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What actually happens when you can't pay the bill?

This is a big fear of mine -- I'm dining out, hand the server my credit card (I only carry a Visa debit card), and find out that it's been declined. I have no other forms of payment on me, and neither does my companion. (Or, say, I'm alone -- which I often am when I travel on business.)

What acutally happens in this situation? I'm assuming that having to wash dishes is a myth. Am I arrested? Can I promise to send money once I have it?

(It was a good-faith attempt, I swear!)

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  1. I posted this yesterday.

    I just told the server that I'd return the next day to pay. They said Ok and I went back in the morning and paid my bill.

    I was having trouble with my debit card and they just took a check in the morning. I didn't have a check with me on the day I couldn't pay.

    1. Oops, I sorry I missed that post.

      Was the server/management friendly about it?

      1 Reply
      1. re: mudster

        They were cool.

        It felt like this: Just because my debit card didn't work, didn't make me dishonest. I told them the truth, I'd been having trouble with it. I told them I'd return in the morning with a check. They believed me.

        I really don't think they thought twice about it, they were completely cool ... like it was one of those things that could happen to anyone.

        They didn't even ask me for my phone number, they just believed me.

      2. In some businesses which don't take credit cards, they'll often point you to an ATM machine. If you don't have an ATM card, I don't know what they do.

        1. It's definitely uncomfortable... they'll point you to an ATM. They may not take a cheque (given that your credit card was not working), but if worse comes down to worst there'll be a small scene and they'll either write it off (in which case you'll probably not be seated next time) or they'll send you a bill which you can pay after your credit card issues are resolved.

          Much, much more common is the "my credit card machine is broken" problem -- if they post a sign in the door saying "no credit cards, machine broken, cash only" then at least I'm warned, but at least a few times I've eaten the whole meal only to be told at presenting my card that the machine is down.

          I get angry at that one... did you want to tell me that before I spent $50 or $200 on food? I don't carry large whacks of cash with me, I charge larger expenses on my card and write one cheque a month (well, pay online once a month)!

          1. Many years ago when I was in college I had a "no money" issue. I was leaving campus to go home for the weekend, when I pulled up to a fast food drive-thru and placed my order. When I got to the window to pay I fould that my wallet had been emptied of all my cash and my credit card was gone. I was so embarrassed and angry. I told the girl at the window to cancel my order and why. She spoke to the manager and then handed me my food. She told me just to take it and come back later to pay, which I did. I was so thankful for that simple act of kindness when it was so obvious that I was very upset.

            I did find out later that one of the girls in the dorm had taken up the habit of lightening everyones purse load. She was kicked out of school. I wonder if she would even qualify to work in a fast food drive-thru.