Restaurant Law Blog

Monday, August 24, 2015

Restaurant Owners' Options When Diners are Unable to Pay

Is it true that a restaurant owner can make diners pay off their tab by washing dishes?

Unlike many other industries, payment for food service generally works on the “honor system,” meaning patrons are generally not expected to pay until the end of the meal. While this arrangement works the vast majority of the time, there have been incidents in nearly every New York restaurant where a diner has faced the embarrassing situation of being unable to foot the bill. In this scenario, what are a restaurant owner’s legal options to ensure repayment?

Forcing diners to wash dishes in exchange for their meal, though a prevalent old wives’ tale, is likely a labor violation and should be avoided as a settlement tactic. First of all, washing dishes can be a dangerous job, and a restaurant owner could be liable in the event a diner is injured while performing the task. Secondly, there are more civil ways to handle the situation that work to avoid added embarrassment and humiliation for the patron.

If the patron is a regular guest, chances are he or she will be able to come back later to settle the bill. Nonetheless, the restauranteur should ask for identification, such as a drivers’ license in order to record the patron’s name and address. Private business owners are well within their rights to refuse service to a patron who owes money to the house. For this reason, front staff should always be informed of any remaining unpaid bills.

Another way of dealing with this situation is to send an invoice to the individual for the unpaid bill, leaving an option for the diner to include a tip for the server that particular evening. According to several New York City restaurant owners, this option works most of the time and is likely the best possible solution to an uncomfortable, but not uncommon, problem.

If you have any questions about legal compliance for your New York City restaurant establishment, whether about customer relations or other relevant matters, please do not hesitate to contact the DiPasquale Law Group, where you will receive our attention and knowledgeable advice. We can be reached at 646.383.4607.

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