Dear Helena,

I just moved into an apartment with two roommates, and I was dismayed to discover there are only two drinking glasses. We need new ones, and my roommates aren’t about to pitch in. However, I’m saving up for a trip right now and I don’t want to spring for new glasses myself.

My boyfriend told me I should just take them from a bar. “They won’t notice. They budget for that sort of thing,” he told me blithely. Can I just go and help myself? What’s the best way to do this: take a large purse? What should I say if I get caught? —Bar Burglar

Dear Bar Burglar,

Obviously we’re not going to tell you that you can steal stuff. But, on the other hand, who hasn’t taken the odd souvenir from a bar? Let’s face it, it’s a relatively petty crime.

Zan Sterling, general manager of Zeitgeist, a popular bar in San Francisco, estimates that a beer pint costs the bar less than $2 to replace. And if the glasses are promotional items for a beer company, the bar gets them for free. So if you take those, you’re only stiffing the beer company (although the bar still has the hassle of replacing them).

If caught helping yourself to a glass, the most you’re likely to risk is embarrassment. The bar managers I talked to said they would not call the police. Brian Nicholas, the sommelier at Village, a bistro and wine bar in San Jose, California, says when he catches someone strolling off the premises with one of his $5 Riedel glasses, he handles the customer with kid gloves: “I diplomatically let them know they can’t leave with glassware and all alcoholic beverages have to be consumed on site.” At the most, you’ll get a scolding.

Those who do steal glasses recommend that you don’t tuck a pint in your backpack; if the item is discovered, it will be harder to explain away. Instead, just saunter out the door with your glass in hand. If a staff member catches you, all you need to do is say: “Wow, I must be drunker than I thought!”

Ultimately, however, stealing glassware is a lame thing to do, especially if you’re talking about creating a whole set at home. A six-pack of glasses from Ikea will cost you a measly $3.99, so is it really worth ripping off your local bar? While we can rationalize that a bar owner won’t notice a missing beer mug or two, losses from theft and breakages can add up: Sterling estimates that Zeitgeist has spent $3,000 on glassware in the past three months. And you can’t claim, Robin Hood–style, that your victim is the enemy: If you drink there, then you’re stealing from a place that you presumably like.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

See more articles