Imagine the humiliation… You’re out on a date at a classy restaurant. The food was delicious and the service was superb, however when you present your credit card to pay the (expensive) bill, it is denied. Your date, anticipating that you will pay, did not bring a wallet, and you have no cash. What then?
Dishwashing is not legal anymore although restaurant can call police and take legal action. In the past, you may have been compelled to pay off your debt by washing dishes in the kitchen or lugging trash to the dumpster (it is unclear whether this actually occurred or is a film/television stereotype). However, that would not occur today. In contemporary restaurant kitchens, an inexperienced employee is a problem (a real insurance issue) rather than a help.
If dishwashing is not an option, how do restaurants handle guests who cannot pay their bill? We chatted with a couple of restaurant industry experts to see how owners and managers handle this unusual circumstance.
How Restaurants Actually Deal With This
99.9 percent of the time, another diner in the group will cover the tab, but when a client is genuinely unable to pay, management assume good intentions. (If a diner had intended to “dine and dash,” they would have left before receiving the bill.)
“As hospitality professionals, we try our best to make the individual who cannot pay feel comfortable and to work with them to resolve the problem,” adds Britt, who acknowledges that it may still be “a very difficult conversation.”
Britt is familiar with being on the receiving end of an unpleasant discussion. Once, while working in Denmark, he neglected to notify his bank that he was out of the country. He was hundreds of miles from home when his credit card was refused at a pricey restaurant.
Britt states, “I had no intention of not paying my bill; in fact, I was actively losing my mind.” “I had to pay. Fortunately, I contacted my bank, and they cleared the card.”
If it is inexpensive enough, they will “comp” the meal.
Chef and cookbook author Shawn Bucher has expertise as a manager and restaurant owner, most recently of a “fast casual” burrito restaurant. Despite the fact that it is not a “common occurrence” for a client to be unable to pay, he notes that it does occur, and in most situations, the restaurant just “eats it,” or absorbs the expense.
Bucher explains, “The management team is more concerned with preserving its reputation and doing the ‘right thing’ by writing it off and voiding the deal.” It is more cost-effective for us to pay for the lunch and move folks along than to engage in a lengthy conversation or mail the consumer a bill.
Britt concurs, particularly if the outstanding payment is quite little.
Britt asserts that every restaurant contains built-in comps that may be used for workers, friends, or VIPs. “The objective of every successful business is to avoid using these comps, but if someone orders a $20 dinner and is unable to pay, the management will likely comp it. Ultimately, it is not worthwhile to endure a lengthy procedure.”