Online dating is scary. There is the worry that the person you’re meeting is a catfish, robber, abuser, or foreigner looking for marriage. However, there is now one more thing to worry about. Restaurants have been hiring bot apps to pose as real people on dating apps. When they match with people, they make a reservation for the same establishment. The person then thinks they’ve been stood up and ends up spending money at the hotel. The restaurants are also colluding with individuals to gouge unsuspecting patrons of extra profits. How did it all happen?
This is when the restaurant creates a fake bio on dating apps, creates a rapport, makes a reservation then the dating app match stands you up. Since you’re already at the restaurant, you end up spending money there. When you go back to the dating app, the profile has unmatched and blocked you. Some restaurants use bots while others hire people to pose as potential matches on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and other popular apps.
November 2023 in New Delhi, India, a man lost Rs 15000 (Ksh. 27,577) after going on a date with a woman he met on Bumble. The man, Archit Gupta, shared on Twitter how he paid an inflated bill at the restaurant he went to with the woman. He accused the restaurant of colluding with the woman to make patrons pay for items at a marked-up price. She then abandoned him with the bill, having insisted only on that bill.
Food digger scams are becoming more common. Gupta was convinced by the woman, Divya Sharma, that she wanted a meaningful relationship. When it came time to meet, she insisted on the restaurant, The Race Lounge & Bar in Rajouri Garden, New Delhi. Gupta wasn’t convinced about the place but went anyway. They ordered a Red Bull, hookah, one shot of vodka, a few glasses of wine, a plate of chicken tikka, and a bottle of water. When the bill arrived, Gupta had to tap his card four times because their card reader had an issue. He then went to the bathroom and when he returned, the bill had been taken away and Sharma insisted on leaving quickly. After getting home, Gupta realised he had been conned.
He tried to contact Sharma but her Bumble account had been deleted. He googled The Race Lounge and found similar accounts of men who had been conned.
A food digger gang?
As far back as October 2022, a Reddit user shared how he met a woman on Happn, a popular location-based dating app. After a perfunctory conversation, she insisted on meeting. He considered this a red flag and asked his roommate to accompany him to Café Mama, a popular location in Delhi. 10 Dos And Don’ts Of Sliding In The DMs
He arrived first and found the restaurant was almost empty. It only had three girls, a server, and a cashier. After just sitting, his date ordered countless items while he and his roommate had decided to only order coffee. She ordered items worth Rs 2500 (Ksh. 4600) from the counter, which was surprising since the café only had four menu items.
As they ate, she kept taking phone calls outside. After some time, his roommate walked in as agreed. When he did, the entire restaurant stared at him. His date then went outside to take another phone call then came back and asked him directly if the new patron was his friend. He lied and denied it. He eventually left and his friend stayed behind to avoid suspicion. As he waited, another man came in and the lady followed the same MO where she ordered expensive food. When he left the other women in the café followed him to the parking lot. Other users on the post shared that the café owner and other workers are in on the food digger scam.
How to spot food digger scams
The food digger scam sounds rather farfetched. It’s difficult to believe that restaurants, which are some of the busiest establishments, would take the time to set up fake dating profiles to get unsuspecting patrons. It’s also doubtful that they would risk losing repeat customers when they eventually find out that they were humiliated just so a restaurant can sell an extra meal. However, you can never be too certain that whoever you’re meeting isn’t setting you up to spend more at a restaurant when you weren’t expecting to.
If you have come across a potential food digger, there are ways to ensure you remain safe. These principles also apply generally to online dating.
Many users of dating apps share a reasonable amount of information to confirm that they are real people. This includes schooling, current work industry, birthdays, favourite movies, hobbies, and current location. A food digger is likely to only have attractive pictures, a name, location, and no personalised information.
Insists on in-person meetings
When meeting with people online, it’s better to get to know them before deciding to meet in person. For many, the talking stage takes a while before they’re comfortable with going on a date. While there are circumstances where you can both be excited to meet, it’s unlikely that you’d want to meet with someone who isn’t particularly conversational. People also tend to brainstorm where to meet rather than insist on one restaurant.
Once they’re sure you’ve arrived, the food digger will then cut off all communication. If this happens to you, perhaps it may be better to eat elsewhere. If you also go on a date with someone who insists on ordering too many items, you can cut them off and only pay for what you ate. You can also discuss beforehand who will be paying for the date. One of the best ways to avoid drama is by letting the person who invited the other to pay for the meal. But when they don’t show up at all, you can warn others about that profile or report them to the platform’s security team.
Gloria Mari is a culture writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes on art, film, literature, health, and the environment. She has previously written for Kenya Buzz, People Daily, The Elephant, and Kalahari Review.