You can't pay your tab at the restaurant. Here are some things that might happen in that situation.

I can remember going out to eat with my parents as a kid and when the server would bring us the bill, my dad would pass it off to me. I would stare at him baffled because he knew that I didn't have any money. That's when he would throw out that line that we all have heard our parents throughout that old cliche: "I guess you're going to have to go in the back and wash dishes then!"


Maybe that's how things worked back in the day, but that's not the case now if you can't afford to pay your bill. According to the FDA, if you do not work at the restaurant, you are not allowed to be in the food preparation, storage, or washing areas. So the next time you hear someone throw out the "washing dishes" line, you know that'll never happen.

So let's say you get your bill and your card gets declined. Maybe you don't have enough cash on hand to cover the cost of the bill. Or perhaps you get the bill only to realize you accidentally left your wallet at home. All of these are feasible scenarios that could happen one day while out to eat. What do you do when you can't pay the bill?


What Happens If You Can't Pay Your Restaurant Bill In Indiana?

Hopefully, this doesn't happen to you, but if it does, there are several things that could be done in this situation. Eat This, Not That! talked to seven restaurant professionals about their experiences of handling these situations and asked them what customers should offer to do when they can't afford to pay. It might be good to know about these options if you run into this problem so you know what to suggest to management to resolve this issue.

  • Sometimes when customers can't pay their bill because of a credit card issue, restaurants will let them leave and trust they will pay once the card is activated again. It's a bit of a gamble for the restaurant, but if you're a good person, you'll do the right thing and call them as soon as the card is activated.
  • There are cases where when someone can't afford to pay their bill at the moment, they're asked to leave something in return like an ID or a phone as collateral. That way the guest will have to return to collect said collateral and pay their bill.
Mockup image of woman's hands holding white mobile phone with blank black screen on thigh in modern cafe
  • A restaurant in San Diego will write an I.O.U.—an informal document that acknowledges the debt owed—for customers without cash. 99 percent of these I.O.U.s result in a payback.
  • Some places will take customers' information and make a copy of their ID if they can't pay the bill at that time. In some cases, if they forgot their wallet,  law enforcement may come to identify the person first before they are allowed to leave. And if they don't come back to pay their bill in a reasonable amount of time, the restaurant might file criminal charges.
  • There are even rare cases where the restaurant will comp a customer's bill. This means that they will cover the cost of the bill due to a customer going through hard times. I'd say that this is the least likely option that you'll be faced with.

Eat This, Not That! listed a few other options, but those listed above seem like the likely scenarios that you might be presented with, in the event that you can't cover the bill. Whatever, the case may be, one thing you should never do is dine and dash. That will definitely lead to you getting into a lot of trouble with the law.

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