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Some diners hunger for a ‘souvenir’

SHARE Some diners hunger for a ‘souvenir’

When a bride at Log Haven restaurant had to tell her bridesmaids to take the antique candles out of their purses and put them back on the tables, it was an unusual occurrence. But only because this time the pilferers got caught.

Margo Provost owns Log Haven and says in the seven years she has been its proprietor, she's lost all kinds of items to thieves. Well-heeled patrons leave a nice tip and walk out with everything from the silverware to pictures off the wall.

"We've lost several designer pillows off the couches, and these aren't small pillows," Provost said. Champagne and wine glasses are favorite items for souvenir hunters. During one Christmas season at the restaurant, Provost decorated a table with an antique Austrian decoration from home — a moose pulling a sleigh.

"There were two corporations having parties that night, and it disappeared," she said.

But probably the biggest loss to her were original needlework pictures that were hanging on the wall. She made them. "How do you put a value on handmade items?"

Some people just can't resist taking a forbidden souvenir. They find room in their luggage for the hotel towels, they sneak stalagmite fragments out of Timpanogos Cave and fish coins out of fountains. These may be the same people for whom fine dining means leaving the restaurant with more than a sated appetite.

Upscale restaurants in the Salt Lake area aren't being put out of business by thieves. Local restaurants apparently aren't targeted as often by sticky-fingered patrons as restaurants in other areas of the country.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that pricey restaurants in New York City, Boston and Las Vegas are losing thousands of dollars in decorations and dinnerware to thievery.

An informal phone survey of a dozen or so upscale eateries in Salt Lake City and Park City found most theft is minor — a salt shaker here, a hand towel or menu there.

But for some, filching is more than an annoyance.

Jackie Pratt, owner of the Oasis Cafe and Golden Braid Bookstore, said thieves at her establishment have gone in for bigger things — like a 4-foot-tall cactus and a larger-than-life-size Buddha statue.

"The cactus was tall and wide; it took two or three people to carry it out," Pratt said. The cactus, sitting just outside the restaurant office, disappeared in the middle of the day. Another thief pulled a decorative tree out of its container, left it on the floor and took the pot.

"The Buddha was a couple of years ago; we offered a reward and eventually got it back — somebody turned their friends in," Pratt said.

Tracey Thompson, general manager of the Oasis, said soap dispensers in ladies' restrooms are the favorite target of thieves.

"They're just sitting on the sinks, full of soap, and they're the hottest item," Thompson said. "It would be interesting to see what the insides of these women's purses look like."

Thompson said customers take plants from the restrooms and silverware off the tables. She said she brings flowerboxes inside at night and never leaves the tables and chairs out on the patio when restaurant employees aren't around.

Linda Burtoft, manager at La Caille, said her customers keep their hands off the utensils and decorations for the most part. She said it probably helps that waiters and hostesses are constantly "attending to" customers and a valet sees them to their cars.

But that didn't stop a customer at Log Haven who jumped into her car and drove away with a wastepaper basket and a valet in hot pursuit.

Customers at a restaurant owned by Robert Redford might be expected to grab a keepsake or two off the table, but Gary Wohlforth, general manager of Zoom, Redford's Park City restaurant, said only one picture has disappeared off the wall. But that may not be a commentary on the honesty of patrons. The other wall decorations have since been fastened down.

E-mail: karras@desnews.com