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Jun 13, 2007 02:34 PM

What really happens at a restaurant when the customer can't pay?

I've always heard the make you wash the dishes, but I doubt this is true. The customer would probably just be in everyone's way unless he happen to have kitchen experience. What do they really do? Anyone who has worked in a restaurant who can share stories?

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  1. I imagine the restaurant has the customer arrested.

    6 Replies
    1. re: aelph

      Not if they want the customer to come back! The other customers don't need to see the police come in -- also not good for business. And, why waste everyone's time and resources, including the cops, to arrest a guy for something that is probably less than $100.

      1. re: Bite Me

        It depends.

        If someone goes up to the cashier and realizes that they don't have the money to pay, usually, the person will leave a credit card or their name and phone number. In that case, the restaurant owner will generally ask them to come back and pay for the meal later. The would have that happen about one a week, especially among elderly and younger customer. And they would generally come back (and be embarrassed.

        On the other hand, if the customer runs out without paying, most restaurant owners WILL call the local police. Most police departments (outside of the large cities) will get involved and take the report and generally will talk with the people.

        And then there was my favorite story. I was working as a carhop 20+ years ago at a family restaurant. Someone had a carryout order. As soon as I handed the guy the food, he peeled out and spead out of the parking lot without paying ... and ran right into the local police department cruiser. Guy was charged with reckless driving, resisting arrest, and petty theft. What an expensive dinner!

        1. re: Bite Me

          Once, when my currency was back in my room, I left my watch, until I could return. Luckily, it was returned to me, as soon as I had paid. Maybe a good reason to have a Breitling, and not a diamond and gold Rolex?


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Mr. Hunt,
            If you have an stories of hostess's that "shook you" I would be much more appreciative than your last story.
            Thank you in advance,


            1. re: jrvedivici

              None. The host took my watch, and then returned it, when I arrived back at the restaurant, with my cash.


      2. i can't speak from a restaurant owner/worker's perspective, but have been on the other end -- as a customer -- twice. the first time was about 15 or so years ago, it was a ridiculously snowy night and the restaurant was in the far far west village in manhattan -- and they accepted cash only, which i didn't realize. they simply took my phone number and information and accepted my promise that i would return with cash -- which i did, the next day.

        about a year ago, i had a similar experience -- but forgot my wallet altogether. the manager of the place (a different place, obviously) took my cell phone number and trusted me to return, which, again, i did the next day.

        not the most scintillating tales, i realize, but it seems like a lot of places are reasonably trusting....

        1. Can't pay or won't pay??

          Can't pay is most likely "I forgot my wallet." So you take down a drivers license and have them return the next day with appropirate payment.

          Won't pay. Cops.


          4 Replies
          1. re: Davwud

            How do you take a license # if they forgot their wallet?

            1. re: Grubbjunkie

              That is one hell of a good question!!!


              1. re: Grubbjunkie

                I certainly know mine by heart, I've had it since 1970.

                1. re: Grubbjunkie

                  Their license plate number and or registration would also suffice.

              2. I sat at the table feeling foolish, while my boyfriend went to a nearby ATM. It was a cash only place, too.

                12 Replies
                1. re: Glencora

                  Same story for me. I sat and waited while hubby ran to the ATM machine. I don't rely on him anymore-I make sure I have my wallet with me.

                  1. re: Velma

                    I think most of us have had that happen.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      When I was six years old, my mother took me to lunch at a local restaurant. After eating she discovered that her wallet was not in the pocketbook she grabbed when leaving the house. The proprietor had mom leave me at the restaurant while she drove home for her wallet. (Never would happen today).

                      Since that experience, I am always checking my wallet to make sure I have money before entering a restaurant. More than 50 years and the trauma remains.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        Hahahaha........reminds me of a quick story. My father having been in the restaurant business in NJ would routinely take trips into the Bowery Section of NY for restaurant supplies. This being in the late 70's early 80's I was about 10 years old. The Bowery was what would be considered a rather "seedy" part of the City during these years. My father took me on a trip one time, in my mothers new Cadillac, and as he went in the restaurant supply store he told me to stay in the car. So in the car I sat, at one point a bum actually urinated right outside my window.

                        Later that night we are with my mother and she asks what my father and I did for the day.......he responded he went into the Bowery to get some equipment he needed. My Mother in utter disbelief said something to the extent; "Why in the world would you take him into the Bowery with you" to which my father responded "I was worried about your car so I had him sit in it so nobody would take it".

                        Thanks Dad! lol

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          I grew up in those times too, and believe it made us stronger grown ups after the fact. I could never imagine being so protected as kids now are, poor things. But of course I lived to tell about it!

                          One of my first dates, a guy took me into Times Square to check out the peep shows, and it didn't phase me one bit. But I digress!

                          1. re: coll

                            I was born in 1970, and while it was still somewhat of a no-no it wasn't nearly as taboo as it is today. My favorite maternity photo of my mom, while pregnant with me, is the one of her posing with a cigarette in one hand, and a glass of scotch in the other.

                            I still tease her to this day that she stunted my growth. Although I'm just shy of 6'4", I'm telling you I should have been 6'6" dammit!!

                            1. re: jrvedivici

                              We could do anything we wanted, as long as we came home when the street lights came on!

                              My Mom too smoked while pregnant with me, and knowing her, probably had her share of drinks too; I like to think I came out OK!

                              1. re: jrvedivici

                                Hell in the 50s my mom's OB put her on diet pills so she didn't gain weight when pregnent with me. She was not heavy.

                                Makes me a crack baby

                          2. re: bagelman01

                            Hey, that sounds like better collateral, than my watch!


                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Same thing, pre-ATM. My wife and mother were held 'hostage' until l could drive the 90 minute roundtrip home. The restaurant that l had been going to for decades had stopped using VISA that day. Never returned.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                They held you hostage for a meal? eek.

                          3. I was surprised by the ammount of people who do not check to see if a restaurant is cash only, or accepts a certain type of credit card before dining. If I am going to a new restaurant, and I am in doubt I either call first and ask the credit cards they accept, look for the sitckers on the door, or ask the waiter before ordering. I do this because not everyone accepts Amex, and I would be pretty embarassed to go to a cash only place without any on me.

                            With the above said I figure a restaurant if they can see the diner without funds is sincere, and has either forgotten a wallet, or has the wrong payment method, they will work with you and get some personal info from you to insure you return to pay the check.

                            43 Replies
                            1. re: swsidejim

                              The key thing there is "in doubt." If its a less expensive restaurant serving burgers, pizza, tacos, curries etc, then I always check. But there are times when I've been totally caught off guard by places that have a wine list and where the meals easily run to $60 or $70 for two people and are cash only. For such a place, even though I've run into them, it never occurs to me to check about whether they accept cash only. I keep an extra check in the car so that I can at least offer that.

                              1. re: swsidejim

                                I'm surprised when I come across restaurants that are cash only. I know many people who carry no cash, or very little, and pay for everything by card. It's one thing if it's a hot dog cart, but any sit down restaurant should accept plastic these days.

                                1. re: ajs228

                                  Usually small ethnic restaurants won't take charge cards or will have a minimum (which I keep thinking is illegal but I can't find the reference to it).

                                  1. re: boltnut55

                                    it isn't illegal. keep in mind that the restaurant needs to pay a monthly processing fee plus a percentage of the tabs-- so a smaller rest may not be able to afford the 2% or 3.5% of its sales that it gives up by processing credit cards-- it needs that cash to stay open, serving food. same goes for the hot dog vendor.

                                    the restaurant gets paid 100% on a tab of $100 when it's covered in cash or check, but when a credit card is used the restaurant may only get paid $95, so there is an incentive for a place to take cash only to avoid charging all its patrons more per entree to cover the loss from credit card transactions.

                                    same concept of the gas station giving you 10 cents off per gallon if you pay in cash or check rather than by credit card.

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      Yes, but what those folks fail to understand is that accepting payment by card results in both more business and higher tickets. People buy more and tip more when they use cards, and more people have cards and cash than only cash. While I understand the fear of paying 3% on the card sales, you more than make up for it with the increased business and tickets.

                                    2. re: boltnut55

                                      >>Usually small ethnic restaurants won't take charge cards or will have a minimum (which I keep thinking is illegal but I can't find the reference to it).<<

                                      It is NOT illegal **BUT** it violates the merchant agreement with the bank which processes their VISA/MC cards. All agreements that I have ever seen state that you cannot charge cardholders a higher price to use their card or require a minimum purchase.

                                      In practice, it is rarely enforced ... at this time.

                                      Credit card fees - like utility costs, rent, and food costs - is part of the cost of doing business.

                                      1. re: jlawrence01

                                        yeah- when i was a teenager i worked as a cashier at a dollar store, and i frequently had to deal with customers who would come to pay only to find out (and get angry that) we were "cash only". we would explain than in order to keep merchandise cost so low (everything was $1) we had to cut costs wherever possible. as i remember many of them would stay angry as if that was completely unreasonable and unacceptable.

                                        many restos in my city only take cash or credit- no debit/interac. i found that strange but there really aren't many people requesting to pay by debit- so i suppose it makes sense.

                                        1. re: excuse me miss

                                          processing as debit would be harder--how would you get the PIN, etc. I suppose it's doable with a handheld pin pad (or a few), but... it's not normal.

                                          1. re: xanadude

                                            In Europe you have a pin with your credit card. They don't take signatures anymore.

                                            1. re: Kalivs

                                              Yeah, they do. Although if you don't point out to the cashier that they need to run it through a machine that will print out a credit slip for you to sign, sometimes there's a problem. But I used my card with no PIN in England, Germany and Italy last month.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                Can't you get a card with a PIN and a chip? Much easier to use in Europe.

                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                  When you figure out how to, please let me know. Not only Europe but even Canada uses it and no seller other than the $ 500/yr Chase card has it in the states.

                                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                    I don't know - I live in Montréal and every card I have has a PIN.

                                                    Why are they the (expensive) exception in the US? Bizarre.

                                                    1. re: lagatta

                                                      For some reason, in the US change has become anathema. Amazing that we used to be leaders in technology and now the rest of the world is passing us by while US industry digs its heels in and refuses to invest in newer technology -- presumably because in this short-term-profits driven economy, it won't help the bottom line in the next quarterly report.

                                                      But as I said, I haven't had any problem using the old cards in either Europe or Canada in the last year.

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        My new AMEX Platinum has gone with the "chip," and my United VISA Club has gone with similar, plus a metal layer, to stop "drive-by" piracy.


                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          You're lucky - I nearly missed a train a couple of years ago in Paris for lack of a chip. I went to buy my ticket at Gare du Nord about 7PM the night before. The ticket windows were closed, but there was a long row of ticket vending machines - all of which took ONLY chip cards, no cash or old-style credit cards. I had to get up extra early the next morning to hit a ticket window when they opened, and just barely made the train.

                                                      2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        Actually the credit union I work all of our cards with a Visa logo has both a Pin number and a chip in it. It was actually tested in Europe before being released here in NC.

                                                        1. re: vttp926

                                                          SECU (State Employees Credit Union} in NC has chip and pin on my card for several years. When I retired and moved to Iowa to be with my children and went to a local bank to get a secondary local bank acct. you should have seen the look I got from the bank employee who assisted me. Her words to me were: "Ooh! I've never seen one of these!" Still happens occasionally in stores. Guess Southerners aren't really so stupid after all.

                                                          1. re: nodramamama39

                                                            as I say "just 'cause we's hillbillies don't mean we's stupid..."

                                                            and yet very few people will leave a phone msg. still throws them off. easier to leave a note I suppose (and not on the front door, rather the OTHER door)

                                                          2. re: vttp926

                                                            I wonder why our new Visa with a chip in it was so hard to use when we were just in Germany and Prague. Weird.

                                                          3. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                            Not so - I just swapped my existing Citibank Aadvantage M/C for an identical one with a chip. No charge to upgrade, no big annual fee.

                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                              My AMEX just came with the "chip," when it was up for renewal. No charge, nothing, but a new set of cards.


                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                Cards have had chips in mexico for years, nice to see the USA finally getting with the program.

                                                            2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                              Chase finally out with one now called signature and Capital by end of year or so will replace all cars with chip card

                                                          4. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            I went through Canada almost weekly until recently and used my credit and debit cards at Point Of Sale and never had a problem, although they could not be used in ATMs.

                                                      3. re: excuse me miss

                                                        I don't have a charge card, only debit backed by visa and I use it everywhere visa is accepted. Restaurants don't ask me for my PIN, they run it just like a charge and I have to sign a slip.

                                                        I also just noticed that the two restaurants in my town that only take cash now have small ATMS near the cash register. I assume this way the restos avoid all fees and the customer can pay directly for the convenience of using plastic

                                                      4. re: jlawrence01

                                                        i agree that min purchase rules are pretty dumb-- the restaurant pays the same percentage anyway, but if they also have a min/max transaction fee, the restaurant gets hosed when a customer puts a cup of coffee on a credit card, so the restaurant jacks up the prices on everything as a result and has the min purchase policy to discourage this. i blame the credit card company fees, not the independent small business.

                                                        i was talking about small restaurants choosing not to accept charge cards AT ALL, which is within the business owner's rights, since credit cards are private, not legal tender. yes some places may lose those corporate lunchers, or the big wedding party, because they don't take visa, but there are all sorts of small restaurants that aren't going for that type of business anyway, & you can't dictate that they *must* take credit cards.

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          The min purchase rules aren't just dumb, they're not even allowed to have them. You can report places that do this to VISA/MC (depending on which you're trying to use).

                                                          In practice, not much (if anything) will likely happen, but you never know.

                                                        2. re: jlawrence01

                                                          Credit card fees are an avoidable cost of doing business though. Many merchant agreements have stepped fee schedules so smaller transactions can be a net loss.

                                                          While all agreements you have seen may not allow a minimum, I'd like to see a bank go after some mom & pop who doesn' t go along.

                                                          1. re: jlawrence01

                                                            there is a small, ethnic, restaurant, Hide Sushi in Los Angeles that requires cash. It provides it's customers great value for the price.
                                                            it is PACKED most of the time.
                                                            i have been going there for about the last 25 years.
                                                            they have a dry-erase board set up so that customers can log in themselves when they enter the restaurant and start waiting for a seat.

                                                            apparently, it is NOT always the "cost of doing business."
                                                            (p.s. they installed an ATM machine near the front door for those people who need it)

                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              i go to a few places that are cash-only too. they all have signs on the entrance door, so you'd have to be blind to miss them.

                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                Quite a few such places here in Montréal, or at least that don't take credit cards.

                                                            2. re: boltnut55

                                                              In the eyes of the law it isn't illegal. But most credit card agreements with the merchant clearly state that you may not set a minimum price for the use of the card. While it is ok to offer a cash discount.

                                                              1. re: Barbecue Joe

                                                                A lot of cut-rate gas stations charge a different price for credit or ATM than they do for cash. It's certainly not a secret, as the price differential is posted on a sign visible on the street.

                                                            3. re: ajs228

                                                              A friend of mine is one of those people and it is *very* annoying as he never has enough cash when we go places. There are a lot of hole in the walls (at least around these parts) that are cash only.

                                                              1. re: jgg13

                                                                I have the same situation with cashless friends. I just interfere with "I need to stop by the ATM, do you?" And that usually takes care of itself.

                                                                1. re: stellamystar

                                                                  Except wtih this particular guy, cajoling never helped. I'd even say, "I don't know that XYZ takes plastic" and he'd say "of course they do!" and sure enough, I was right.

                                                                  I never understood why keeping a couple of $20s in one's pocket was suc ha huge burden, but he always talked about not wanting to be weighed down.

                                                                  1. re: jgg13

                                                                    Jgg13 - Me thinks your friend is enjoying the bail outs. ? Just possible. It is beyond annoying to me - especially in the ATM age where getting cash is so simple.

                                                                    1. re: stellamystar

                                                                      but conversely if it's a place that does accept plastic and you're going dutch treat and they have cash and you have plastic, it's a fee-free cash advance for you...

                                                                      (knew someone in grad school who played that game so well that out of a table of 10 for drinks, the last 3 or 4 usu. ended up drinking for free)

                                                                    2. re: jgg13

                                                                      Anytime I've carried a lot of cash, I've used it much quicker, so I always carry just a few dollars. I don't have my friends bail me out though. I just don't buy on impulse.

                                                                2. re: ajs228

                                                                  Yup. I will avoid otherwise-lovely restaurants and businesses that are cash only. I rarely carry cash. I hate having to lug it around (my wallet it tiny and optimized for plastic). But more importantly, credit cards offer so many benefits.

                                                                  You can't get mugged with credit cards, you can do chargebacks with credit cards, you can earn rewards/cashback with credit cards. I have software that automatically downloads my credit card transactions and puts them into my budgets so I can easily track my spending. If I lose a credit card it doesn't matter much (just a hassle), but if I lose a wallet or pocket full of cash, it's just gone forever. I can't stand cash.

                                                                  Businesses need to recognize that if they don't accept credit, a certain amount of customers will simply not consider going there (or be hesitant). But it bothers me most with restaurants and bars. With restaurants, you often don't find out they are cash-only till you've already received the food, which leaves you in a bind. With bars, the whole idea of lugging a wallet stuffed with cash around town while you get increasingly intoxicated just seems like an atrocious idea (SF is notorious for the cash-only bars. Plus tons of the bars are in seedy parts of the city, and now you're drunk and carrying a ton of cash).

                                                                  1. re: zscrabo

                                                                    you make it sound like money is heavy, lol. while i appreciate the fear of getting mugged, a little reasonable risk assessment is in order.

                                                                    further, i have NEVER been to a cash-only place that did not have their policy prominently posted.

                                                                    1. re: zscrabo

                                                                      For me, since I had a stroke a few years ago,losing cash is my biggest problem. Since then, I have lost wallets and even purses several times.

                                                                      The worst problem with cash-only I've had lately has been the parking lot at the clinic I go to frequently, which doesn't' let you know until you're leaving. They have made me leave my driver and car license a couple of times that it was too late to go into the pharmacy and do a cash back purchase.

                                                                      I also currently have to depend on a caregiver to drive me around, so I'm nervous even about keeping a lot of cash at home.

                                                                      There's one benefit of having a caregiver take me, most of whom are from African countries, that the parking lot attendant there now (also African--Ethiopian) is a big flirt and is suddenly very casual about letting me pay "the next time"!