that you will be right back with payment. However, you swiftly depart without returning to settle the bill. In this scenario, your decision to leave without paying the bill constitutes an act of dining and dashing and hence cheating. This is because you had lied to the waiter about returning to pay for the meal and then fled. This deliberate act led the waiter to hold the bill, which they would not have done if not for your deception. Consequently, the restaurant would suffer a financial loss for not receiving payment for the meal.

What is the difference between cheating with conspiracy and cheating? 

The offence of cheating with conspiracy involves two or more individuals who deliberately plan to commit the offence of cheating whereas the offence of cheating is simply an individual committing a deceptive act. Therefore, the difference between the two offences is the element of conspiracy which is essentially the premeditated cooperation among the individuals involved.

Please refer to our other article for more information on the offence of cheating.

If I am a Restaurant Owner/Staff, What Can I Do If I Encounter a Diner and Dasher?

Should you chase or confront the culprit? 

Some restaurants may have policies prohibiting their staff from engaging customers outside the premises for safety and liability reasons. If you are a restaurant staff, you should check with your employer if there are any such policies in place.

In the event of a dine-and-dash incident, your priority should be the safety of both your staff and any patrons on the premises. You should first assess the situation and consider whether it is better to pursue and confront the culprit directly, or contact law enforcement instead.

More importantly, you should call the police and make a report as soon as possible.

If you do catch the culprit, can you make a citizen’s arrest? 

A citizen’s arrest refers to an arrest made by private individuals who are not police officers.

Section 66(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code outlines two prerequisites that must be met for a private individual to legally arrest someone who has committed an offence:

  • The offence must have been committed in the view or presence of the private individual making the arrest; and
  • The offence which has been committed must be an arrestable and non-bailable offence. Arrestable and non-bailable offences refer to offences for which police officers are legally empowered to make an arrest without a warrant, and for which the court has the discretion to decide whether to grant bail, respectively.

The offence of cheating under section 415 and punishable under section 417 of the Penal Code is arrestable and bailable under the Criminal Procedure Code. In contrast, the offence of cheating with conspiracy under section 420 (read with section 120A) is arrestable and non-bailable. Hence, individuals can make a citizen’s arrest for the offence of cheating with conspiracy but not for the offence of cheating under section 415.

However, if you try to confront the culprit and make an arrest but end up harming or injuring them in the process of doing so, there might be potential legal consequences. For example, suppose you try to prevent the culprit from running away by grabbing his arms to hold him back. In doing so, you end up spraining his arm and injuring him. If it is found that you used excessive force to restrain the offender with the intent to harm him – as opposed to merely restraining him from running away – you could potentially be charged.

The injured party could also file a civil claim against you to claim damages for the injuries sustained during the arrest and require you to pay compensation accordingly. Hence, it is ultimately best to call the police who would be better equipped to handle the situation.

Do note that even if you have managed to successfully capture the individual concerned, you must – as soon as possible and without any unnecessary delay – hand over the arrested person to a police officer or take the arrested person to a police station.

For more information, please refer to our other article on citizen’s arrest.

What are some practical measures that restaurant owners/staff can take to prevent dine-and-dash incidents from occurring?

Implementing a robust security system serves as a fundamental and practical measure to deter and address dine-and-dash incidents effectively. This involves installing surveillance cameras strategically within your restaurant, positioning them to cover entrances and dining areas where patrons’ faces are clearly visible. This also provides identifiable information which can be handed over to the police, aiding in the identification and apprehension of culprits.

You may also want to consider changing your payment procedures. For instance, requiring patrons to order and pay for their food before seated or temporarily holding one of the patron’s cards. This can help reduce the likelihood of dine-and-dash incidents.

Lastly, you can be proactive and train your staff to be vigilant of any suspicious activity, and even designate a staff member to monitor the exit points of your restaurant.

Will I Get Caught If I Dine and Dash in Singapore?

Engaging in dine and dash is strongly discouraged. While you may not get caught right away, it is important to note that many restaurants are equipped with security cameras, providing restaurant owners with the means to identify individuals involved in dine-and-dash incidents. Subsequently, these captured images can be shared with law enforcement or posted on social media platforms to aid in identification.

For example, a group of four customers who left a restaurant without paying their bill were identified through a series of images uploaded on Facebook, along with details of their visit and the receipt. The restaurant sought assistance from the public through social media to identify these patrons.

In another instance, two individuals were apprehended by the police following multiple reports filed against them by various restaurants. Through on-site inquiries and subsequent investigations, the police successfully identified the suspects and made arrests.

The potential long-term consequences, both legally and reputationally, far outweigh any momentary gain from avoiding payment. Therefore, it is essential to uphold ethical and lawful behaviour to avoid severe repercussions.

While dining and dashing is currently not an offence on its own in Singapore, you could potentially be charged with other related offences under the Penal Code if you are caught.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been caught for dining and dashing, or if you are seeking guidance on apprehending someone involved in such an act, feel free to reach out to one of our criminal lawyers. They are well-equipped to provide the necessary advice and support tailored to your specific circumstances.

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