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In the US, different states have different laws regarding customers who leave without paying the bill, aka "Dine and Dash."

Some states allow for a restaurant to dock a server's pay, when a customer leaves without paying. However, I dont understand how a server is responsible for the actions of a customer. I cant think of any reason why a server would be considered negligent or how they would be in any way responsible for a customer walking out while they were doing their job, like paying attention to different customers, getting food, or any of the many other reasons the server would not be watching their customers.

So I am asking, what is the legal basis for a law allowing restaurants to make servers pay for dine and dashers?

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    Have you considered contract law? Jun 23, 2023 at 23:48
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    @GeorgeWhite so its just a clause they agree to in a employment contact?
    – Keltari
    Jun 24, 2023 at 1:01
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    @ComicSansStrikephim Your tone implies that I should know how contracts work. However, I didnt know this would have been in the employment agreement, as I have never been a server. Additionally, I dont understand why any server would agree to it.
    – Keltari
    Jun 24, 2023 at 13:04
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    @ComicSansStrikephim as with most things in life, you'll find that this sort of simplistic answer, while techincally correct, is not helpful. "Why is it written?""Because it is written". Thank you.
    – njzk2
    Jun 24, 2023 at 22:17

1 Answer 1

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Unless it is prohibited by law in some state (such as California), a server's employment contract can have a clause holding the server responsible for an unpaid tab. Even in lieu of such a clause, since in most states employment is at-will, the employee can be fired if they do not do as told. There is a limit to the effect that their wage cannot be reduced below minimum wage.

The question of the political rationale of this practice is outside the scope of law, but there are some legal factors that can lead to getting compensation from a server, even if pay-docking is prohibited. If a server intentionally colludes with a dine-and-hash customer, the server is liable. The server might also be negligent, for example they may have failed to notify management of evidence of an impending dine-and-dash such as overhearing a conversation, or watching the customers trickle out; or, disappearing for an unreasonable time for a smoke break (leaving the table unattended). Liability requires a lawsuit where the court decides if the server should pay.

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    So you are saying its just a clause in an employment agreement in states that allow it? Servers are assuming the responsibility of an unpaid tab only because they agreed to it?
    – Keltari
    Jun 24, 2023 at 1:10
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    @Keltari Yes, that's correct. Unless some law prohibits it or it's deemed unconscionable, either side of an agreement can insist on some particular term for that agreement, even if it's unfair, and the other side's choices are to take it or leave it. Unless it puts their total compensation (usually including tips) under minimum wage for the number of hours worked in a pay period, it doesn't violate Federal law. Several States prohibit the practice. Jun 24, 2023 at 8:49
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    @DavidSchwartz: If I land on the jury it's unconscionable. It is not difficult in my mind to construct an outsized-damages scenario, and a waitress is not capable of stopping dine and dash.
    – Joshua
    Jun 24, 2023 at 14:59
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    @DonQuiKong: No, I mean a dine and dash bill could be very large. And I just know they're going to spread it across the entire day (or even pay period) not just that one hour.
    – Joshua
    Jun 24, 2023 at 21:14
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    so the main reason is that most states never thought of making that sort of practice illegal?
    – njzk2
    Jun 24, 2023 at 22:18

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