As I child I remember catching the tail end of a conversation between my parents and one of their friends about a particularly wretched dining experience: "...so I just walked out and left them the bill."
Weren't you worried about getting arrested?, I remember thinking. Well, the short answer was "no," because this gentleman was quite a confident barrister (cough, asshole lawyer) and enjoyed going head to head with law enforcement.
I never found out his exact justification for stiffing the restaurant, but ever since I've contemplated why one might walk out on the bill. Here are my five legitimate reasons:
5. Natural/Man-Made Disaster Strikes.
The trattoria's roof collapses in the middle of your secondi. A fire starts in the kitchen, flooding the dining room with smoke. Two men fighting crash through the window of the bistro and land on your table. It's okay to leave.
4. Exceedingly Long Wait Time Between Courses.
At 6:45 p.m. you received your appetizers and ordered main courses; at 8:15 p.m., there's still nary an entree in sight. Repeated petitions to your server yield nothing but vague excuses ("They should be out any minute"). Get the fuck out before you die of hunger.
3. Serious Harm to Your Person/Property.
All was fine and dandy until a food runner spilled spaghetti all over your wife's white new white Miu Miu clutch. Or the cocktail waitress served that boiling hot toddy...all over your grandmother's lap. The restaurant should comp the check and maybe even pay your dry-cleaning/hospital bill.
2. Abysmal Service.
I'm talking treatment that engenders severe mental distress, gut-wrenching nausea, or worse. Racial epithets, sexual harassment, and extremely inappropriate jokes (e.g., "Are you fat or just pregnant?") all fall into this category. You definitely are not required to compensate a restaurant for making you feel very, very uncomfortable even if they do feed you.
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1. Food Served Really Does Not Match Food Described.
You order "duck breast with raspberry coulis and garlic polenta"; you receive a shriveled chicken leg with grape jelly and watery grits. If the server/manager/chef refuses to correct the entree or offer a suitable replacement, you refuse the bill.