Feb. 1, 2011 -- It's a ritual of restaurant dining. After a nice meal and good -- or even not so good -- service, the bill comes and you decide how much to tip your server. What was the service worth? The server depends on your calculation. But what if the waiter or waitress never receives your tip because someone has stolen it off a table?
We wondered what people would do if they witnessed someone swiping a server's tip. We set up our scenario at Bin 14, a wine bar and restaurant in Hoboken, N.J., that's been getting rave reviews for its food and service. The thief and the couple who leave a tip on the table are actors hired by ABC News.
One late afternoon, two young mothers relax for a late lunch as their babies sleep in strollers beside them. The couple at the next table leaves a cash tip lying on the table, and the mothers appear to notice our thief stroll by and grab the money.
The moms don't say anything at first. But when the server comes to collect her tip and finds none, Marissa Foster-Moore, one of the moms, speaks up and points to the thief.
But our actor denies taking the money. Foster-Moore gets upset and insists she saw him steal the money. When John Quinones arrives to let her know it's all a scenario, Foster-Moore expresses relief.
"I was so upset that someone would actually do that in plain sight," she says.
By dinner hour, Bin 14 is packed. Nearly every table is filled, and the servers are rushing to deliver food, wine and, of course, the bill to their customers. We decide to have another "thief" commit the crime this time.
Christina Hayes, who sits alongside the table where our actors have just finished dinner and left a tip, spots the heist right away. She appears shocked. But she keeps it to herself until the server appears.
Hayes points at the thief at the bar.
"I saw him pick the money off the table," she says.
Our thief denies stealing the server's tips. Hayes tells the server that she saw the couple set $30 on the table before leaving to go to the restroom. She describes the thief grabbing the $30, showing the cash to his friend sitting at the bar, and then ordering a drink.
Good Samaritans Act Alone
"I've never seen someone take tips off the table," Hayes says.
When John Quinones arrives with the camera crew, she is still fuming.
"I can't believe nobody else saw it," she says. "Oh, God, I'm so glad this was not real."
As the evening unfolds, some diners witness brazen theft but keep it to themselves. Only when the waiter or waitress arrives, searching for the missing tip money, do the diners speak up. But none confront the thief directly. Shannon Mery, for instance, tells the server who took her money but then returns to his dinner conversation.
"I didn't speak up and say something to him [the thief] because I don't think it's my place to. I was out having dinner, you know, trying to enjoy myself," says Mery.
Only a few minutes later, however, Kevin Padilla has a very different reaction. He spots the thief in action and begins to get up from the table. He appears to have second thoughts and sits back down, but the hesitation is brief. Moments later, he stands up, takes off his glasses and confronts our thief.
Padilla is unafraid. One reason may be that he has a black belt in tai kwan do and is a martial arts instructor. When he talks to us later, he makes it clear he doesn't fear physical threats. Still, he is alone in his decision to blow the whistle on the thief -- no one backs him up. Two men at a nearby table say they didn't see anything.
Throughout the evening, our Good Samaritans act alone ... until Megan Guresh sees the brazen theft.
"Did that just happen?" she asks the man at dinner with her. Together, they immediately tell the waiter who ripped off his hard-earned tips.
When our thief denies it, Guresh isn't backing down.
"We saw you take it. The four of us saw you take it. Oh, my God. Give it back!" Guresh says.
When our thief continues to deny the crime, Guresh keeps him in her sights as she enlists the support of more fellow diners.
"We saw you!" she says.
After our thieves leave the restaurant, John Quinones walks in. He explains that few diners actually confronted the thief. But she showed no hesitation.
'I Know What I Saw'
"'Cause that's what happened," she says. "I know I saw it and then when everyone else confirmed, I mean, I know what I saw. Three other people backed me up."
Was Guresh worried about it all becoming physical and turning on her? Not a chance.
"If it gets physical," she says, "There are 50 other people here who would back me up."
Watch the scenario unfold on "What Would You Do?" Friday at 9 p.m. ET.