Sheriff promises free lunch at Polk County Jail for group of 14 who ‘dine and rush’ to Davenport Restaurant

On a busy Friday night, a large group of people just got up and left a restaurant in Polk County. And they also left a heavy bill. Their hasty exit was filmed.

“You try to trust customers, but like in any other industry, people try to do the wrong thing,” said Ian Marks, manager of Davenport’s Ale House.

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

“They were eating and not complaining, everything was fine,” Marks said.

But when it came time to pay the $320 bill, one by one, they went by.

“The waiter went to get the checks, fetched takeout boxes, and what we noticed was a few got out of the car, a couple went to the bathroom, and they all ran towards the door,” Mark said.

They made sure they didn’t leave without grabbing their takeout boxes.

“Fourteen people get up and leave. What do you think ? asked Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

It’s no small crime. In Florida, a diner 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’ll go to 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 as delicious as the Ale House. That’s a guarantee.”

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

“We’re a family restaurant,” Marks said. “Obviously the restaurant has to eat the price. I felt bad for the server because obviously tipping is what he works for. But unfortunately that happens in this industry. It happens a lot.”

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Davenport’s Ale House has made policy changes, particularly for groups, to try to prevent further crime.

“If it’s a large group, try to get a credit card,” Marks said. “We’re not going to charge it. We’re just going to keep it to cover ourselves. Nobody’s going to walk away when you have 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:

  • Call 1-800-226 TIPS (8477)
  • Dial **TIPS from your mobile phone
  • Visit the website and click “Submit Tip”,
  • Download the free “P3tips” app on your smartphone or tablet.

Christy J. Olson