Wait staff have to pay the tab when restaurants get stiffed?

I have been writing about the travails of wait staff in restaurants but I learned today of an outrageous practice in some restaurants in which, if the diners leave without paying, it is the wait staff serving that group who are expected to pay the bill!.

That can’t be right and surely should be illegal. Is this some isolated case or is it common policy?


  1. kimbeaux says

    I waited tables at both a chain restaurant, and a one-owner restaurant, and at both places the policy was for the waitstaff to pay the “cost” of any unpaid tabs–1/2 the cost of food (I don’t remember if it was more for liquor.) Discussions with people who waited tables elsewhere indicated that this was standard.

    Places where you pay your tab at a cashier, rather than to your server may have different policies.

  2. Anthony K says

    At any of the restaurants and bars I’ve worked (a small sample to be sure), the servers were indeed responsible for D&Ds (‘dine and dash’). At one place every server had to put a dollar in the their cash envelopes at shift’s end that went into a pool to pay for any customers who walked out without paying. So generally, this is pretty standard.

  3. lochaber says

    well, of course…

    If the wait staff didn’t pay for diners skipping out, then they would just pocket the tab and claimed the diners didn’t pay.

    And then the restaurant would go out of business, and the wait staff would be unemployed.

    It’s for their own benefit, they are just too…I can’t continue.


    Yeah, this is just another horrible thing, I’ve not worked a job that had this policy, but I hear about it pretty often.

  4. k_machine says

    I think it’s just a part of the silent class war in America, owners treat their workers like garbage, with poor working conditions, long hours and low wages, the workers respond by shirking their responsibilities (’cause forming a union is out) and so the owners ratchet up the pressure with draconian rules. That’s why pizzerias have “30 minutes or less” policies and also why fast food retailer force their workers to wear stupid outfits

  5. says

    When I was a waitress 22 years ago, my employer did this to me when a customer bounced a check. The policy is ‘no checks – unless they really have no other way to pay because every other restaurant in the franchise accepts the so they think we do too’. I took it straight to the county attorney who told me that was, unfortunately, perfectly legal. She also told me that it’s unethical and I should quit immediately. I was leaving for college in a couple of weeks anyway so I considered it. A couple of days later the owners were spreading the blueprints for the new addition to their house on one of the tables when I arrived for my shift. I handed over my apron to the money-grubbing bastards and walked out.

    Incidentally, they also charged us for a large soda if we forgot to write ‘sm’ on the ticket.

  6. Mano Singham says

    So that’s the reason!

    It just provides another reason for why the wait staff should be paid a living wage so that they are not tempted by petty theft.

    But, whatever the justification given, it still does not seem right, especially these days when many people pay by credit card. There is something about assuming that your employees are fundamentally dishonest that sticks in my craw.

  7. says

    I honestly think people tend to perform to expectations. You might get a “bad apple” now and then but by and large I think people have a desire to work, and a desire to do decently at their work. I think most people are perfectly happy to find a niche they can plug away at for 40 or so hours a week. And I think that when bosses communicate to their employees that this is what they expect, not just in their words but in their actions and policies and such, that the vast majority of their workers will perform to expectation.

    And if the employer treats them as if they’re lazy, good for nothing shirks, then the employees will make the crime fit the punishment.

    We see the same thing with how cops treat civilians these days. When police assume that everyone is probably a criminal, it’s no wonder that people start to act “like criminals” (guarded, untrusting) around police.

  8. Al Dente says

    I’m an accountant for a restaurant chain. One of the methods of payment on our registers is “left without paying.” This is a key only a manager can use but if it is used then the company takes the loss. The wait staff is not responsible for making up for D&D. Many chains operate this way. It’s less common with non-chain restaurants.

  9. says

    At 38, every job I have held has been in a restaurant. With the exception of my first job (at a buffet), all the others follow the same model: if the guest walks without paying, it is up to the server/bartender to pay the tab. The reason given?
    each server is required to monitor their section and be aware of each of their tables.

    Its a damned flimsy requirement when there are other tables to attend to, or running food or maintaining sidework. Heck, just bussing a table can take ones eyes off their other guests. Expecting the employee to pay is unreasonable and 100% shitty.

  10. says

    I have worked in restaurants since I was 16, and aside from one of them, the policy has always been for employees to pay the tab if guests walk out. The answer has always been that servers are in charge of monitoring their sections.

    Nevermind all the things that take their attention off their tables (bussing tables, getting drinks, running food, maintaining sidework).

    It is unfair and unethical.

  11. smrnda says

    Yes. If they can get you to wear a paper hat, they can get you to do anything. I’ve found that stupid rules are just about creating a habit of obeying authority and not rocking the boat.

  12. smrnda says

    Restaurants are doing what they can to divert risk to the low-level workers, as all businesses try to do. It’s like having a paper route as a kid – the KID is expected to collect money, and if the kid gets stiffed (I don’t know how common this is anymore, as I heard this from the 1 person I knew who delivered papers and it was from when he was younger) the kid has to take the hit. I know this is a policy almost anywhere, and it’s so unethical that any boss who is doing this should be ashamed.

    Speaking of other industries, I know that strip clubs often want to classify strippers as ‘independent contractors’ and actually charge them a few to perform at the venue, and they get to take whatever they make over that.

  13. Suido says

    Gyms do this with personal trainers as well. They hire trainers as contractors, who are then charged for the time they spend in the gym with clients, and there’s no option for the trainers to take the clients elsewhere.

    This business model is designed to screw young adults who have no idea about job conditions or rights and are suckers for getting a foot in the door and work experience.

  14. HazyJay says

    Forcing a server to cover the tab of a dine and dash is illegal. That being said, firing a server for not being attentive enough and allowing a table to leave without paying the tab is perfectly legal. Personally, I would not ever ask one of my employees to cover a tab for a walkout, but if it became a regular occurrence I would sure enough start writing them up and eventually fire them.

    You see the same thing with the cash register behind the bar. The bartenders will make up any shortages in the drawer out of their own pocket. As a manager I cannot make them pony up, I can only document them and eventually fire them for poor cash handling.

  15. says

    Do department stores hold staff fiscally responsible for shoplifters, or is it counted as “loss”?

    Do gas stations hold gas jockey responsible for fill-and-run thieves, or do they call the police?

    Do banks demand the tellers to cover the losses from bank robberies?

    Holding wait staff responsble for dine-and-dash scumbags is as deplorable and criminal as holding any employees responsble. They only have to pay if they are involved in the crime.

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