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Here’s what actually happens when you can’t pay your bill in a restaurant

They literally will not let you leave

Remember the story of a girl who went to The Shard and accidentally ordered £15,000 worth of wine and then went viral? She was left with no choice but to set up a direct debit to the restaurant and pay off her gargantuan wine debt over time, because she literally could not pay for it on the night.

The story has since been debunked, but the question still remains: what happens if you turn up to a restaurant, gorge yourself on food and drink and then realise you genuinely cannot pay? Would the restaurant call the police, detain you, or take your watch or phone as collateral?

We called twenty establishments, ranging from extremely expensive (£5000 bottle of wine kinda expensive) to your bog standard chain restaurant, to find out. Only seven were actually willing to speak, but they helped shed some light on the dine and dash situation.

Nobu – ££££

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Via @nobuberkeleyst

Nobu is “the world’s most recognised Japanese restaurant” and has a whopping four pound signs next to it’s name on Google maps.

When we called Nobu and asked about how they would deal with someone who was unable to pay the bill, the staff member on the phone said: “We would never let anyone leave the restaurant without paying the bill. If we had their credit card details we would charge them no matter what.”

Wagamama – ££

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Via @wagamama_uk

Wagamama, the Asian food chain, were not particularly keen to answer our questions about skipping out on the bill. A Wagamama restaurant manager told us: “It’s not something we need to tell you about because it has never happened. This is the most bizarre phone call we have ever received.”

When we pressed them about whether they would allow a customer who was unable to pay to leave, they said: “I’m going to hang up now but no, I believe we wouldn’t.”

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – ££££

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Via @restaurantgordonramsay

When we called Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant events management team and asked them how they would handle someone not paying the bill, a staff member said: “They have to pay the bill. They would not be allowed to leave.”

When I asked her what would be done if they literally did not have enough money to pay the bill, à la Shard wine debt girl, she said: “Someone else at the table would have to pay or they’d have to go to a cash machine and get money out, but they would never be let off.”

Pizza Express – ££

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Via @pizzaexpress

When we called the Italian chain restaurant Pizza Express, a staff member explained that it depended on the situation and whoever was in charge – it’s basically their call.

They said: “It would be up to the managers’ discretion, it entirely depends on the situation and the restaurant manager.”

Fortnum and Mason – £££

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Via @fortnums

Fortnum and Mason is an extremely fancy department store with its own collection of restaurants and tea rooms. I really expected them to be the rudest to me on the phone, but they were remarkably forthcoming.

They said: “It would be the manager’s decision, but they would have to pay the bill. Whether it be on that day or another day, they’d have to pay the bill.”

When I pushed them to explain whether they would let the non-paying customer leave or detain them, they said: “I cannot guarantee that. It’s the managers’ decision.”

Sketch – ££££

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Via @sketchlondon

Sketch is an edgy, up market restaurant in Mayfair with an abundance of pink furniture and a vibey aesthetic. Sketch were the most organised with their dine and dash plan of action, and they had actual methods for dealing with people who failed to pay their bill.

The Sketch staff member said: “We will usually send them an invoice or hold an item of theirs as we await their payment.”

When I told him the story of the girl at The Shard and her wine debt he said: “We don’t usually offer direct debits, no, but if we have to we will take payment from another person over the phone.” So, when in doubt, if you really can’t pay – call up someone you know that can.

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