You DO NOT Have To Pay For Walk-Outs

hellnoWhat is it with restaurants thinking that we servers are responsible for covering a check when the customer decides to skip out on the bill? It’s happened to too many of us too many times and it’s not right. A reader sent me the above photo of a new restaurant rule and the memo reeks of unfairness, illegality, bad grammar and misspellings:

Due to an increase of people walking without paying, starting today, 2-9-16 Tuesday wait staff and Bartenders are fully responsible for their checks. That means, you will pay for the full amount of the check and hope that the Customers will came back and pay you. It is your job to keep checking on your costumers by making sure that they are getting the service and attention that they deserved. Thank you.

No, no, no! It is illegal for a restaurant to require a server to pay for a walk out, yet it happens over and over again. Restaurants always seem to think that the only reason a customer is skipping out on the bill is because the server, somehow, wasn’t doing his job. But here’s the thing: if a customer is planning on skipping out on their bill, no amount of “checking up on them” is going to change their mind. That customer is going to sit at the table until the perfect opportunity arises for them to get up without being seen. What are we supposed to do, stay on the floor and keep our eyeballs glued to them at every second? As soon as we do that, we’re gonna hear our manager squawking about how she needs runners in the kitchen and that is just the opportunity Shitty McShitShit at Table 209 is waiting for. As soon as you set foot in the kitchen, they are bolting out of the restaurant quicker than a Quesalupa from Taco Bell makes it through your digestive tract. And when you tell your manager that Table 209 walked, she’ll be all, “Well, I guess you weren’t paying enough attention to them, were you?”

Here is what the Department of Labor has to say about it:

Where deductions for walk-outs, breakage, or cash register shortages reduce the employee’s wages below the minimum wage, such deductions are illegal. Where a tipped employee is paid $2.13 per hour in direct (or cash) wages and the employer claims the maximum tip credit of $5.12 per hour, no such deductions can be made without reducing the employee below the minimum wage (even where the employee receives more than $5.12 per hour in tips).

But there’s a catch. In most places of employment, they have a right to terminate an employee at any time just like employees have a right to leave at any time. So they can still fire you, but they’ll find another reason.

Waiter: Excuse me, Ms. Manager? Table 209 walked out on their check for $45.
Manager: Oh, well, you’ll just have to take that out of your tips tonight. Sucks for you.
Waiter: You can’t do that. According to the Department of Labor, it’s illegal to make me pay.
Manager: Oh, you’re right. Nevermind. By the way, you’re fired.
Waiter: You can’t fire me for not paying for a customer’s walkout, that’s illegal too.
Manager: Oh, you’re right. Ummm…then you’re fired for being late last week and for questioning my authority just now. That’s insubordination and totally grounds for dismissal.

Look, if your restaurant attempts to fire you specifically because you refuse to cover the cost of a walk out, you need to call The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. They have a toll-free line for employees: 1-866-487-9243. Or you can find your local office on this page.

As for the above photo, the restaurant needs to take that down. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen if they are requiring their servers and bartenders to cover walk-outs. It doesn’t matter how much attention they give to the “costumers” and if it’s happening so often, maybe the manager of the restaurant needs to sit at the front fucking door and validate each and every check before she allows people to leave. Whatever she does, she needs to find another solution that isn’t illegal.

47 thoughts on “You DO NOT Have To Pay For Walk-Outs

  1. Sharon

    Does this mean that it will be okay then for servers to get a conceal and carry permit and carry a gun while at work?
    I live in Texas… and I do believe I am the only person in this state that does not have a gun.
    But, if I am going to have to run a collection agency or risk having low life pigs take my hard earned money, I just might start packin’ heat!

    Reply
    1. Brandy tonkin

      I live in ontario Canada. I just had a dine and dash. Owner says I have to pay it. Love your comment!!. I am ticked right off. Seven yrs at this establishment no dnds. Owners a world class prick!!! Guess I should have jumped in front of of their car to stop them. It was it a geo piece of crap.

      Reply
      1. Danika Fleming

        Hey! I’m also from Ontario Canada!! I had 2 walk outs tonight, and my manager refused to void the checks. I refused to pay for the bills. Are the rules the same for Canada as the states?

        Reply
  2. CincyDrunk

    This so much. I work in a nicer Italian place, and while our “special occasion” desserts (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) are only supposed to be our smaller “dolcinos” by corporate, for my previous two years of employment we were always just told to give them whatever the hell they want, we got it.

    Enter GM Fuckface McFucktard, who I didn’t like from the get-go for being a manipulative, I’ll-say-anything-you-want-to-appease-you-to-do-whatever-I-want poop schute. A month or two into his being at my store, I had a four-top rack up a $350 tab. Three bottles of our more-to-most expensive wine, apps, salads and soups, entrees, and finally a dessert, for the birthday girl.

    They wanted our Torta di Ciocolatta (fuck me I’m drunk and probably spelled it wrong) which is our chocolate lava cake ala mode. I split it off per usual, and informed Fuckface McFucktard that I had a birthday dessert on 30 that I needed comped.

    He looked me in my eyes and said:

    “Well, you shouldn’t need me for a special occasion dessert.”

    Me: “Well, they wanted the chocolate cake.”

    FFMcFT: “Did you ASK if they could have it?”

    Me: “No… in two years I’ve always been told to give them whatever they want, regardless of it’s a dolcino or not.”

    FFMcFT: “I guess you’re paying for it then.”

    I almost walked out and quit. I probably could’ve gotten the young team leader to comp it. But I cashed the $7.35 cake out to cash on me, and looked up those same laws that night. I read it as that they can’t charge you for anything resulting in you making less than minimum wage, which 7 fucking dollars won’t do to me. So I left it at that, and despised said Fuckface McFucktard until he left my store nearly three months ago.

    He did buy me a pork chop dinner a couple months later when through the grapevine he learned that was why I disliked him so much. I won’t lie, our pork chops are fucking dank, but I still hated him after that. Good luck Alabama, at least he isn’t here anymore.

    -Drunk Waitress who just wrote a fucking novel. LOVE YOU BITCHY!!!

    Reply
    1. Nick Rospapa

      That sucks. If he had a problem with that policy, he should have confirmed with another, older manager to see and once he/she told him that it was true, he should have comped it and said “I may be changing that soon. Just a heads up.” Glad he isn’t there anymore.

      Reply
    2. Nadia

      Well I work in Japanese Buffet my employer is telling asking starting August if anybody walks out without paying we need to pay. Also who ever brakes wine or beer glasses we need to pay $5 each of them. Whoever wants to run out they will wait the perfect time to escape. It’s really ridiculous. I’m so glad searched for this information. I don’t know if any other restaurants takes 15% off from your tips? Actually it’s 15% from how much sales you did. Which means no matter customer gives you tip or not you have to pay some percentage. I really think this is not right.

      Reply
  3. Joey B

    Working graveyard at Denny’s in Hollywood CA I was a”key person” responsible not only for my tables but for everyone’s checks and payments too .Why ? I didn’t get a dime for it .People were skipping on paying their tabs all the time and I would run like hell after them and grab them by the sleeve and collect .One time I catched this dude by Ralph’s which was good block and a half away as I stood there shaking from running ,adrenaline and anger -I thought to myself : Jo , u can get killed for it …U put yourself in danger so u can get that 13.85 .Ppl are psychos …Why are you running to collect for whom? Next night I decided -it is NOT my job to be a bill collector & I don’t need to compromise my safety .Next thing I was in the office an Mr.Cano – our GM was giving me a shitload of trouble ( and I was semi legal to work in U.S. At the time -so u can feel the pressure ) .He asked about the ppl that walked out and I knew I was to scared to chase them so I said -Well mr. Cano mayby they were too fast …mayby u can buy me a skateboard … And also I kinda don’t wanna get shot by a psycho .He told me to “just watch it ” . All story is true and correct and I have witnesses to it .I sometimes can’t believe I went thru this corporate shit …

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Damn, I’ve had it good, the only time I ever had a walkout (for $300, too… They were crafty, they gave me an empty visa gift card to “pay” with and ran the second I turned around to swipe it), the manager voided it right off and told me there wasn’t anything I could have done.

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      Yeah. They wear a costume that is supposed to be a customer… but all the world’s a stage, so they don’t pay like a customer… they bow and walk off stage like a costumer.

      Reply
  5. Lee Chambers

    I remember being in my 20’s and hanging out with someone who made it a habit of “chewing and screwing” in restaurants. Sometimes it has nothing to do with service. Some people (I’m assuming mostly 20-something year olds who have not yet paid their dues in the work world and seen how awful this behavior is) PLAN to bolt on checks because it’s a kick for them (or whatever). No server should have to make good on a check that’s been left behind, especially in a case like this.

    Reply
    1. Aaron

      I can confirm that one, although according to my sister, she’s seen people of all age groups do it. Most notoriously, a certain church keeps leaving fake dollar bills with scripture on them as payment and tips.

      I’m not entirely sure it has anything to do with “paying your dues”- some people are just cheap bastards.

      Reply
  6. michelle

    Can you make a server pay for their mistakes they rang in wrong? I hear it all the time I’m sorry I rang in a cheeseburger when he wanted a grouper sandwich? Just curious from a Florida employee

    Reply
    1. Debbie Morella

      Michele, it’s my understanding that if you are paid $8.05 (or less with the tip credit) they can’t require you to pay because they’d have to take the money from your wages (hands off your tips) and that would bring you below FL state minimum wage. They also can’t demand or coerce you into paying for it out of your tips. However, *you* can do whatever you want with your tips, so if you make enough in tips (after the tip credit is calculated), you can *voluntarily* agree to pay it—and therein lies the rub. But even that can be a slippery slope because the Feds have their own rules, and they’ve been known not to honor agreements if they get so much as a whiff of coercion. At my first serving job I was told I had to pay for a mistake and I told the owner that was against NY’s laws (my dad told me) and they never bothered me again. I was only 16 and didn’t care if they fired me, but the other girls just kept paying for fear of losing their jobs. That’s a horrible position to be in. 🙁

      Reply
  7. Mike

    Florida has some heinous employment laws, but if they paid with a credit card, federal law applies to the situation.
    Are they intentionally under ringing the items, or are the customers pulling a fast one and sending the cheaper items back?

    Reply
    1. CincyDrunk

      SB, who are you? You have to know me, nobody outside of my Brio store would know that story. (i didn’t shut up about it for months) I texted the only SB I could think of and she says it’s not her. I NEED TO KNOW xD

      Reply
  8. Cindy

    My last job tried this crap. The worst part was they had a paid cashier who sat at the door at all yes and yet we were still told we were responsible for our checks. This place even had a room that was away from the door and was connected to the kitchen so at no time were you ever supposed to set foot on the main floor. Just how we were supposed to follow the table to make sure they paid then was beyond me, yet there were time they would attempt to make us pay. Usually they failed, but at times they would get a server without a clue who would cough up the money. We got punished in other ways afterwards with less tables or crappy sections. So glad to be out of there.

    Reply
  9. Chris Chandler

    I went to a party once at Applebee’s. We filled up the whole bar area and were constantly up and milling around. So it got real easy to confuse bar seat #7 with #3, this table with that one, etc. since people weren’t in the same spot for long. So I ate, and drank about 10 martinis. I paid my bill and was pleased to see it was only $22. As I walked out the door, I heard one bartender ask a waitress who all the martinis belonged to if not the schmuck they were trying to stick them to. I picked my feet up and got the hell out, I sure didn’t feel like paying $60 to drink half a fifth of Beefeaters, they were short with the pours anyhow.

    Reply
    1. Kat

      Wow, you are a really fun piece of garbage. Whenever I bartend for office parties with groups like yours, I take cards to start the tabs. There’s always a reason for you to justify being a dick and fucking someone over, right?

      Reply
    2. Ryan

      Yeah, because you’re a bartender and can eyeball how many exact ounces are in a martini glass right? You probably had to google the standard ounce pour for a martini right now because you’re a chump. Corporate places like Applebee’s are very strict on measuring pours especially with liquor, but I’m sure they were purposely short pouring you though! Otherwise if they were FULL martinis you would’ve payed for them right?! Just another shitbag justifying his shitty moves by complaining about service!

      Reply
  10. Bitchymanager

    I am a manager at a chain restaurant, I used to server for 7 years with the same company, I NEVER had anybody ever walk out…. but then again I may have just been lucky. We never make them cover the tab. We do, however document them for it. 1- because higher ups ask about high $$ comps. 2- servers in the past have said tables have walked out and just pocketed the cash. So paper trail.

    I feel like this is pretty fair. Just my 2 cents. But what do I know….

    Reply
    1. LAURA

      YUP-in my 40 some odd years in this business (and some were quite odd) I have never made a server pay for a walk out. I document-or write up if the server didn’t return to get the check for an inordinate amount of time ( love those cameras). I never had a walk out when serving or bartending although a few people tried. The best one I ever saw was when 2 young girls came in-they ate, ordered desserts, and said they were stepping outside to have a smoke-left their pocketbooks behind on the seats….well they don’t come back and they don’t come back..the damned pocket books were stuffed with newspapers and probably picked up at a thrift shop somewhere…I didn’t even document that one-how the hell could a server catch that?

      Reply
  11. Carey Colomb

    Well that’s all well and good but if you don’t pay Theresa good chance you won’t have a job the next day. We all know it’s illegal they know it’s illegal but it’s been that way as long as I can remember and I don’t see it ending anytime soon. 😩

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Yeah, server jobs aren’t exactly few and far between. I’d rather have to start over at a new restaurant than pay for a walkout.

      Reply
  12. Just A Poor Server

    I am thankful to be working in a restaurant where the managers understand that this type of thing happens and it isn’t our fault all the time. I say all the time because there is probably an instance where a customer walks out for horrible service. Regardless of that though, you are stealing from the restaurant. If the service was bad, don’t tip the server then.

    I will definitely keep this post in mind in case something comes up in the future. Things are good now, but who knows what your DM is going to do considering he has already implemented a few changes that are so stupid already.

    Reply
  13. Kevin Wanless

    I feel terrible. I’ve done this one time when I was a teenager. A friend said he was going to take us out to eat and that he would pay. We get to the restaurant, finish our meals only to find out that he had not nearly enough money. I still feel terrible about it to this day. I just try to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault and that Matt was a douche.

    Reply
  14. Scott

    Dear BW:
    I liked this piece and I like your site; but come ON…Are you really this naive? You really think that a federal agency is going to jump into action to save a bartender or server’s job? Yes, posting such a sign at work or sending out an email stating such a thing MIGHT give you some small legal leg to stand on. In the meantime, you’re still fired.

    Restaurants and bars routinely get away with fucking their staffs in illegal or semi-legal manners. There sadly isn’t that much recourse.

    A few years ago I applied at The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg. I have an excellent employment record. My past few jobs have lasted 17 years at one venue, 6 years at another, 2 and a half years at my current job. My references are excellent. My work ethic is strong. My interview with The Meatball shop was fairly extensive and not of the grab-your-resume-look-it-over-and-we’ll-let-you-know variety. I told the two young ladies who interviewed me that I would be happy to start even one day a week, or as a fill in…I’d dishwash, bus tables…whatever. I was confident that if I got a foot in the door, my work-ethic would shine through and I’d be able to move up.
    I called to follow up on the interview a week later and was told, point blank, and I am quoting directly here “Yeah, we didn’t think you’d be a good fit with our young staff”
    I was fuming. I reached out to various state, local and federal agencies that are supposed to enforce against workplace and hiring discrimination. Every agency I spoke with wasn’t terribly interested in helping me. The best I heard was “Wait 2-4 weeks for this form, fill it out and send it back and we’ll decide if it is worth investigating”
    A friend who is a muckity muck at the ACLU spelled it out for me. “These agencies aren’t going to be much help to you. You might be better off if it was because of race, religion or sexual preference, as there are separate entities that help in those areas…Age discrimination is simply very tough to prove”

    My point is that as a veteran of this industry you should be well versed in the various shenanigans that bars and restaurants pull on their employees, and that a phone call to the Dept of Labor is probably going to result in zilch.

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      I don’t know who wrote this poem, but, Henry Gibson made it famous…

      KEEP A-GOIN’

      Ef you strike a thorn or rose,
      Keep a-goin’!
      Ef it hails, or ef it snows,
      Keep a-goin!
      ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine,
      When the fish ain’t on yer line;
      Bait yer hook an’ keep a-tryin’—
      Keep a-goin’!

      When the weather kills yer crop,
      Keep a-goin’!
      When you tumble from the top,
      Keep a-goin’!
      S’pose you’re out of every dime,
      Bein’ so ain’t any crime;
      Tell the world you’re feelin’ prime—
      Keep a-goin’!

      When it looks like all is up,
      Keep a-goin’!
      Drain the sweetness from the cup,
      Keep a-goin’!
      See the wild birds on the wing,
      Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
      When you feel like sighin’ sing—
      Keep a-goin’!

      Reply
  15. Mari Jayne

    Thank you so much for this article! Ironically I had a walkout last night. I work in a hotel restaurant and when you print out a check it looks like a credit card slip so guests can charge it to their room. It confuses the hell out of guests and at least once a night I have to chase someone down to get an actual credit card. We are supposed to have a cashier but last night one of the managers was running the register (meaning me and the other servers did it) and of course he was nowhere to be found. It took me a minute to realize that I had never ran their card and that that they hadn’t put a room number so weren’t guests in the hotel. I don’t know if it was on purpose or just an honest mistake; as I said it happens all the time but usually the cashier or server will catch it before they leave. That’s actually why we have a cashier instead of servers carrying their own bank to catch mistakes like this and stop people trying to charge shit to other people’s rooms. Once I noticed the error I immediately called the Front Desk to see if they were in the lobby and went downstairs to try and find them in the parking lot. At this point they were gone and we couldn’t find them in the hotel guest registry. So as I was getting ready to cash out, the manager said I’d have to cover their check which was like $60. It was slow so I pointed out that I hadn’t even made but $50 and wasn’t paying the check. Then he offered to put a 50% discount on it. So I pulled up your fabulous blog post with the link to the Department of Labor to show him that it was illegal to hold me responsible and I was not paying for someone else’s bill. He ended up comping the check but told me I would have to talk to the F&B director and General Manager before I could work again. I may lose my job over it; but as you pointed out they’ll probably use another reason to fire me so I can’t get unemployment or pursue legal action. Luckily I live in Charleston, SC and there are hundreds of restaurants so it should be no problem finding another serving or bartending position.
    I just wanted to thank you! Not only is your blog absolutely hilarious and totally relatable but has useful and relevant information about the Food and Beverage industry. On a personal note it’s also made me feel better about my choice in careers. I’ve been working in restaurant’s and bar’s since I was 16. I used to feel almost ashamed that I didn’t have a “real job” and was still just a waitress at 35. Now I’ve accepted that I do have a real job; a job that I’m damn good at and make (usually) really good money. Plus despite my bitching I actually enjoy my job! So keep up the good work my fellow bitchy server/bartender! Thank you for giving me the info to tell my boss off and stand up for myself! 💋

    Reply
    1. lallaw

      Because it’s the cost of doing business, moron. The server would not have the right to file charges against a walkout culprit, but you, on behalf of the business, would. Why? Because the law attributes the loss to the business, NOT the server. You, sir, may have been a shitty server who couldn’t keep up with his tables thus incurring a walk-out (which is also BS because all a table has to do is ask for a manager if they need their bill or need to pay and feel they’ve waited long enough for the server to handle it), but that doesn’t mean that is the main reason people walk out.

      People walk out, 99% of the time, because either they don’t have the money to pay, or they intended to dine and dash before they even walked in the door. That’s it. And that’s the reason the business bears the burden of the loss. They stole from the business, not the server.

      Also, since you seem to need a remedial education about the status of labor law, even if an employee is in an at-will State, his or her termination cannot be in violation of the law. If they have a walk-out, you demand payment in violation of the law, you fire them and give no reason or any reason, THEY CAN STILL FILE A WAGE CLAIM WITH THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR OR A DISCRIMINATION CLAIM WITH THE EEOC. It’s is considered prima facie evidence that their termination occurred as a result of his or her asserting a legally protected right. YOU have the burden of proof otherwise. So if the employee files a complaint with the supervising agency (don’t just call and be a lazy ass expecting the civil service worker to fill out the forms for you), your business WILL be fined. And it will be a lot more than the cost of the walk-out (which is tax deductible, btw). Further, in addition to the fine, the employee will be entitled to damages and have the option of getting back his or her crappy job with you.

      So you were apparently a shitty server, are now a crappy manager, and have always been a dolt. But for now, at least you are enlightened.

      Reply
  16. steve gaudreau

    It is illegal to force an employee to pay for a walkout. The catch is, if you work in a fire at will state, you can be fired and given no reason.
    As an owner, here are the issues we deal with:
    Managers get bonuses on cost of goods sold and gross sales, when people steal, those bonuses are lower or in jeopardy.
    Employees are now given more opportunity to steal. Employees can invite friends to come in, eat and leave without paying and the server says “I had a table walk out!”
    Another opportunity for employees to steal is pocketing the cash payment and then claim the table walked out.
    We now live in a time of No Personal Responsibility. I have been in the weeds and have had a table walkout before I said thank you and please come back but when I served, my job was to do just that and have the check and payment in my hand before the customer left the building.
    There are criminals who enter the business with the intent of defrauding the business but bad service is usually the culprit.
    Why is the owner is responsible for walk outs?

    Reply
    1. lallaw

      steve gaudreau: see my reply to your stupid post above. I hit the wrong reply button, my apologies Mari Jayne. But at least it gives me the chance to call “steve gaudreau” a moron again. Moron.

      Reply
  17. Dante

    lallaw has the most knowledge exhibited here yet. The only missing piece is the lack of justice that exists. Laws are made to protect and “guide” us but we are all still subject to complete failure of the judicial system. Poke and prod till you die, sometimes you win and others, you’ll never get what’s owed to you. I completely disavow mankind’s ability to create fairness, it just isn’t in our DNA. Pick your battles. I, for one, think that the battle is worth the effort. It should be the company that takes the hit on the loss, like every other retail industry. Why is food service different? You still deliver a product, you didn’t make it (as a server). Just like “so and so” clothing store didn’t make the clothes, you simply sold it. Why would a restaurant or any other food seller get to charge an employee for theft committed by a customer or patron when every other retailer doesn’t. When does the collection attempt need to end before law enforcement is involved? Is this clear cut and explained in the contract? Regardless of the existing laws, it feels downright wrong.

    Reply
  18. Pissybitch

    Just had this happen to me where I was told I had to pay for their meal when they walked out. I was furious. It should not be our job to babysit these guests also to chase them down and put ourselves in danger..If I worked in retail and a teenager shoplifter do they expect us to rembearse that item ??? Never. If I signed a piece of paper that said ill do it….well fuck it fine. But I didn’t and its not in the goddamn handbook. So I was warned that next time it better not happen. Sick of places non stop fucking us. I have been waitressing 10 plus years and there is a point that I will stand up for right or wrong. Right now I have a lawsuit on being terminated for a pregnancy. There wasn’t much proof but word of mouth but so far things look good my way. Sometimes the justice system doesn’t do justice but you can’t give up. Whether it’s a resteraunt, office or any job. If you work hard and are on time…damnit you should be treated right.

    Reply
  19. Robin

    One night, on my day off, a guy came in, said he was my cousin, then skipped out on a $100 check. The manager called me at home and told me I had to pay it or the other server would have to pay. I told the manager that my only cousin lived 300 miles away and even if it was him, I wasn’t paying the check. I later became the Head Waitress and ended up working there for 10 years.

    Reply
  20. Angie g

    Are there laws about wether or not they can write you up for having a walk out? If we get 3 write up for a walk out we get terminated, but I feel as if they use that threat to scare us in to just covering the bill. Is this legal?

    Reply
  21. Catherine

    When I was 17 I worked the overnight shift in a local diner. This place was the absolutely, worst place you could ever possibly work at. But, I had no experience and it was my first job.

    So one night the chandelier in the dining room fell down, crashing onto the floor. So Camille, the owners evil wife, decides that she’s going to deduct $5 from every employees weekly pay to pay for this. The whole staff walked out. Everyone, every shift. It was awesome. She had to give everyone their money back. They went out of business not long afterwards too.

    Reply

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