Is it acceptable to ask a waiter to pay if a customer leaves without paying?

Jaboyc 08/13/2017. 10 answers, 47.002 views
united-states company-policy

I’ve recently started working for a restaurant (which will be anonymous for now) in Virginia (U.S.A.) as a waiter. I’ve learned to enjoy it, but recently a customer left without paying. I looked around everywhere to see if I misplaced the tab somewhere, but couldn’t find anything. I asked my boss to see if she received their payment, but she didn’t. We both looked at all the receipts for that day, and couldn't find theirs. My boss then said if they didn't call in and pay within a week, I would be responsible to pay for their check.

Is this fair? It wasn’t my fault they left without paying, but my boss said it wasn’t her fault either. Is this policy different among restaurants? Is this even allowed? I’m assuming it isn’t allowed, as I don’t think it’s fair that the waiter should pay, so should I tell my boss anything?

UPDATEThank you guys so much for all your responses. My conclusion is it is obviously not legal to make a waiter pay for a dine-and-dasher. Thankfully, the people held in question actually did pay, we just completely missed their payment in the receipts (they did not tip me though >:-( ). When I told my boss I did the research and she wasn't allowed to force me to pay, she told me she did not know that, and wouldn't do that again. Seems like we were able to resolve the problem briskly.

5 Comments
64 Strawberry 07/31/2017
Is it possible that the boss was joking?
6 jkf 08/02/2017
If anyone lands on this page looking for a real-world based answer to the question, rather than a load of fuzzy groupthink, they would do well to check out the answer from @KateGregory (far) below all the highly upvoted ones... workplace.stackexchange.com/a/96213/56399
8 user2896564 08/03/2017
JFK: Why do you think this is "fuzzy groupthink"? OP has an opportunity for legal recourse. OP lives in the US, not the UK in which you seem to live. Please elaborate.
6 jkf 08/03/2017
@user2896564 If the OP threatens the restaurant with legal complaints, they will probably not dock her pay, but they will most likely find a way to fire her. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on details that we do not have, but the fact that this policy is not fair (or even sensible) does not mean that it is not super-common in the North American restaurant industry. If OP wants to keep her job (she may not) the top voted answers are not good. (IRL)
3 Jaboyc 08/04/2017
@jkf The OP is a guy though.

10 Answers


user2896564 07/30/2017.

Here is Virginia law:http://www.doli.virginia.gov/laborlaw/laborlaw.html

Legally, you can never be paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. If you work for an hour, you must make at least $7.25 (tips can count toward this). Your employer can't dock your pay below minimum wage--depending on the amount of the tab, and how much you make, making you pay the tab could easily take you below minimum wage.

That's beside the point.

From Virginia's Department of Labor:

The law prohibits employers from making deductions, other than for taxes or other items required by law such as garnishments, without first securing the employee's written authorization to do so. Even with written permission, employees cannot be required to forfeit their wages for shortages, errors, damages, etc. Employers can be assessed a $1,000 penalty per violation or face criminal charges for intentionally and willfully violating this law.

IANAL, but that seems pretty clear. Point this out to your manager. Unfortunately, the service industry in general is somewhat notorious for violating employment laws, so you may have to be prepared to go to the department of labor with this. They may also be able to fire you (they're not allowed to retaliate for you making a complaint, but in practice they might try or come up with an excuse).

The best course of action, IMO, is to show the law to your manager. If that doesn't work, start looking for another job (Even if they don't retaliate, you shouldn't have to put up with this garbage), and show no mercy filing complaints with the DOL.

2 comments
Jane S♦ 08/04/2017
Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
doppelgreener 08/07/2017
@sondra.kinsey The second half of the answer covers deducting their pay for unpaid customer fees: can't deduct without permission, and can't deduct even with permission for a category this would seem to belong to.

gnasher729 08/05/2017.

It's the company's money, not yours. Some "customer" stole from the company, not from you. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why you should pay for the company when someone stole from them.

You say it's not your fault, your boss says it's not her fault either. Nice argument, but it's wrong. It's her business. Everything that occurs in that business is her responsibility. She doesn't give you a share of the profits, then why should you share the losses?

PS. The boss apparently wants you to pay for the difference between "customer pays" and "customer runs away without paying". The highest reasonable amount the boss could ask for is the difference between "person never orders anything" and "customer orders, eats, and doesn't pay". If the price of the meal is $30 but the actual cost of providing it is only $10, then asking for more than $10 is unreasonable, because that's the actual cost of the thief turning up at the restaurant.

5 comments
15 Džuris 07/30/2017
All good but don't put the blame on boss. The bad guy is the one stealing.
232 gnasher729 07/30/2017
The bad guy is the one who tries to rob her employees.
75 David Schwartz 07/30/2017
If you want to argue fairness which your boss, point out that if you're responsible for customers who don't pay their checks, it's only fair that you get to reasonably manage that risk by choosing which customers you are willing to serve (based on your assessment of that risk) and cutting off customers if they order so much food that the risk becomes greater than you are willing to take. Perhaps you'd like to make some customers pre-pay if you assess the risk to be too high. If you're taking the risk, you should be deciding/managing it. That's only fair.
20 immibis 07/31/2017
Or she should get all the money from customers who do pay their checks. That would also be fair.
33 David Richerby 07/31/2017
@gnasher729 There are two bad guys: the customer who robbed the restaurant and the boss who's trying to rob the employee.

Paparazzi 07/30/2017.

IANAL but this is not fair. That is a company loss. Take it up with your local labor commission.

They can no more make you pay for skip than they can make a dishwasher pay for a broken plate.

I was doing contract work and the customer we were working for did not pay so the contract agency tried to not pay us. Someone called the state labor commission and we got paid immediately. The risk is on the business owner not the employee. If they want to fire you for not doing your job then they have a case but they cannot charge you for the ticket.


Kate Gregory 07/31/2017.

It's a pretty common policy, even in jurisdictions that explicitly forbid it. (Some employers, like some landlords, break the rules with a fair amount of confidence that they won't be taken to whatever board enforces them, or at least not often.) While I don't own a restaurant, I have a number of family members who have worked both front and back of house and say this is the policy where they work. (I have also seen retail cashiers held responsible for shortages in their tills even if the shortage was caused by a quick-change artist or a counterfeit bill. Again this may not be legal but it is nonetheless common.)

There are two reasons for it. One is that it motivates the waiters, who are really the only ones who know the state of each table, to get payment from customers quickly and accurately. The second is that if a restaurant covered "skips", a waiter could encourage friends to skip or even accept a generous tip to "look the other way" while strangers skipped. Heck, they could even put an entire cash payment into their pocket and just say the people skipped.

Are any of these likely to happen? Shouldn't a good manager be able to spot that sort of thing and fire the bad apples instead of forcing good people to pay for thieves? Sure, but many restaurants aren't managed well. You can even argue that knowing dine-and-dash comes out of the waiter's pocket, not the rich restaurant (ha!) will reduce the number of people who do it.

As for whether it's acceptable, that is up to you. You can choose not to accept it by taking your employer to the labour board if it's forbidden where you live, which may work, but is likely to affect your relationship with your employer, or getting a job somewhere else. I doubt you can get your manager to change the policy based on you not liking it: it's not as though all the other waiters love this policy or the manager thinks it's what waitstaff want.

5 comments
3 Lilienthal♦ 07/31/2017
The advice given in this answer appears to be contested but the comments on it were turning into a discussion and have been moved to chat.
14 Peter 07/31/2017
The practice is illegal in many places (usually covered by a broad protection against docking pay without consent) so the answer would be far more credible if it offered some sources for "It's a pretty common policy.".
6 fredsbend 07/31/2017
@Peter It's the only policy I've ever heard ...
5 Bill K 08/03/2017
I too thought this was always the policy but not being in the restaurant industry my experience is 50 years of hearsay.
5 teego1967 08/05/2017
@Peter, anyone who has worked in the restaurant business knows that these workplaces often have petty tyrant managers who break all kinds of rules whenever they can get away with it. I haven't personally seen waiters required to pay for "dine-and-dash" but I have seen a waiter fired for one "dine-and-dash" incident. For this question anecdotal sources is the best you can hope for. Kate's is the best answer.

Joe Strazzere 07/30/2017.

Is it acceptable to ask a waiter to pay if a customer leaves without paying?

If I owned the restaurant in question, that's not something I'd ever do.

To me, employees are valuable. Unless I thought the waiter was stealing from me (which is a completely different problem), I'd just chalk it up to "the cost of doing business".

I know that word of this sort of poor treatment gets around quickly, and the owner is going to be making it harder to hire new waitstaff. The job is difficult enough, without worrying that your pay is going to be docked due to an idiot customer.

And as a customer, I avoid restaurants when I know they are jerks to their workers.

5 comments
33 David Schwartz 07/30/2017
And if you did think an employee was stealing from you, you would fire them, paying them all the wages they were owed. Then, if you felt you had sufficient evidence, you could report them to the police and/or sue them. But withholding or docking wages is outrageous.
8 schizoid04 07/31/2017
To the note that work of this kind of treatment gets around quickly - If it happened to me, I'd very quickly write up a description of this type of treatment on a site like GlassDoor, to warn other potential wait-staff.
5 Rui F Ribeiro 07/31/2017
You might as well write in tripadvisor...
Möoz 08/03/2017
I don't know man, I just... The more I read your posts, the more I want to work for you! got any openings? :p
emory 08/04/2017
I heavily agree. Just as importantly, wait staff may figure a way to reimburse themselves. Stuff can go missing.

Džuris 07/30/2017.

Do cashiers in the bank have to pay it back if they get robbed? In normal countries the state (police, courts) has the monopoly to say "you did wrong and have to cover the incurred losses". Nobody else may fine you as a person.

Normally if someone thinks you caused them losses, the person has to involve law enforcement which decides if your actions really caused this etc. In this case the fault would clearly be on the malicious person who walked away and you would never have to cover this.

Sometimes there is a clause in contract that says that you have to pay fines or cover losses in some cases. Usually it goes like "either you pay or the contract ends" or just "you have to pay all loses that are caused by your actions". In most places (including Virginia as explained by user2896564) the labor law prohibits that. The logic is that if you make losses maliciously, it has to decided by law enforcement not employer. If, on the other hand, you make losses by error, it's the employers fault for you being in the position while not skilled/rested/trained enough not to make the mistake. And he may not decide to punish you for that.

But remember the last sentence. If the employer expects you to make sure clients pay and can't simply walk out without you calling them back and involving security/police, then this might all be your fault. While you may not be fined monetary, the employer can lay you off because you turned out to be unfit for the role. This is the reason why very often employees give in and cover the losses, sometimes even willingly - "sorry boss, I messed up, I will cover the losses". Not because they have to legally, but because they know they made an error and don't want to be detrimental employee.

By the way, these "you will be fined for this and that" while being forbidden in the employment contracts, is common for memberships. It's totally fine to kick a person from a fellowship or kick a sports club from a league if they break the rules and refuse to pay the assigned penalty.

5 comments
17 gnasher729 07/30/2017
"Do cashiers in the bank have to pay it back if they get robbed?" A few years ago when computers were a lot more expensive, there was the real risk that the workplace of a software developer was robbed. The company where I worked had the official rule "any robbers, you do whatever you can to keep yourself safe and not the company property. Replacing you is more expensive than replacing a few computers".
14 gerrit 07/30/2017
@gnasher729 Cynically speaking, waiting staff is less expensive and more replacable than software developers.
1 fredsbend 08/01/2017
@DavidSchwartz I've known several bankers who've worked at several banks. The "legalities" are circumvented by a simple conversation between manager and teller: "If you want to keep your job the money comes out of your check." Then the teller usually agrees to it, because it's usually not a crazy high amount. If it's a big enough amount, they just fire you on the spot and possibly report it as theft. If it happens more than two or three times in a period, they fire you. I don't know why I have to continuously remind users on this site that law and practice frequently don't coincide.
1 fredsbend 08/02/2017
@David You're point is not as profound as you think it is. Fired or quit, it's just semantics to an employer. But you can bet you've lost them as a reference if it comes to that for this hypothetical teller.
2 Typhon 08/02/2017
@DavidSchwartz they dont need a reference to hire a teller.

Brian Deragon 07/31/2017.

It's totally illegal, and poor management practice. I instead would offer as a manager to provide incentive to those who prevent skips if it was a legitimate problem. For instance, everyone who has no skips gets a 5$ bonus at the end of the week. This way they're still mitigating some of the direct risk and providing an incentive for you to check up on the customers. They could even do things like having a team outing if the entire team has no skips for x number of days/weeks.


Neolisk 08/01/2017.

Do you normally get a cut when client pays? No - then it's not your problem. I think it's reasonable and makes sense. They should have got security cameras installed and working. There are other services to track down people, not part of waiter's job.


Count Iblis 07/31/2017.

Even if we ignore what the law says here as pointed out in detail in the other answers, then the point of view of the boss still doesn't make sense. The incurred costs for not paying the bill will typically be far less than the bill. The cost of the food is typically of the order of a few dollars, the time the cook spent preparing the food would typically be just a few minutes. The bill is an order of magnitude more than the total costs, because of fixed costs like the wages of the personnel etc.

When I eat in restaurants, I personally experience this first hand as I need to eat far more than most people. I will order food that's specially prepared, the quantities are more than double of that would be in a normal menu, and yet I'm paying the same as for a normal menu. And that's possible because the food itself costs almost nothing and it's not more work for the cook to prepare my meal than it is to prepare a normal menu.

5 comments
8 gnat 07/31/2017
how does this address the question asked? See How to Answer
2 gnat 07/31/2017
I re-read this post several times and still can't see how it answers to the question you mentioned, "Is this fair?"
3 Aaron 07/31/2017
This answer does indeed appear to answer the question. "Is it fair?" Is what fair? The context of the question is "Is it fair that I should pay my employer $100 when the customer leaves without paying?" (100 chosen arbitrarily). This answer is "Even if you were to pay the employer, no, it is not fair to pay $100 since the employer only lost $10. Paying employer $10 for this situation might be fair." That is fairly clearly an answer to the question "Is this fair?" @gnat
2 Aaron 07/31/2017
@CountIblis I would say that your post does answer the question, but it appears that it is not clear-cut enough for some people. You might want to edit your answer to remove any confusion. One recommendation is to try and make it apparent that the second paragraph is not your main point, and make your primary point itself stand out more.
5 Michael Burr 08/01/2017
I want to know how you get twice the food at no extra cost.

Sue Swi 07/30/2017.

I worked as a waitron for many years in a major well-respected restaurant chain in Virginia. There were skip-outs on rare occasions, customers who sat there crying that they couldn't pay their tab, etc. Management did not offer money to pay -- it was the waitron's responsibility -- but they were sympathetic and tried to investigate and recover the money, which worked a few times. I see both sides. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for management to police and cover these losses. Waitrons would continually claim "skip-out" and pocket the money. It's completely untenable to have management pay. Anyone that says, "I wouldn't patronize a business like that." I say -- wake up. You already have and do so every time you go out.

5 comments
27 Martin Smith 07/30/2017
You claim it would be IMPOSSIBLE. No it wouldn't. Any reasonably competent shift manager would spot this especially with basic security measures such as CCTV.
8 Nij 07/30/2017
It's not impossible, it's their job as the management to ensure adequate staff are available, and is not a significant issue for the majority of restaurants. Management don't pay, either. The restaurant does. That's how businesses work - they cover the business cost.
18 A Concerned Programmer 07/31/2017
` it was the waitron's responsibility ` no ma'am. Attending to the customer and serving their food is their responsibility. Identifying these customers that skip out, understanding why this happens and finding solutions that DOESN'T antagonize personnel is the management's responsibility.
13 martin 07/31/2017
If that's actually how things work in Virgina, you guys need to get a union or something together to fight against those policies.
3 Andrew Lazarus 08/03/2017
The Labor Board of California, like that of Virginia cited above, does not "see both sides". It absolutely prohibits this sort of conduct by employers.

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