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What Happens if You Can’t Pay at a Restaurant?

Last Updated on August 12, 2022 by Lauren Beck

Ever wonder what happens if you can’t pay at a restaurant? Most of us have been in a situation where we didn’t have enough cash on hand to cover the bill, but what actually happens if you can’t pay?

If you can’t pay at a restaurant, the first thing that will happen is that the waiter or waitress will come to your table and ask if you are able to pay. If you say no or don’t have the means to pay, they will most likely call the manager. The manager will then come over and try to work out a payment plan with you or ask if you can put it on a credit card. If you still can’t pay, the manager will likely do one of the following:

They Take a Leap of Faith

The manager may decide to let you walk away and hope that you come back and pay at a later time. This is a risky move, but sometimes they may be willing to take that chance if they think you’re honestly just short on cash. This is usually only done if you’re a regular customer or if they know you from somewhere else.

They Call it an I.O.U.

An I.O.U. is an agreement between two people where one person agrees to pay the other person back at a later date [1]. If the manager decides to let you leave an I.O.U., they will likely write down your name, the amount you owe, and when they expect you to come back and pay it off. It’s important to remember that an I.O.U. is a legally binding agreement, so if you don’t pay it back, the restaurant could take you to court.

They Ask for Collateral

If the manager is really not comfortable letting you walk away without paying, they may ask for collateral. Collateral is something of value that you leave with the restaurant as a way of guaranteeing that you will come back and pay your bill. Common forms of collateral include leaving your driver’s license, car keys, or credit card. If you don’t come back to pay, the restaurant can then use your collateral to cover the cost of your bill.

They Use Their Comps

If the restaurant is owned by a larger company, they may have what are called “comps.” Comps are complimentary meals or services that the company gives to its employees or customers. The manager may decide to comp your meal, which means that you would not have to pay for it. This is usually only done in cases of extreme hardship or if the restaurant feels that it is in their best interest to do so.

They Get Law Enforcement Involved

In some cases, the manager may decide to call the police or other law enforcement officials. This is usually only done as a last resort and if the manager feels that you are deliberately trying to defraud the restaurant. If the police are called, they will likely ask you to leave and may issue you a citation or arrest you if they feel that you have committed a crime.

They Track You Down

In some cases, the restaurant may hire a collection agency or private investigator to track you down and collect the money that you owe. This is usually only done in cases of large bills or if the restaurant feels that you have deliberately tried to defraud them.

They Threaten With Chores

The restaurant may threaten to make you do chores if you don’t have the money to pay. This is usually only done as a last resort and if the manager feels that you are deliberately trying to defraud the restaurant.

What happens if you accidentally leave a restaurant without paying?

If you accidentally leave a restaurant without paying, you have to call the restaurant and tell them what happened. The restaurant may ask you to come back and pay. If you don’t call the restaurant and they find out, they may call the police.

Is it a criminal offense to leave a restaurant without paying?

Leaving a restaurant without paying is considered theft and it is a criminal offense. Depending on the value of the bill, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are convicted of a felony, you could face up to 5 years in prison.

Is dine and dash illegal?

Dine and dashing, also known as skipping out on a restaurant bill, is illegal. If you are caught dine and dashing, you could be charged with theft. Depending on the value of the bill, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

Conclusion

If you can’t pay at a restaurant, the manager will likely take one of several actions. They may let you walk away and hope that you come back and pay later, call it an I.O.U., ask for collateral, use their comps, or get law enforcement involved. In some cases, they may also track you down and try to collect the money that you owe.

Reference:

  1. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/iou.asp
Lauren Beck
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