Con artists are canvassing restaurants with bogus complaints such as food poisoning in a bid to get "refunds" for meals they never bought.
The Restaurant Association has warned members to be vigilant after an upsurge in scam attempts, with one Auckland restaurant phoned twice in the past week alone.
Complaints vary from food poisoning to poor service or an incorrect charge on a bill. Top eateries such as Soul Bar & Bistro in Auckland's Viaduct have been targeted by phone, email or in person.
A woman was paid cash by a staff member at Hammerheads Restaurant on Tamaki Drive after falsely insisting she had suffered food poisoning from a meal the night before.
Another man was "refunded" money after phoning a cafe, one in a chain, and complaining the milk in his coffees tasted as if it had gone off.
The cafe owner later realised the man had gone to all his branches with the same story.
"It seems to be just going rampant at the moment," said Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association. "We've had at least 10 members contact us about some sort of scam going on."
She said such frauds were longstanding but had spiked this year and mostly relied on less senior staff members becoming flustered enough to issue a refund.
Judith Tabron, owner and manager of Soul, received a scam email from "Rachael Marie Gee", which together with her response was published in the Restaurant Association's newsletter.
"To the manager," the complaint began. "My partner has been ill with food poisoning for over a week since eating at Soul. He ordered the *. After he received the dish, the * was still very cold, close to freezing inside the meat ... he has been vomiting and had to take a week off work."
The email goes on to claim that when approached about the meal a waiter - a young teenager - dismissed the complaint and caused "a big scene very loudly".
The experience had ruined their anniversary and caused her husband to lose a week's income, the woman claimed.
In response, Ms Tabron requested details such as at what time the couple supposedly dined, the name that the booking was under, and what was ordered.
"Instead of mentioning the offending dishes, you placed an asterisk - why was this? ... are you sure it was a teenage boy who served you? We don't have any teenage waiters ...
"In order to not have situations like this arise again please provide me with more information."
Stefan Loetscher, owner of Pure Restaurant in Herne Bay, said a woman phoned him a month ago.
"She said she was at our restaurant a couple of weeks earlier with her sister, and then her sister got very ill after she had eaten my chicken dish.
"I said, 'We don't usually have chicken on our menu.' And she just hung up."