Dining-and-dashing is a pretty despicable and selfish game that negatively affects the innocent waiters and waitresses on whom it is played—but it usually doesn't get people fired. Not so for Ridgewood resident Suzanne Parratt, 31, who says that she was fired from her job at midtown joint Pig N Whistle after three customers dined-and-dashed on a $96 meal Tuesday night. "What I was faced with last night was illegal and unfair," she told us.
Parratt, who has worked at the West 48th Street Pig N Whistle since August 1st, says she was working a double on Tuesday when the three men walked out on their check between 8 and 9 p.m., while she was attending to one of her coworker's parties. "As soon as I realized, I went into full blown shock and then a state of panic knowing that I'd be held responsible for their $96 tab," she said. Parratt told her manager, Eugene Wilson, about the walk-out, and he later told her that she and her two coworkers who were also working that night had to pay for the bill.
"I believe he said this because it was relayed to him that I was not intending to pay the tab, and he wanted to guilt me into it or he'd make my coworkers pay for it," she told us. "I really hope he didn't do that to them. We all work very hard in very stressful poorly managed conditions for not a lot of money right now. $96 is more than we each made in that shift last night."
Parratt said this was the first time anything like this had happened to her at Pig N Whistle, and she previously had no complaints or warnings from management about her work: "I was on time, I did all of my work, I covered for coworkers, I assisted every way I could. I stayed past my shift endings to help accommodate guest volume if it were particularly busy. I never once called out, I never had one guest complaint. I would help every table if needed, regardless of it were mine, because we split tips there." In general, she liked her coworkers, was grateful for employment, and enjoyed working with tourists and giving them tips about NYC.
However, she did note there was a "culture of fear" and bullying from management, especially around the issue of dining-and-dashing:
It was repeatedly drilled into our minds that if a customer were to ever dash on a check, that the server is responsible for the tab. This is not uncommon in the restaurant industry, but in my many years of experience I've never actually seen it practiced. We were also told that if a credit card slip was unsigned, we would be held responsible for that as well, though I never was held responsible for that.
Parratt is trying to figure out what her next course of action will be, but she will definitely be filing a complaint of retaliation in person at the Division of Labor Standards. They told her:
Your employer cannot make any deductions or require payment out of pocket for any losses or damages. Therefore, your employer cannot require you pay the tab for customers who walk out. If they want the money, they will have to sue you in civil court...Although your employer is allowed to terminate any employee for any reason, except any reason that constitutes discrimination, your employer also cannot terminate you because you complained about a violation of the Labor Law. Therefore, since you refused to pay for the tab, which is a violation of Labor Law, and was terminated for it, you can file a complaint of retaliation with the Division of Labor Standards.
And Parratt (who produced a paystub to verify her employment with the restaurant) vows to follow through for the sake of other restaurant workers who have been mistreated: "I am very tired of hard working people being exploited through emotional manipulation by restauranteurs. There are many other people who have the same anxieties over their work as I went through, who are being mistreated or taken advantage of, but can not say a word because they feel they have no recourse."
We called Pig N Whistle for comment and spoke to Wilson, who said he was "not too sure" what we were talking about. He said he'd "have to look into" whether anyone named Suzanne did or had worked there, but did deny that anyone had been fired on Tuesday. Multiple follow-up calls were ignored by Wilson.