Sheriff promises free meal at Polk County jail for group of 14 that 'dined and dashed' at Davenport restaurant

On a busy Friday night, a large group of people just got up and left a Polk County restaurant. And they also left behind a hefty bill. Their hasty exit was caught on camera. 

"You try to trust customers but like in any other industry, people try to do wrong," said Ian Marks, manager of Davenport's Ale House.

Surveillance video from January 28 shows the group of 14 - mostly adults and a few kids - enjoying the night, shooting hoops, ordering up food and drinks.

"They were eating and had no complaints, everything was going well," Marks said.

But when it came time to pay the $320 tab, one by one, they trickled out.

"The server went to go get the checks, go get some to-go boxes, and what we noticed is a few went outside to the car, a couple went to the bathroom, and they all basically made a run for the door," Marks said.

They made sure not to leave without grabbing their to-go boxes.

"Fourteen people just get up and wander out. What are you thinking?" asked Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

It's no petty crime. In Florida, a "dine and dash" over $300 is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

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"When we find you, and we will, you are going to the Polk County Jail for a free meal. And we're not even going to ask you to pay for it," Judd said. "It won't be delicious like it was at the Ale House. That's a guarantee."  

For a restaurant that survived the pandemic, the restrictions and inflated food prices, it's an unnecessary blow.

"We're a family-owned restaurant," Marks said. "Obviously, the restaurant has to eat the cost. I felt bad for the server because obviously, the tip is what they work for. But sadly, it happens in this industry. It happens a lot."

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Davenport's Ale House has made policy changes, especially for groups, to try and prevent any more of these crimes.

"If it's a big group, try to get a credit card to hold," Marks said. "We're not going to charge it. We're just going to hold it to kind of cover ourselves. No one's going to walk away when you've got a credit card."

Anyone with information regarding this case, is asked to contact Detective Townes at 863-236-3900 (Case #22-3974) or, to remain anonymous, contact Heartland Crime Stoppers in one of four ways:

  • Call1-800-226 TIPS (8477)
  • Dial **TIPS from your cell phone
  • Visit the website and click on "Submit A Tip,"
  • Download the free "P3tips" app on your smartphone or tablet.