Dining and Dashing

In Buzz, February 2021, Web Exclusive by Lauren Kruchten2 Comments

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Who foots the bill—the server or the restaurant?

WEB EXCLUSIVE Did you know that if someone dines and dashes at a restaurant (yep, people really do that in real life), the server likely incurs the cost? As if servers don’t have enough to worry about already. 

We recently saw a post on Facebook from a local server who, when she realized one of her tables left a fake check, was forced to pick up the bill. It got us thinking, should that kind of responsibility really be left to the server?

First of all, dining and dashing is illegal. If you ordered food from a restaurant and didn’t pay for it, you’ve essentially stolen from the restaurant, and the restaurant has the right to press charges against you. Also, it’s totally not cool.

Naturally, we reached out to our resident Restaurant Guru and co-host/producer of the North Carolina Food & Beverage Podcast, Max Trujillo, for his thoughts on the topic. Trujillo personally feels that no establishment should ask its service team to cover any kind of dine-and-dash. “Anything else would be bad business,” he says.

As a former server myself, I’d have to agree. Ultimately, dining and dashing really hurts the person who is likely making the least amount of money—and having a server take on that kind of burden doesn’t seem very fair. Moreover, why does the burden fall on the server (who likely has no idea they’re being scammed)? I couldn’t imagine taking on a large table’s $200-plus tab when I was serving in college—I would’ve had to work twice as many hours in the next week alone just to make up for what someone else stole! 

Surely, in instances such as these, the restaurant can comp the bill themselves—and hopefully find a way of figuring out whoever it was that scammed them. Trujillo says it’s more common for a restaurant to ask a server to pay the cost of a food or drink item that was caused by server error—a far cheaper bill—usually due to that server repeatedly making clerical errors in ringing the wrong items into the kitchen. (Happens to the best of us.)

Understood, but Trujillo also doesn’t think a restaurant has the power to enforce such a rule. “Just asking a teammate to pay creates an uncomfortable work environment,” he says.

According to USA Today human resources expert Johnny C. Taylor Jr., under federal wage-and-hour law, a restaurant is technically allowed to require an employee to foot the bill from a dine-and-dash “if it does not cause the employee’s wages to dip below the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour for nonexempt employees.” However, in some states (such as New York and California), employers are prohibited from deducting an employee’s paycheck for business losses—as it should be… 

At the end of the day, servers depend on tips from customers to make (or supplement) their living. Anyone with service industry experience knows how demanding the job is—physically, mentally and emotionally. On an average busy shift, servers are required to employ mad multitasking skills (think patient satisfaction, educating patrons on various menu items and specials, innumerable orders, delivering food and drinks in a timely matter, general back-of-house upkeep, managing co-staff stress and patron personalities—all while running around (literally: the going average per shift is reported at 5 miles)… not to mention relying on making money from tips (or lack thereof).

All in all, there’s more to the restaurant business than meets the eye. You never know what a server is going through—personally or at work—so it’s best to always treat them with respect and kindness (you don’t want to be the jerk that ruins their day). Be nice, smile and always pay your bill—and leave a good tip!

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  1. i think it’s ridiculous that the restaurant doesn’t pay for such losses. unless the server in question has a pattern of customers skipping out on the bill. that would need further investigation. and i’ve never been a server because i knew it was the kind of job that i couldn’t do well … i feel for them. now, during the pandemic, with restaurants going out of business, it might be difficult for the owner too … and i’m not sure anyone who would do such a thing would be reading this. they’re common, low class criminals and i think they should be prosecuted if at all possible.

  2. Only bigger asshole than the dine and dasher, an owner who makes the server pay for it.

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