Fraudsters who keep their bellies and wallets full by dining-and-dashing — quickly exiting a restaurant before paying the check — are one of the most frustrating challenges of running a restaurant. While some owners just eat the cost and others dock the pay of servers (a legally dubious practice [PDF]), one Cleveland, Ohio, restaurateur turned to Facebook to find justice.
After two men left Crop Bistro & Bar in downtown Cleveland without paying a $160 tab, its owner Steve Schimoler found out several other area eateries had been hit by the same duo. By comparing notes and video footage with the other victimized restaurateurs, Schimoler was able to identify the men, who had worked at local restaurants before. Concerned the criminals would strike more unsuspecting restaurants, Schimoler found a Facebook photo of the men and posted it on his own Facebook account along with a warning for the restaurant community.
Within just a few days, the suspects were in police custody after skipping out on the bill at five different establishments. The dust-up is a case-study in how to use social media well. Not only did police nab the thieves, the posting built up goodwill for Crop Bistro with other businesses, caring customers, and the press.
Sincerity, Not Self-Promotion
For many small businesses, social media is simply a promotional soapbox — they might publish Facebook posts about an upcoming event, for example, or tweet a message about a sale. These platforms, though, can be powerful tools for engaging with the wider world.
Schimoler’s post worked so well for his business because he provided valuable content and approached the situation with sincerity. In the caption under the photo of the two men, Schimoler described the crime, included names, and noted the pair “can run, but can’t hide.”
He explained that a police report had been filed, but that restaurants should be look out for the men and share any information. Nothing about the post really pushed Crop’s food or asked for sympathy — by all appearances, Schimoler’s primary concern was helping out others in the area’s restaurant community. In most cases, Facebook posts need to have importance for a wide range of people in order for others to want to share them. If Schimoler’s message was framed differently, it most likely would not have garnered that much attention. If he had begged for more customers to eat at Crop to make up for the lost income, for example, probably the only people interested would be die-hard Crop fans.
A Facebook Post Pays Off
A few days after Schimoler’s Facebook post, another photo of one of the thieves was released on social media. However, instead of a warning for the restaurant community, the photo displayed the vanquished villain, struggling beneath the foot of David Flowers, owner of Johnny’s restaurant in downtown Cleveland. Flowers saw Schimoler’s Facebook warning while scrolling through the social media platform and claims that 10 minutes later the criminals entered his diner. Flowers called the police and physically restrained the thief when he tried to bolt. While personally apprehending thieves can be a shaky maneuver legally, the photo definitely satisfies the vigilante inside us.
The humorous (and heavily shared) picture is a fitting end for this tale of social media sleuthing. Because of the experience, Schimoler built strong connections to the rest of his local business community and earned the admiration of customers as well as the local media. Crop Bistro gained exposure on Facebook in a very unlikely way, but other small businesses can duplicate the results on social media by providing useful, honest content.