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Dine and dash – gouging restaurant servers

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Recently, two Halifax restaurants , the Athens Restaurant and the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse, have been repeatedly targeted by people who have ordered and eaten a meal, only to leave without paying their bill.  It’s called “dine and dash” – and it’s probably every server’s nightmare.

The server at the Athens said she had to cover the dasher’s $65 tab.  And the Athens’ owner said “it really is a big deal”. But why does the server have to cover the dasher’s $65 tab?  

Nova Scotia Labour Standards says that losses, shortages and damages cannot be taken out of an employee’s wages if it takes the employee’s pay below minimum wage.  

I’ll bet most servers in town are paid minimum wage — $11 per hour, or $10.50 if  “inexperienced”. Tips are over and above the hourly wage—more on that another time.  If the server at the Athens Restaurant has to cover the dasher’s tab, there is no doubt it will plunge her weekly earnings below minimum wage. There is no wiggle room with a minimum wage job.  

Labour Standards also says the only way a boss can demand the server cover the loss created by the dasher is if the server has been negligent, but there is no way the server could have known the customer would walk out without paying.  Or the boss can get the employee to agree, “authorized in writing,” that the employee will be responsible for loss, breakage or shortages. The Labour Standards Act advises a boss to get an agreement, signed and dated by the employee, when the employee starts the job.  If not, the Act warns that making an employee pay for the loss is “open to challenge.”

Some restaurants have a “voluntary” dine and dash fund.  At management’s request, the employees contribute $1 to $2– per shift– to cover dashers and breakages.  If a server works 8 shifts in a week and pays $2 a shift, that’s $16. If the restaurant has 20 employees who contribute to the fund, management could pocket $320 a week, or a neat $16,640 per year!  I’m not sure requiring restaurant staff to contribute to the “dine and dash” fund is legal either.

Back to the restaurant.  Why is the risk borne by the employee – and not the employer? Why should the server cover the cost of  the diner who does not pay; why should the dishwasher who breaks a plate cover the breakage, or the bartender who accidentally cracks a glass or two pay for the damage?  

In a way, even the Nova Scotia Labour Standards Act tries to stand up for the minimum wage employee and prevent them being gouged for the losses.  Where are the managers and owners: aren’t managers supposed to manage? Aren’t they supposed to watch out for diners who dash? Surely management should pay for dashers and breakage – it is  the cost of doing business.

Judy Haiven is a retired professor at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University.  She is also a founding member of Equity Watch.

See also: Your rights at work: The boss can take your tips!

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One Comment

  1. The Athens is a dump of a restaurant and now seems despicable as well, for abusing its servers like this.

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