By Avalon Doyle, Contributor
We’ve all heard the term “dine and dash.” It’s when a customer goes to a bar or restaurant, runs up a tab with a server, and then takes off without paying. It’s theft, but people steal all the time. But the difference between shoplifting and dine and dashing is that it’s the server, not the business, who pays the bill at the end of the night.
As a result, many bars have created what’s called a “dine and dash fund.” Every time a server works, it’s mandatory that they contribute anywhere from $0.25 to $1 to the business. This money sits in a pot held by the manager of the establishment so that in the event of a walkout or “dine and dash” the money they have slowly accumulated pays for the bill.
It may seem like a good idea: pubs and bars in the Tri-Cities are struggling enough as it is without adding theft into the mix, and it’s only a dollar from an employee. However, the problem with this fund is that it completely contravenes the Employment Standards Act. Sections 1F and 21 explicitly state that neither employee wages nor gratuities (tips) may be deducted or used in any way by an employer for the “cost of doing business.” While a server or bartender has a responsibility to try to stop people from stealing from the business they work for, holding the employee responsible for the money against possibly dangerous assailants makes it seem as though a $40 bill is more important than an employee’s life.
I’ve worked in the service industry for the past two years. In that time, I have been robbed at gunpoint and had a customer pull a knife on me when I wouldn’t start a tab for him. I have also been forced to pay into dine and dash funds and for walkouts. And though I’ve never actually been harmed by a customer, it is not unrealistic to assume someone may be armed and dangerous. There is no way of knowing what someone will do—especially if they’re drunk.
Oftentimes, there’s nothing more someone could have done to prevent a customer from walking out on his or her bill. A server at the Meridian Arms Pub in Port Coquitlam, who asked not be named, once had to pay out over $300 for a customer’s bill. “I had taken over the table from another server who was finished their shift, and then the pub lost power,” she said. “I couldn’t remember everything that had been on the bill so I manually wrote up as much as I could but there was $300 unaccounted for when we got power back.”
That money was taken out of her next paycheque. When asked if she thought it was wrong for the business to take that money from her, although it was not her fault, she said: “Yeah, it sucks that I lost that money, but I’ve made a lot more in the time I’ve been there than what I’ve had to pay in walkouts.” She also told me that while the Meridian Arms does not have a dine and dash fund, every server has to pay for a walkout when they occur.
One of the only ways to ensure payment is to ask for a credit card, but this is often not expected of employees in a pub and not consistently done. “I would ask for credit cards for tabs at the (Meridian) Arms but no one else does and customers would look at me funny or get mad if I did,” she said.
Danielle Piasecki, a former floor manager at Port Coquitlam’s San Remo Pizza Home, agrees that servers should pay for walkouts. “Most servers don’t end up paying income tax on every single dollar they make and there aren’t a lot of jobs like that out there.”
Piasecki says she believes no one speaks up against the violation because it’s part of “a deal” between employers and employees in the serving industry. “There are a lot of things that happen in this industry that shouldn’t and not just dine and dash funds,” said Piasecki. “There are a lot of indiscretions—like servers drinking on shift with customers—that employers ignore and there’s a lot of good money to be made really fast.”
The way in which bars choose to enforce dine and dash policies varies greatly from place to place, but of the six I investigated, they all had some policy that resulted in the server paying for a dine and dash.
A nighttime shift supervisor for the Treehouse Neighbourhood Pub, Erica*, who has also worked for The Foggy Dew and The French Quarter Pub (which closed down last year) said she has never paid into a dine and dash fund or for a walkout. “It’s illegal for them to make me pay and so I don’t,” she said. “I’ve also only ever had one walkout in the time I’ve been serving and it wasn’t my fault.”
Erica also said The Foggy Dew had a slightly different approach. “The management there makes it clear during the orientation that any drinks you take from the bar to a table become your own drinks once they leave the bar.”
This means that if someone doesn’t pay the server for that drink, the onus is on the server to pay. She also said she watched The French Quarter “sneak” their way into having a dine and dash fund. “Originally there was a slot on our cash out sheets that said “social fund” and we were supposed to put in $0.50 each time we worked for a big staff party.”
But after a year of working there, Erica said the little “social fund” slot changed to “D+D.” Erica confronted the owner of the bar, as well as the manager, about the change, and was told it was now a mandatory dine and dash fund. When she argued about the legality of the decision to create the fund, she was told that if she didn’t pay into it then any walkouts that occurred would be taken out of her paycheque.
I also worked at The French Quarter and during a shift change (where the night staff relieves the day staff) I was dealing with a customer who wanted to pay their bill and turned around to find one of my other customers missing. I looked everywhere for the gentlemen who still owed me $45 but he was gone. He made it past two other servers who were talking by the door and my manager, who was also standing by the door, but I was still blamed. The next paycheque I received was short $45. When I asked the owner and the manager what had happened, the owner told me: “Well, you had that walkout a week ago so I just took it out of your pay.”
Dorothy, a representative with the Employment Standards Branch, said there are no loopholes to the regulations. “It’s explicitly stated in Section 1F and Section 21 that an employer cannot take money from an employee for a dine and dash fund or for walkouts.”
When asked why every bar was violating the Act, Dorothy said; “If people don’t report it, then we can’t fix it.” If there is an incident or wrongful garnishing of wages or gratuities, Dorothy said they (Employment Standards) would send an officer to recover the wages for the individual.
Of the servers I spoke to, only Erica knew someone who had taken action against an employer. “There was one girl I worked with who got the labour board involved when her wages were garnished at The French Quarter, and she did get the money back. She also lost her job in the process.” Erica didn’t remember the official reason the server was let go, but said she believed the girl would have kept her job longer if she hadn’t fought against it.
No one, however, was able to answer why—since it’s against regulations—employees are still paying for walkouts. Not one of the servers, managers, or even the Employment Standards Branch had a reason.
Interestingly, there is a lot of fear from employees on the issue. Only one server I interviewed agreed to have her name printed, despite the number of people who were willing to speak with me about their bar’s policies. It would seem as though, with servers being at the mercy of an industry of management that believes it is up to the server or bartender to collect money for the booze they bring to people, no one wants to get caught pointing a finger for fear of losing their place within the industry.
It’s unclear whether or not policies will ever change, but for now, servers will continue to pay when customers don’t.
*Indicates name has been changed.