5 June 2024

I forgot to pay at a restaurant, and what happened next shocked me

| Zoya Patel
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Dirty plates and spoons on the table

We like to think we’d return to pay, but would we really? Photo: Yanuar Dani Alfarizi.

I want to blame ‘new mum brain’ for what happened on Mother’s Day, when I merrily told my family that brunch had been paid for and walked out of the restaurant without settling the bill.

In my defence, when I booked the $75 per head special brunch for five, I had given my debit card details and had assumed that they had taken the payment then as the screen was laid out much like a checkout page.

When I got a call a few hours later from the flustered restaurant manager, awkwardly asking me to return to pay, I was mortified. Frustratingly, they couldn’t access my card details or take payment over the phone, so I had to return in person. I assured him I would but noted that with a small baby to cart around, it would likely be in a few days’ time.

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I finally managed to get there two days later, and when I went to settle the bill, the reactions of the staff floored me. The first waiter I spoke to seemed completely confused.

“You want to pay for a meal you had on the weekend?” She asked, frowning at me. “Like, you came back to pay?”

I sheepishly explained the whole ‘I thought I paid online’ scenario, but she still seemed surprised.

“Wow, that’s really good of you,” she commented before taking me to a different counter to find out how to take the payment.

Her colleague at the second counter also gave me a once-over before explaining how to make the payment, which had to be done at yet another counter. Before we walked away, though, he nodded at me. “Respect to your honesty!”

I gave him a bemused smile, but by the time I left, $375 lighter, I was feeling more shocked at the fact that, apparently, what I had just done wasn’t the norm. I later posed the question on social media, asking if people would have gone back to pay, and an alarming number of people said no, even justifying their thievery as being some sort of stand against corporations.

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To me (and I assume most people), it comes down to basic honesty. I wouldn’t steal money in any other circumstance, so there’s no way I would intentionally not pay for a service I had. Also, having worked in hospitality and retail, I know that the people who suffer from the till not balancing aren’t the business owner but the staff – though I don’t see stealing from a business as a radical anti-capitalism act.

The idea that getting away with not paying would be a sort of bonus – brunch, AND we got to keep almost $400! – suggests to me that perhaps our morals are loosening. Then again, I was the kind of kid who, if the vending machine at school accidentally dispensed two bottles of soft drink, would return one to the canteen.

In any case, what I thought would be an embarrassing experience of having to slink back to the restaurant and pay the bill I had walked out on turned into a congratulatory one, where the staff treated me like a hero for simply giving them what was owed.

What would you do? Return and pay, or take the meal as a bonus and avoid the restaurant in the future?

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Yesterday I could easily have left the restaurant without paying. A group of friends and I had just had lunch, and when I came out of the bathroom they had all paid and left. I stood in a queue for 5 minutes wondering if anyone would notice me leaving. I paid!

Of course you pay when you realise your mistake. Simple really, and honest.

Felix the Cat12:14 pm 07 Jun 24

A similar but different experience I had recently. I bought something on eBay a few months ago.
It was coming from China so I expected there to be shipping delays.
It was a low value item (around AU$10-$20).
I waited about 2 months and the item never arrived so I opened a dispute with Paypal and (too late to dispute through eBay) after answering a few questions PayPal sent through a refund.
The seller then came in on the conversation saying the goods had been delivered.
I double checked and I had actually disputed the wrong item.
I then notified PayPal and the eBay vendor that I’d made a mistake and they said I didn’t have to repay the money, but I did anyway.
The correct vendor/item was then disputed via eBay and the vendor said they had a notification that China customs had returned the item to them (prohibited export or some such thing – no it wasn’t a firearm or drugs or any other contraband) and they ended up sending me a refund.

I did it once in Sydney. Accustomed to the old Canberra ‘pay up front when you order’ scenario, i ate a leisurely breakfast, got up and walked straight out the door. They caught me dawdling along the footpath looking through shop window next door. So embarrassing…i should have just run and they’d have never caught me 😉 .

Similar situation a few weeks ago.
I picked up takeaway and got to the car before thinking “did I pay?”

I went back in and yes I for and the bloke behind the counter presumed I paid online when I ordered

Well done. Clearly not a Labor voter though,

Of course I’d go back to pay but I also would have checked if my card had been debited and the fact that the restaurant called asking for payment says it all. Is the author trying to justify her poor actions due to baby brain, come on, silly story! Most times when you book a restaurant or hotel the money is not debited until you have used the service.

Stanleyhistory1:07 pm 06 Jun 24

I can’t believe that people would even consider evading paying! What’s happened to once accepted standards of honesty? ‘Sticking it to corporations’? Come off it. How is a suburban restaurant a multi-national tax avoider?

Have done this a few times – in all but one instance it was the case my phone confirming contactless payment but seemingly not the business terminal. Now I wait to see the tick appear on their side. Gotta love tech.

Capital Retro8:53 am 06 Jun 24

Another day in the life of Zoya who, unlike most others can fork out $375 for brunch.

@Capital Retro
You need to get out more, CR – $75 per head for a Mother’s Day “special brunch” is not unreasonable and many places were very busy, so others did seem to be able to “fork out” on the special occasion.

Pssst – perhaps if you had invested in an industry super fund …?

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