I've seen it happen firsthand. Back in 1986, I was a waiter at Mama Stuffeati's when it opened at 40th and Main. The owners asked the servers to bring in funky vintage salt and pepper shakers for the tables; after the first week, half of them were gone. We brought in more. They were stolen, too. One night I confronted a vulgar couple who had the audacity to give me a stingy tip and try to steal the shakers right in front of my eyes. I demanded them back, and the couple complied, but not meekly. "We're going to report your rudeness to the manager," blurted Mrs. Thief.
"Do that, sister, and I'll report you to the cops," I snapped back. We eyed each other warily before they left in a self-righteous huff.
I don't want to suggest that Kansas City is loaded with hungry kleptomaniacs, but ask any veteran of the restaurant biz, and you'll get a good story about customer thievery. When Bill Crooks and Paul Khoury, co-founders of the PB&J empire (which includes Grand Street Café; see review), opened their first restaurant, The Paradise Grill, they bought china that looked like highly collectible vintage Fiesta Ware. They quickly noticed that plates, butter dishes and salt shakers were disappearing daily.
"It was driving us crazy, until we realized that customers thought it was old stuff," says Crooks. "When word got out that we were using reproductions, the theft slowed down quite a bit."
Richard Ng, of the Bo Ling's restaurants, had a customer return a wooden Buddha he had stolen from the bar at the Metcalf location. "After that," says Ng, "we chained the statue to the shelf."
Stephanie Simmons, the banquet-and-catering manager at EBT Restaurant, says heavy silverware is the most commonly stolen item -- but customers continue to pocket the restaurant's "pretty ordinary" salt and pepper shakers, too. Up in the private dining room, they swipe bottles of wine from the decorative wine racks.
The Capital Grille's general manager, Mary Simpson, a longtime restaurant vet, has the strangest story. "Soap dispensers," she says. "When I was the manager at Lidia's, we were missing soap dispensers from the bathrooms almost every week. I had purchased these cool stainless steel dispensers, but they were too popular, so I resorted to using empty olive oil bottles filled with soap instead."
Customers stole those too, Simpson says, "but our kitchen used a lot of olive oil, so they were much easier -- and cheaper -- to replace."