Christopher Baker, a 28-year-old from Houghton in Sunderland, concocted a plan to get out of paying the bill at Borneo Bistro in the city.
After tucking into the £7.25 Valentines Day buffet, he took his pet rat from his pocket, put it on the floor, and demanded his money back. The restaurant refunded him, but grew suspicious when they had a chance to inspect the rat more closely.
The Sunderland Echo reported that Baker had drawn the attention of staff and his fellow customers, shouting about the rat and pointing to where it was sitting on the floor. Many of the customers ran for the exit, but the restaurant staff caught the rat and called pest controllers.
When they examined the rodent, they discovered that not only did it look like a pet, it had also recently had a haircut. The bistro owner smelled a rat, and checked the CCTV footage - at which point it became clear what Baker had done.
Pictured: Christopher Baker
According to the Daily Mail, Baker appeared in court and admitted fraud by false representation. He was ordered to repay the £7.25. He told police he had bought the rat from the pet shop earlier that day as a present for his daughter, and put it in his pocket before going out for dinner.
The restaurant owner, Kevin Smith, said that the punishment had not been harsh enough, given that Baker could have destroyed his restaurant's reputation - adding that he was amazed the lengths people would go to in order to get a free meal.
Bistro owner Kevin Smith
Common restaurant scams
This is a particularly odd way to try to fool a restaurant into giving you a free meal. However, sadly, as any restaurant owner will tell you, there are some very common scams people try to use to do the same thing every day. Here are five nasty scams adopted by some con artists.
One of the most common is putting a foreign object, such as an insect or a hair, in your food - and demanding a free meal as a result. This famously backfired spectacularly on one Virginia woman who claimed to have found a dead mouse in her bowl of soup in 2006. She was found guilty of trying to extort money from the restaurant chain and sentenced to a year in jail.
Another common approach is to 'dine and dash'. We reported earlier this year on the Essex man who had turned himself in, after leaving a restaurant without paying a £500 bill. The diner decided to come forward two years after the incident - after CCTV footage was released. He was sentenced to community service and made to pay the bill.
There are other less common approaches that occasionally hit the headlines. A few years ago Manhattan was suffering at the hands of a scammer who sent dozens of letters to restaurants in the city. Each one claimed he had been eating at the restaurant when a waiter spilled coffee on his suit, and he enclosed a $38.50 dry cleaning bill. It's not known how many restaurants paid up.
Another scammer called restaurants in St Louis, claiming to have ordered takeaway food earlier in the day and saying that the order had been wrong. He then asked for a free replacement, and if the restaurant agreed he would go in and get his free food.
Then there was the Baltimore scammer who sent complaints by email, claiming to have eaten a poor meal at the restaurant in question and asking for a voucher in compensation. He then sold the vouchers on, at a 10% discount - scamming a fortune from restaurants without having to leave his home.
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