A Philadelphia restaurant says it will consider changing a policy that requires servers to cover the cost of meals when diners skip out without paying their bills.
The term for it in the industry is a “dine and dash,” and, according to a WPVI News story, it happened recently to server Katie Morgan at Tiffany Diner.
WPVI caught wind of the incident when Morgan posted an appeal on her Facebook page, addressed to the customers who walked out on her.
“To the family who came in yesterday morning for brunch and decided not only to leave a 3-dollar tip on this $71.78 check but intentionally walk out without paying — thanks to you, I and my coworker had to pay up your bill,” she wrote. “Failure to do so — I and my partner who worked the room in which you dined would have been terminated.”
WPVI contacted the restaurant’s manager, Simon Gecer, and asked him why a customer stealing from the restaurant is considered the fault of the employee.
“If she was around her station, she would be aware of it,” Gecer said.
He said the policy was originally put in place to keep servers from stealing cash left on tables.
He later said that, after reviewing surveillance video, it appeared the customers in question saw the line at the register was long and just decided to walk out. Gecer told WPVI that after seeing that he decided to give back Morgan’s money.
And while that is good news for Morgan it doesn’t necessarily help other servers who work in restaurants that enforce this seemingly common policy.
In 2013, Slate reported a New York City server’s story went viral after she lost her job for refusing to cover a $96 tab after a party walked out on her.
“It was repeatedly drilled into our minds that if a customer were to ever dash on a check, that the server is responsible for the tab,” the server, Suzanne Parrat, was quoted as saying in the story. “This is not uncommon in the restaurant industry, but in my many years of experience I've never actually seen it practiced.”
Such policies exist in a legal gray area.
A Consumerist article, also from 2013, cited information from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, that says restaurants are not allowed to require a server to cover the cost of a skipped tab from his or her tips if doing so drops the server’s pay for the day below the minimum wage.
But that means there is little to stop the restaurant from exercising the policy if the server will still make minimum wage for the day after covering a bill.
Employment lawyer Suzanne Young spoke to WPVI when she was contacted about Morgan’s story and said much the same thing.
While Young didn’t review Morgan’s case specifically, she said walk-outs should be the restaurant’s problem, not the server’s.
“The loss of the table's order is a business loss that should not be placed on the back of the server,” she said. “Firing someone for failing to pay table loss is retaliation and illegal where it drops the worker's wages to below minimum wages. If minimum wage is not earned with tips, the employer must make up the difference.”
Given that information, Gecer said the restaurant would look at changing its policy.
“We'll think about it. We have to change our policy. We have to do something about it,” he said.
Photo Credit: Tiffany Diner, WPVI News