Everyone has one of those relatives – the ones who take home the sweet ‘n low packages, little jars of jam and maybe even the occasional salt shaker. We’ve learned to indulge them, to turn a blind eye, to write it off as Grandma’s or Uncle Joe’s or Cousin Sally’s little quirk. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies and this is theirs.

The difference is that, even though we don’t name it that way, this is a form of stealing. And if “they won’t miss” a few packets of artificial sweetener, maybe they won’t miss that beer mug or that plate or those adorable napkin rings…

Theft from restaurants is not limited to an extra miniature jar of honey. According to restaurateurs and others in the hospitality industry interviewed for Chicago Tribune piece almost 20 years ago, pretty much everything is up for grabs.

Customers steal pictures, silverware, sculptures, salt and pepper shakers, glasses and even sink knobs from the bathrooms. Not only does it cut into restaurant profits (and ultimately up the price of a meal for those same consumers!) but it baffles the mind as well. Why do these diners think they’re entitled to the bathroom soap dispensers? I can maybe understand the rationalization for the stereotypical sweet ‘n low. They’re allowed to use some in their hot drink so they just took their allotment. But bathroom fixtures? Wall decorations?

It’s embarrassing – and scary – how low one could sink. Unfortunately it reminds me of the time before the Flood. In Noah’s time, the Almighty considered robbery to be the greatest crime. It reflected complete and utter indifference to everyone else’s needs and desires – and of course possessions. Isn’t this similar? Isn’t this one manifestation of a breakdown in society?

We tend to write off non-violent crimes. They’re not as frightening. They’re not as dangerous. They don’t seem to be as meaningful. But as an indication of where society is heading, perhaps they are even worse. They demonstrate complete and utter self-centeredness, as well as a highly developed ability to rationalize…

Since the publication of the Chicago Tribune article in 2000, restaurant theft has dropped – not because our values have improved but because the owners have gotten wiser. Everything is nailed down or mounted on the walls or, in one case with hand-painted tiles, cemented to the wall. It’s a sad commentary and necessary actions.

I’m not sure what the instinct is that suggests we are entitled to “party favors” from restaurants we frequent or hotels where we stay. But the Torah is clear that this is theft and we need to refrain not because it’s too difficult to pull that picture off the wall but because it doesn’t belong to us, no matter what we tell ourselves.

Diners in a restaurant need to think of themselves as guests. Yes we pay for dinner and atmosphere but not for those cute little dessert dishes or those beautiful crystal wine glasses. A sense of entitlement and a justification for theft are the beginnings of a life of dishonesty. And if you really need those little coasters, I know a few local stores where you can purchase them at a pretty reasonable price.