Most states have a specific statute (often called defrauding an innkeeper) that makes it a criminal offense to obtain food, lodging, fuel, or other accommodations at a restaurant, hotel, ski resort, campground, marina, gas station, or other establishment, with the intent not to pay for such goods and services—or to secure credit at such an establishment through fraud or other means of deceit (false pretenses).
Proof that a person refused or neglected to pay for such food, lodging, fuel, or accommodations, or gave payment that was not honored (declined credit card, bad check) is generally proof of such fraudulent intent not to pay for the goods or services.
The definitions and punishment for this criminal offense vary from state to state, but generally may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony, and may include confinement in jail or state prison. In some states, if the amount owed was disputed and the amount offered in payment was refused, a person cannot be convicted under the statute.
Employee Paycheck Deductions
Some states have laws—usually statutes in the labor or employment code—that prohibit employers in the service industries (restaurants, bars, hotels) from deducting any amount of a check, bill, or tab owed by a customer from the employee’s pay—but other states do not have laws that prohibit such deductions.
In practice, most employers will not make such deductions unless they believe the employee was negligent or complicit in the walked-out or dine and dash tab. And if the employee’s employment is at will, the employer can generally fire the employee for a dine and dash tab.