True Story: What Happens When You Can’t Pay the Restaurant Bill

Photo (cc) by USDAgov

I didn’t eat out too often as a kid. But when I did, you can bet I almost always enjoyed it.

I remember Dad always used to joke that he didn’t have enough money to pay the restaurant bill. “Well, it looks like they’re going to make us go into the kitchen and wash dishes,” he’d say with a wry smile. Hey, that always made sense to me.

Fast forward to last week. After ordering up a grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwich, French fries, a big chocolate chip cookie, and a small Coke in the company cafeteria, I moseyed over to the checkout counter with my tray full of food.

“$6.15, hon,” said the cashier.

So I reached into my pocket to get my wallet and… uh-oh. It wasn’t there!

Now if you’ve been in this predicament before, you know the feeling. In my case, I ended up experiencing the five stages of grief in exactly 10.7 seconds…

  1. Denial: Wait a minute, I never forget my wallet.”
  2. Anger: “What?! Six dollars plus for this lunch? I knew I should have gone to Sizzler!”
  3. Bargaining: Dear God: I’m now going to slowly reach down and check my left shoe. If you would kindly perform a little miracle for me – just this once – I promise I’ll… Nope.”
  4. Depression: “I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I have to start wearing Depends too.”
  5. Acceptance: “Well, maybe washing dishes won’t be as bad as I thought. (I just hope the diners ignored the Stroganoff today.)”

After accepting my inglorious fate, I made my biggest puppy dog eyes and looked up at the cashier. “I’m very sorry, Dorothy,” I said, “but I, uh, forgot my wallet at home today. I’ll be happy to wash dishes if you just let me eat my lunch.”

Actually, my dish-washing proposal was a weak attempt at making light of a bad situation. I really wasn’t happy about the prospect of washing oodles of noodles and other gravy goop off of the cafeteria plates and trays. Then again, what else was I going to do?

In the back of my mind I quickly ran down a list of other potential fates waiting for me aside from washing dishes…

Dorothy could challenge me to play a game of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader?” by making me recite my credit card number from memory. Of course, that wouldn’t be so bad if my credit card number was 6, but it’s not. And even though debtor’s prison is a thing of the past, she might be tempted to call the cops or, even worse, get a couple of her fry cooks to drag me into the back room and beat me like a 5-egg frittata.

Needless to say, the uncertainty of what was to come made me more than a bit uncomfortable.

After my little remark about washing dishes, Dorothy quickly tipped her eyeglasses down her nose, staring at me over the rim. Uh oh; here it comes.

“You forgot your wallet?” she asked with a poker face that would have intimidated Wild Bill Hickok.

I was going to give her a long, drawn-out explanation as to how I could be so stupid to forget my wallet at home, but all I could muster was a pathetic nod.

“It’s OK, hon,” she said with a laugh. “Can you remember to come back tomorrow and pay?”

Really? Relieved, I wanted to kiss her, but I just gave her another nod and a big smile before thanking her for being so understanding.

“Enjoy your lunch, hon,” she replied matter-of-factly. And with that, Dorothy moved on to the next customer.

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