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Restaurateurs defend Aikens over missing spoon incident

20 October 2004
Restaurateurs defend Aikens over missing spoon incident

Stealing from restaurants is rife in the UK and costs businesses thousands of pounds every year, prompting restaurateurs to call for customers caught shoplifting to be

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Aikens… is he the bad guy?
prosecuted. Restaurateurs have leapt to the defence of Tom Aikens, following an incident at his Michelin-starred restaurant in London last week, when a £16 spoon went missing and a customer was challenged. Chef-proprietor Tom Aikens confronted a well-heeled customer after a silver spoon disappeared from her table. All cutlery at the acclaimed restaurant was custom-designed and nine spoons have been stolen in just over a month. Several £50 ashtrays were also stolen when the restaurant first opened. (The restaurant is now no-smoking only.) The chef has since received hate mail and suffered table cancellations. He remained pragmatic. "Theft is a huge problem," he said. "Every restaurant has things stolen from it, I'm not an exception but the costs add up. It's not fair but it happens." He defended his action in confronting the diner. "I might be the only one to say anything about theft but it happens. Speaking out has made me the bad guy." Aikens is not alone in suffering at the hands of light-fingered customers. Conran restaurant Quaglino's held an ashtray amnesty last year during which 1,500 ashtrays were returned. It is estimated that around 25,000 of the iconic Q-shaped ashtrays - worth £10 each - had found alternative homes since the restaurant opened 10 years ago. Andy Vama, owner of Indian restaurant Vama in Chelsea, said that customer theft cost his restaurant about £2,500-£3,000 each year. Vama said the restaurant's matching napkin rings and candle-holders were prime targets, as were ashtrays, table decorations, cutlery, hangers, loo roll and soap. "We buy these things in India and it's hard to replenish stocks. Sometimes suppliers stop lines so we have to change the entire stock for the sake of a few tables. Stealing from restaurants is akin to shoplifting and restaurants should start prosecuting." Jonathan Downey, owner of the Match Bar group, said theft cost his business tens of thousands of pounds a year across six sites. He rejected the idea people stole for money. "Middle-class people are emboldened by alcohol and turn into urchins," he said. *Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 21 October 2004*
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