Customers pinch around £186m worth of tableware from pubs and restaurants each year, research from the equipment supplier Nisbets discovered.
It found that glasses were the most commonly taken items, with just over one in three people (36%) taking at least one.
Costs add up over time and replacing stolen items is an irritating extra thing to remember to do, operators said.
Robin Freer, the general manager of the St Mary's Inn, Northumberland, said: “Generally, and luckily, we don’t see a lot go missing at the pub but, over my years in the industry, we’ve come across a few circumstances where we have been aware of it happening and had to deal with each circumstance differently.”
East Anglian pub operator Piers Baker said his site, the Church Street Tavern, experienced considerable theft on busy weekend nights.
“[Theft happens] because people find our Champagne and wine glasses attractive (they are Chef & Sommelier Aroma Up range) and because we have really nice individual cocktail glasses,” he said.
At the Leigh-on-Sea Brewery taproom, in Essex, the issue is a “reasonably minor, but ongoing nuisance,” its director Ian Rydings said.
There can also be implications for premises licence conditions, Marcus Lavell, specialist licensing and regulation barrister at Keystone Law, explained.
He said: “Many licences contain prohibitions on “drinks in open containers” or “glasses” being taken from the premises.
“Glassware may well end up being used in crime and disorder away from the premises (either by the person who took it or by someone who later finds it lying around).
“If it gets traced back to your premises (possibly by branding on the glass) you can end up in hot water with the police or even the environmental health officer – no one wants broken glass lying around in the street.”
Factor in costs
Operators weighed in with their views on the best approach to a customer who has been seen attempting to steal a glass.
For Baker, dealing with the issue comes down to how to best mitigate any financial impact, as the majority of glass takers sneak out by hiding glasses in bags and pockets.
He explained: “We have two designated glasses collectors who constantly patrol and all staff are briefed to keep their eyes open.
“Occasionally, we catch them walking out with them in their hand.
“We factor in the glass cost into our pricing, like other costs.”
Laugh it off
Freer added: “I think the best way to go about it is to make a bit of a joke, we don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but do let them know that we’ve seen them take the glass and, ultimately, put them in a situation to laugh it off and return the glass.
“Typically, people don’t want to steal from the people they know and like, so I think service is really important – and of course, not just to save our glasses.
“This is why we don’t see a lot go missing at the inn – we have a very friendly team and we want them to make connections with our guests. Customers pick up on the vibe of a place – if the servers don’t care, it’s more likely that they won’t have much sympathy when stealing the glass.”