Leaving Before Your Food Arrives is Considered a Dine & Dash in Washington, Unless You Do This
Picture this, you're out on the town with a group of friends and you go to a restaurant for drinks and dinner. You place your order at 6:30 pm - your drinks arrive within a few minutes, but 45 minutes later you still haven't received your food order, and you've heard nothing from or seen your server. You wait some more and it's now 8:25 pm - still no food.
Frustrated, you decide to leave a pile of cash on the table for your drinks and a tip for the server, and then exit the busy restaurant (one user on Reddit did this). Is this considered "Dine & Dash" in Washington State?
There's definitely some gray area here (I'm not an attorney, by the way), and it appears to depend on your effort to inform the establishment before you leave. If you don't, you could be charged with third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor - it's considered the same as shoplifting in Washington.
What should you do to avoid being charged for the food that didn't arrive and/or theft?
As noted, make sure you inform someone in the restaurant of your issue and that you're leaving without paying for the food that did not arrive. Don't leave a pile of cash on the table for the items you've already consumed - this good intention is worth nothing if a crook swoops in and grabs the cash before the wait staff does. If this were to happen (and it does) you would likely be responsible for the entire bill and could be charged with theft. "I left the cash on the table," is hard to prove. Hand the cash to a worker and ask for a receipt.
With a shortage of workers (especially in the food service industry) long waits to be seated and served have become common post-pandemic. Most establishments will inform patrons of possible long waits and staffing challenges before or just after they seat them - a nice gesture if you ask me. This courtesy sets the table and the expectations - giving patrons the option to leave or settle in for a long night out. I sympathize with everyone working in the food industry right now - it's not their fault - be kind and tip big!