Paying the Unpaid Tab

An unfortunate thing occurred this weekend at one of the birthday parties I attended: After everyone had finished having a good time and drifted off home, or to another spot in the city, our waitress approached me and my birthday pal just as we were heading out the door.

“I’m sorry to have to do this, but there are still a few drinks that haven’t been paid for,” she said. She paused, waiting for our reaction, which was resigned.

“How many drinks?” we asked.

“Just two,” she said. “I’m sorry, he was paying in cash, and he left before I could give him his check.”

If we wished, we could have argued that it was the waitress’s responsibility to get a customer who doesn’t have a tab open under a credit card to give her cash when he’s handed his drink, because it becomes more likely that a customer will forget to pay his bill as he consumes more alcohol. But we’re not jerks, so we paid the tab. At least, I tried to pay the tab, but my birthday friend refused to let me: “Please, don’t. It’s my party.”

On my way home, I thought about what might have occurred if the waitress had discovered that there was an unpaid bill after we had already left the bar. Basically, what do businesses do when people “dine and dash?”

Apparently, some waiters and waitresses are asked to pay the tabs themselves. According to a Cleveland news agency, it’s actually illegal to require the waitstaff to pay bills that customers walk out on, but as with a lot of illegal things, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anyway. And it’s better to let customers run off, than chase after them:

Last year, a waitress in Columbus was paralyzed when she chased an escaping customer and he struck her with his car. In 2003, a waitress in Irving, Texas, ran out to get the license plate of a group leaving without paying a $100 tab. She died after their car hit her. The driver was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Yikes. Anyway, if you are going to a party, do your friends a favor and make sure you bills are squared away before you take off.


Photo: Shutterstock/Jim Barber



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