The impunity of the diner who refuses to pay for his restaurant meals

Restaurateurs in the Spanish city of Zaragoza are in despair over Antonio Miguel Grimal, who has reportedly been eating for free since July 2016

Juanjo Gracia, one of the victims of the fraudster who operates in Zaragoza, Spain.
Juanjo Gracia, one of the victims of the fraudster who operates in Zaragoza, Spain.Carlos Gil-Roig

Two main courses – entrecôte and pork tenderloins – accompanied by potatoes and rice, with wine to drink and cheesecake for dessert. That’s what Antonio Miguel Grimal devoured at the restaurant Espumosos 5 in the city of Zaragoza, in Spain’s northeastern Aragón region. But when it came time to pay the bill, which amounted to €27 ($30), Grimal said he had no intention of paying. Juanjo Gracia, the owner of the establishment, said he would call the police, to which the 45-year-old responded: “Perfect, would you bring me a beer while we wait for them?”

“If I see a person in need, I give them a sandwich, a cup of coffee, whatever they need. But this guy didn’t care about anything, and you could tell he wasn’t in need,” says Gracia.

This was far from the first time Grimal had pulled such a stunt – on his criminal record, he has been written up at least 46 times for similar acts in Zaragoza, with the first dating back to 2016. But the real number could be much higher. None of Grimal’s bills have been excessively high, and restaurants often decide not to report him for losses that may not exceed €12 ($13). This, however, has emboldened the conman: if the bill is less than €400 ($440), it is only considered minor fraud.

Grimal’s dine-and-dash tactics have landed him in jail on more than one occasion – claiming to be unable to pay the fine for his actions, he has spent time behind bars instead. But these prison stays never last long and it is not long before he is back at another restaurant and running out on the bill. During the court hearings, Grimal always claims he lives off a small pension and cannot afford to pay any fine. Neither the judges nor social services have indicated that he needs psychological help in these cases.

“He doesn’t care about anything,” says one police officer, who was tasked with bringing in Grimal after he refused to pay at Espumosos 5. His lawyers have a similar view. His most recent legal representative, Victoria Jiménez, explains: “The conversation with him was limited to him admitting everything and saying yes to everything. There wasn’t much more to do.”

Antón Muñoz, who has been working as a waiter for years at the restaurant La Bodeguita Real in Zaragoza, will never forget his encounter with the conman. He even remembers what he ordered. “A bottle of red wine, a black paella, two cheesecakes, a coffee and a glass of Fra Angelico,” he recalls, adding that the bill was €44 ($48). It was the same modus operandi: Grimal licked the plate clean, then calmly informed the restaurant he was not going to pay. When the police arrived, they said “Antonio, again?” – an indication that they, too, are becoming fed up with the situation.

The conman even tried to pull the same stunt at two restaurants run by the same owner. Ángel Cerro, a waiter at the famous café El Real, says that he came in a few months ago, claiming to be a local of the area. He asked for a beer and promised to pay another time. “He was not a regular, I had never seen him before, so we asked him to leave. He walked out the door without making a fuss and we haven’t seen him again,” says Cerro. “A few days later, he went to another restaurant that my boss has next door, claiming he was a friend of the owner and asking for €20 [$22].” A quick call to the owner confirmed he was lying.

His latest meal was at an Italian restaurant belonging to the La Tagliatella chain. On March 9, he sat down at a table by himself and ordered risotto, ravioli all’arrabbiata, the restaurant’s special bread with olives, onion and tomato, a bottle of red wine, two bottles of sparkling water, a serving of ice cream – without toppings, as specified in the order pad – and a carajillo, a hot coffee drink with hard liquor. The bill came to €57.55 ($63). Police officers decided to detain him because he had not provided a telephone number or a reliable address as guarantees that he would appear the next day in court. It was his last supper, at least for now.

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