When I was a kid, I remember asking my dad what would happen when we got the bill from the restaurant we were eating in, and we didn't have any money to pay.

He said that the law in Illinois clearly stated that he and my mom would have to leave me there at the restaurant to "work off the debt," and that I would most likely be allowed to leave in "a few months, if you're lucky."

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I swear, the greatest thing about fatherhood for my dad was it gave him 24 hour access to someone he could totally fill full of BS. And he did.

Exhausted woman waiting her date, checking the time in restaurant - Being late
He's been looking for his wallet for an hour, now...(Getty Images)
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Should I make a run for it? Getty Images
Should I make a run for it? (Getty Images)
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One Thing Is Certain, Restaurants Won't Make You Do Dishes To Pay Your Bill

But that's because they're not allowed to do that. According to the FDA, if you aren’t necessary to the food establishment (as in working there), you’re “not allowed in the food preparation, storage, or washing areas.” So no dishwashing to pay off your bill.

"Dine and Dash" is another story, though. Depending on how much your bill was, and how you went about taking off without paying, you could find yourself with anything from a misdemeanor to a full-blown felony here in Illinois.

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If You Forgot Your Wallet (Or Any Other Means Of Payment), The Restaurant Will Probably Work With You To Straighten Things Out

According to a post at EatThis.com, there are several scenarios that can play out when you can't pay the bill at a restaurant:

  • Sometimes when customers can't pay their bill because of a credit card issue, restaurants will let them leave and trust they will pay once the card is activated again
  • The guest is allowed to leave the restaurant if this happens, but they're asked to leave something in return like an ID or a phone. That way, you'll have to return
  • A San Diego food joint writes an I.O.U.(an informal document that acknowledges the debt owed) for customers without cash. They claim a near 100% payback rate
  • For some places, the protocol is to get the customer's information and make a copy of their ID. However, if they forgot their wallet, law enforcement may come to identify the person first before they are allowed to leave. And if they don't come back to pay their bill in a reasonable amount of time, the restaurant might file criminal charges
  • Sometimes, in rare cases, the restaurant will issue a "comp," meaning that they'll cover your bill due to extenuating circumstances. Don't count on this being a frequent happening

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