Everyone knows at least one person who does it. Maybe it’s your senile old grandmother who doesn’t think anything of it. Maybe it’s a co-worker who does it at lunch.
Maybe you do it yourself.
No no, I’m not talking about masturbating. (At least I hope I’m not.) I’m referring to the practice of concealed condiment collection—i.e. “stealing” ketchup and sugar packets and all those other little individually packaged seasonings you might find at a variety of restaurants.
This isn’t a new concept by any means. Historical documents dating back to the 1500s talk about routine executions being carried out on the streets of London when a person would try to hide a thimble of jam under their wig while departing the local tea house. Nowadays many people don’t even consider it a crime to stuff a few extra packets of jelly in one’s purse at the local IHOP. At the very least, plenty of folks agree that’s it a victimless crime. After all, you’re stealing tiny amounts of secondary ingredients from business owners and large multinational corporate minions, most of whom have swimming pools filled with unwanted condiment packets.
Of course, for every person who thinks absconding with restaurant condiments is on the up-and-up, there’s another who considers it outright theft. The latter group typically argues that condiments that are distributed for free by restaurants are meant to be used at the restaurant, similarly to how most all-you-can-eat buffets don’t allow you to remove food from the restaurant.
On the other hand, the average condiment collector will use a variety of reasons for justifying his or her habit:
- They’re practically worthless.
- I’m only taking a few.
- I’m not hurting anyone by doing it.
- If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available.
- It’s just freaking ketchup!
Personally, I’m somewhere in between the two arguments, but I can already tell you what the anti-collector’s response would be to some of these excuses for legitimizing covert condiment confiscation.
- They’re practically worthless or I’m only taking a few. Restaurant condiments aren’t as cheap as you think. Bulk ketchup, for example, runs around 3 cents a packet. Even if a giant chain negotiates that down to a penny each, it’s still 1% of the price of those Dollar Menu fries.
- I’m not hurting anyone by doing it. What if your boss told you that he or she was taking 1% of your pay and eating it? You’d be pretty upset! Each time one of these condiment packets is taken from a restaurant, that’s money out of the pockets of everyone. And since executives and managers set pay rates for lower employees, you can probably guess who’s going to be impacted the most.
- If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available. If that’s your argument, you should insist on paying for your condiments the next time you dine out. Or even better—bring your own!
- It’s just freaking ketchup! Sure, it starts with ketchup. Then it might escalate to bigger things like toilet paper rolls from the restaurant bathroom, or cars from the parking lot. I’m pretty sure I read a government document stating that most terrorists got their start stealing barbeque sauce from McDonald’s.
Another common argument you’ll hear from condiment collectors: it saves them money. Well, so does stealing groceries from the supermarket; but you’re not going to walk out of Wal-Mart with a 24-ounce bottle of mustard tucked under your coat, are you? If anything, you’d save a lot more money by not dining out in these restaurants in the first place.
But since both sides of the condiment coin have their points, I think the best way to settle this argument is with a compromise. Perhaps if condiment collectors agreed to reduce their activities to only certain items and in very limited quantities, the condiment crusaders wouldn’t mind it as much. As for what condiments are okay to collect and which ones aren’t, I would propose the following lists as guidance:
Condiments That Might Be Okay to “Collect”
- Condiments you can’t recreate at home or buy in the store (e.g. Taco Bell’s sauce).
- A reasonable number of necessary condiments when you’re doing take-out (e.g. not 42 packets of honey when you only bought a hamburger).
- Duck and soy sauce. I’m pretty sure both flow abundantly through the rivers of Asia.
- One bonus condiment of your choice each time the employees are jerks or idiots.
Condiments You Shouldn’t Be Stealing From Restaurants
- Standard condiments like ketchup and mustard. Just go buy your own at the store.
- Pricier but still standard condiments like barbeque sauce and salad dressing.
- Napkins. That’s just being a tightwad.
- Salt and pepper shakers. Generally you don’t want to take condiments that are in reusable containers.
- Table centerpieces. Yes, I’m sure there’s someone out there who yanks flowers from restaurant tables.
- Silverware. Not even plastic sporks unless you’re doing take-out.
- The Heinz truck that just pulled up to the back of the restaurant. Yeah, that’s hijacking.
If we all work together to keep restaurant condiment costs low, we can help ensure that future generations will have access to marvels such as Wendy’s 99 Cent Super Value Menu. But if rampant condiment theft continues unchecked, we’ll become reliant on foreign sources of ketchup which will cause prices to skyrocket, and soon you’ll be wishing you could dip your fries in crude oil instead.