Hospitality bosses want answers from police on why they won't take criminal action against dine and dashers who have left restaurants out of pocket.

A second Auckland restaurant approached the Herald on Sunday about their frustration at police not investigating diners who have done runners - instead telling proprietors the lost revenue should be subject to a civil case.

Four men fled without paying their $168 bill from the La Vista Spanish Mediterranean Restaurant in St Heliers last month.

Police also classified it as a civil case when three runners made off without paying a $291 bill at Grasshopper Thai Restaurant this month.


"We would have to have a discussion with the police about why this is not being considered a criminal matter," said Peter Morrison, Hospitality NZ national treasurer.

"I don't know the law, but I would have thought in this kind of matter, thieving food, if they're doing it on purpose I would have thought it is a criminal matter."

La Vista owner Nataliya Shchetkova said she was stunned that police considered dine and dash cases to be a civil issue.

"It is not really clear for me what is the difference between shoplifting and running away without paying a restaurant bill," she said.

"It is a serious problem, we lost $168 and it is quite big money for us."

Shchetkova, who moved here from Ukraine three years ago, said she did not expect such dishonesty in New Zealand.

"With this sort of police attitude, we feel totally unprotected from dishonest people out to get free dinner and drinks," she said.

"How can the police expect us to take the law in our own hands."

A police spokeswoman said she was not in a position to comment on why these cases were considered to be civil issues.

But she referred the Herald on Sunday to a police statement about the difference between criminal and civil matters.

"The criminal law should always be a last resort for behaviour which truly deserves police intervention," the statement said.

"That is why the standard is 'beyond reasonable doubt' and why the test for prosecution is so strict."

It said criminal and civil law served entirely different purposes, and criminal law was to hold an offender accountable to society.

The primary purpose of the civil law, on the other hand, was to provide a mechanism for solving disputes between individual people.

"The two are not mutually exclusive."

Lawyer Julie Ding, a solicitor at Kirkland Morrison O'Callahan & Ho, said based on the facts, the cases would constitute an offence under the Crimes Act of obtaining by deception. Where the loss does not exceed $500, offenders faced a maximum penalty of up to three months imprisonment.