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Characters go to a place where they are expected to pay money for something they have already consumed and can't return. However, they are unable to pay for some reason. The owner is called out and agrees to let them work off their debt.
A common setting for this trope are restaurants, where the characters will be required to wash up the dishes. Even though most modern restaurants have machines to wash dishes, the unfortunate victims will invariably have to wash up by hand. Usually unexplained is how the restaurant was going to get the dishes clean if no deadbeats showed up that night.
For some reason, this is far from becoming a Discredited Trope
even though it should be because in most countries, the restaurant's only legal recourse is civil action, which would be more expensive than it's worth. No doubt a Shockingly Expensive Bill
will be involved. Related to Trapped by Gambling Debts
. Indentured Servitude
is where this is formalized and legally enforced.
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Anime & Manga
- The premise of Hayate the Combat Butler.
- Izumi needs to pay off a debt incurred by breaking a vase in He Is My Master.
- Aisha in Outlaw Star, working as a waitress rather than a dish washer, although she wound up washing dishes by the end of the episode.
- This is the basic premise of Zombie Loan, with characters who are Back from the Dead having to work off the literal life debt they owe in order to stay alive as "Z-Loaners".
- In Samurai Champloo, a procurer for a Yakuza-owned brothel stages one of these on Fuu by bumping into her and causing the "accidental" breaking of a vase, then insisting she work to repay its value.
- Similarly, in Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi is forced to become a host after she accidentally breaks a monumentally expensive vase.
- In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, Tsuna's pals order expensive food, then dine and dash. Tsuna has to work off the debt.
- An episode of Monster Rancher had the Hare treating the gang to a night at a fancy restaurant and inn... and then slipping off in the night without paying. Cut to a scene of Golem in a frilly pink apron.
- In an episode of Digimon Adventure, Matt and Joe have to work off a debt, since their money isn't accepted in the digital world. (American Dollars are accepted but Japanese Yen aren't) The digimon running the restaurant keeps them in debt by breaking dishes and blaming it on them. Matt and Joe call him out for it, scare him away, and go free.
- In a cute omake for D.Gray-Man, Allen is shown wearing a frilly apron, washing dishes, and taking food orders at the cafeteria in the Black Order. His reason? Because apparently General Cross got him more into debt, so he has to work it off.
- ×××HOLiC has Watanuki having to pay off an increasingly larger debt of working. It's not even his debt. Thanks a bunch, Syaoran. Though by building his own set of relationships and memories, Watanuki is cementing his own existence.
- This kicks off the plot of Ghost Hunt - Mai accidentally injures Kazuya's assistant and breaks his expensive camera. Not being able to afford a replacement, she has to act as his assistant until the debt is paid.
- And later discovers that, because Naru-chan's equipment is insured, he didn't technically need to get her help to pay for the replacement. He just wanted extra help and the broken camera gave him an excuse. Lin's injury was more reasonable grounds, though.
- Tenchi Universe episode 19 "No Need For Runaways!" The group is eating at a diner in a space truck stop. After two punks steal their ship the Yagami, most of the group rushes off in pursuit. Ayeka and Sasami are left behind but have no money to pay the bill. They're still washing dishes 92 hours (almost 4 days) later.
- In One Piece, Luffy is forced to work at the Baratie as a chore boy for a year after damaging the restaurant when he deflects one of Fullbody's cannon balls. Ultimately, Zeff releases him from his debt in exchange for defeating Don Krieg, largely because with his incompetence, the restaurant wouldn't last a year with him around.
- The title character of Shinryaku! Ika Musume is stuck working at the Lemon Beach House to work off her debt, although in her case she's working to pay to fix the hole she blasted in the restaurant's wall. When she asks how long it will take, Eiko replies that it would take her 5 or 6 years to pay it all off. Even a squid girl who until recently had no concept of debt or money realizes that this is ridiculous:
: "What kind of lame wage are you paying me, de geso
- In Peach Girl, Kairi Okayasu gets his wallet stolen by street punks at one point. He doesn't realize it until he gets the (rather cheap) bill at a restaurant, and winds up washing dishes.
- In Pokémon Special, Black is forced to work for White after she shows him how much she paid to cover for the scenery and equipment he destroyed. Which is just fine for White, as she really needed his Tepig for a movie shooting.
- In a slight subversion, White proves to be a Reasonable Authority Figure as she doesn't expect Black to pay off the entirety of the debt. She plans to let him go after just a few more shootings. And this trope is further played with when it turns out that Tep and Gigi make so much money together that Black has most of the original debt payed off anyways. After that revelation, Black and White form a sort of partnership since their respective goals work out better if they stick together. They're even willing to directly help each other out.
- Spice and Wolf subverts this a little. While Lawrence insists that Holo sticks with him until she's paid off her debt, and she agrees to do so, it's merely their excuse for traveling together, and it doesn't fool anyone. Except Amarti, who assumes that Lawrence is tying her down. They set him straight, but not before lightening his purse quite a bit.
- Further played with when Lawrence sees Holo's wolf form. Holo is worried that Lawrence won't want anything to do with her. Lawrence responds by demanding that she continue traveling with him, as her rampage had damaged some of his property.
- Sakuya Ookochi from Sensual Phrase has this in his backstory, as his Parental Substitute raised him as a musician to pay the huge debt that Sakuya's mom Reiko left behind after her death.
- In Sakura Gari, Souma forces Masataka to be his lover to return the money that Souma used to pay the debt that Masataka's older brother Takafumi had with the Yakuza. It gets worse: Takafumi gets killed by his debt collectors anyway, and Souma hides this from Masataka while keeping him as his "lover".
- Magic Knight Rayearth: Fuu was afraid she and her friends would have to do this for the weapons Presea made for them, though they ultimately don't.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Arise military cyborgs are essentially serfs to their units until they pay off the cost of their prosthetic bodies.
- In ''The Big O, the reason R. Dorothy starts working as Roger's maid is that she can't pay off the fee for the negotiating he did for her.
- Happened in one episode of Dokonjou Gaeru with Hiroshi at a ramen restaurant. He sent Pyonkichi (the frog on his shirt) to get the money, but it took so long for him to return (he lost the money and had to earn it back by helping other people for reward money), that by the time he came back Hiroshi washed every dish at the restaurant, making his hands sore. They don't take this lying down, however: they give the store owner the money, then proceed to take the clean bowls outside and dirty them again with mud water, much to the cook's dismay.
- Both Smiley and Phoney Bone (much to his chagrin) have to work off their debts at the Barrelhaven Tavern. What's infuriating to Phoney is that he had money, but because the residents of the valley use a barter system, his cash was worthless.
- Occurred in one incarnation of Teen Titans where Captain Marvel Jr. ended up washing dishes and Argent waiting tables. Justified in that this was ordered by Lex Luthor (who owned the restaurant and who they had just accidentally doused with a bottle of soda) in order to teach them a lesson.
- Subverted in Fables, where Flycatcher works off his crimes by being a janitor, but keeps getting caught doing the same crime again and has his sentence extended. He does this because he likes being a janitor; it makes him feels fulfilled and he can forget about his other regrets. Becomes a Double Subversion when Bill Willingham turns Flycatcher into Tinkerbell Jesus.
- Used on several occasions in Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, usually to add insult to injury when Uncle Scrooge is temporarily denied access to his fortune because of unfortunate events. In a variation unique to Scrooge, he and the rest of the ducks once end up washing dishes even though he has the money—he doesn't have anything smaller than a thousand-dollar bill and the clerk can't break it for him.
- One story had Donald working off a debt only to learn it was already paid. Not wanting to part with money, Scrooge agreed to work for Donald, who had Scrooge pick some rare flowers (Donald wanted to impress Daisy). Unfortunately, that action resulted on Donald having to pay a fine three times the original debt's value. Scrooge paid it and now Donald had to work for him again. Scrooge congratulated Donald for turning a credit into a thrice as big debt.
- Donald once found himself with no money to buy a turkey for Christmas so he decided to disguise himself as a foreign businessman to trick Scrooge into treating him to a turkey dinner at the Ritz. Unfortunately, Donald underestimated Scrooge's stinginess. Donald and Scrooge spent a whole day trying to outwait each other until Scrooge figured out Donald was tricking him. Scrooge then asked if the restaurant was for sale. It was. For one million dollars. He then took that amount out of his pockets, bought the place and had Donald wash the dishes.
- Fire Emblem Rekka No Ken: A Story Retold: Lyndis' Legion manages to defeat Lundgren thanks to female merchant Anna supplying Michael with a Master Seal, which Lyn uses to get the upper hand in the fight, and an Aum Staff, which she uses to bring Michael Back from the Dead after he was mortally wounded by Lundgren. Several chapters later, Anna arranges for Michael to work off the fifty-thousand gold he owed her for the two items during the one-year Time Skip.
- Happens in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, with the added bonus of showing viewers the one way Pee Wee Herman could possibly look sillier (i.e. decked out in a hairnet and apron).
- Treated in greater depth in the absurdist film The Music Of Chance. A professional itinerant cardsharp and his chance-met companion unexpectedly get into debt to two apparently gormless lottery millionaires when it turns out the latter have been taking poker lessons. They have to work off the debt through what amounts to slave labor on a grueling and utterly pointless task: Using stones salvaged from a medieval castle to build a useless wall. Several levels of tragedy ensue.
- Thoroughly Modern Millie. Jimmy (who is secretly an absurdly wealthy tycoon) has deliberately not paid for dinner so he can wash dishes with Millie.
- In the Three Stooges short "Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise", the Stooges accidentally damage a farmer's saws; he orders them to work for him until they can pay for new saws. However, in the next scene, they aren't shown doing said work and are back out wandering the countryside. It's never established if they did work off their debt or ran off when the farmer wasn't looking.
- Averted in the Laurel and Hardy short "Below Zero"; the duo treats a cop to a meal in return for helping them earlier. It turns out that if you can't pay your bill in said restaurant, you don't wash dishes; everyone in the restaurant subjects you to a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Guess what happens to Laurel and Hardy when it's revealed that they can't pay their check?
Live Action TV
- Kenan & Kel. The duo are trying to prevent the former's family from returning home to find that it had been robbed. When Kenan's parents request their bill, he secretly steals his father's wallet, and they are forced to wash dishes. All of this is deliberately done to buy time for the police to arrest the burglars and recover the stolen furniture, and for Kel to unload that furniture back into the Rockmore residence. Kel, being Kel, ruined the plan by unloading different furniture for liking it better than he likes the stuff he should have unloaded.
- Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, sweeping floors in a convenience store.
- An extreme case of this was the basis of seasons 2 through 5 of The Facts of Life: The four girls were working off damages inflicted to school property (with Rich Bitch Blair's parents not bailing her out as a growth experience).
- An episode of Cheers had Norm painting the office to work off his huge bar tab.
- Tsuyoshi in Sh15uya had to do this.
- In an episode of Corner Gas, Lacey catches Oscar counterfeiting, when she says she has something in mind for him, the scene cuts to him washing dishes, when Lacey walks in and tells him she just wants him to pay her off in real money.
- In an episode of Married... with Children, the Bundys went to dine at a restaurant and realized they forgotten the money at home. Bud and Kelly went home to pick it but decided to keep it for themselves and let their parents to fend for themselves. Once Al told Peg she'd probably be forced to wash dishes to pay the bill, she quickly devised and implemented a plan to escape and it worked.
- And the time Al had to work as a bellhop to pay off fraudulent credit card debts. And the time Peg had to work a fast food job to pay off her Patty Bright makeup debt. And another time when Al had to work at a gas station after his family spent all the gas money buying snacks.
- One episode has Al cleaning up a bar to pay the bill and it's implied it's usual.
- In an episode of Victorious, Robbie orders a large amount of caviar, unaware of it's price. As the gang don't have enough money to pay for this, Tori ends up paying the debt by singing for the guests of the restaurant.
- The next episode, The Squid and the Coconut, has a plot where Tori and Robbie must work at Nozu after they forget their wallets and can't pay a bill for their food.
- In Seinfeld, George comes up with an idea for Jerry, the Show Within a Show, that one of the characters owes Jerry a lot of money and so has to work as Jerry's butler by court order to pay off the debt.
- In the Caitlin's Way episode "Caitlin's Trust", Caitlin wrecks Jim's brand new ATV while taking it for a joyride (Long story short, she thought that he'd purchased it using money paid to him by the government to take care of her and she took the ATV for a joyride because she was angry about it). As it turns out, he paid for the ATV out of his own pocket. He'd been secretly putting the government checks in a trust fund for Caitlin. When this comes out, he lets her (and Griffen, who was also in the ATV) do community service to work off the debt. In a twist on the trope, this is actually the lesser of two evils, as the alternative would have been to file criminal charges against her, which would result in her being taken away from Jim and Dori and sent to juvenile detention.
- Rare musical reference:
You go out to eat, can't pay, y'all can't leave
There's dishes in the back, he gotta roll up his sleeves
But while y'all washin', watch him
He gon' make it to a Benz out of that Datsun
- Happens in the Alex comic strip during the period when Alex was unemployed. Alex wanted to wash dishes for longer so the other kitchen hands didn't assume he'd ordered the cheapest item on the menu.
- In Super Mario RPG, you're able to sleep at a certain hotel for more nights than the one you initially pay for. If you don't have enough coins to pay for the extra nights, you have to work it off as a bellhop.
- Not only that, but if you even try to approach the lobby's save block, the manager won't let you save until you were debt free, although you could still save by leaping off one of the people's heads and onto the block before the manager can say anything. Even though you're working off your debt, the guests randomly give you tips in the form of items like a Max Mushroom or Flower Box, which are rare items, so overstaying can be a good thing.
- In the beginning of Animal Crossing you move to the new town, but when it comes time to pay for the house, you don't have enough money. So the store owner (who also runs the realty business) makes you his assistant for a while to work off the debt.
- Chapter 2-3 of Super Paper Mario forces Mario to work off a million-Rupee (not Coin) debt after smashing an expensive vase by doing mundane tasks to generate electricity (such as hitting a question block or running in a hamster wheel). The payout for these tasks is ridiculously low, as the house is run by shapeshifting trickster Mimi. She actually has the requisite Rupees stored in a safe at the top level of the house, but you have to jump through many hoops to get it.
- In Suikoden I, the team runs into Vincent De Boule, a man who claims to be an aristocrat, yet lacks the funds to pay for a meal at the inn that he just ate. He runs off and leaves your team to foot the bill. If you currently lack the money for the food, the owner forces your group to wash dishes to pay off the meal. Fortunately, since the meal is only 200 potch and you likely have an amount in the hundred thousands, you likely won't end up working it off (unless you do it on purpose to see the scene).
- Police Quest II. This happens if you don't have enough money to pay the restaurant bill with your date. Even worse with the credit cards being overextended. Only shown in narrative text that you have to wash the dishes and not awarding you points.
- In Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, the player is a young girl named Recette whose father took out a large loan before going adventuring and not coming back. A fairy, Tear, is sent to work out repayment of the debt with her. Together they run an RPG item shop and send adventurers to collect loot for them to sell.
- In one quest on Kashyyk in Knights of the Old Republic, the player encounters a man being forced to work to pay off his debt. It turns out that the creditor sabotaged the debtor to force him into this situation.
- In Dragon Age II, the Hawke siblings work for an entire year to pay off the mercenaries/smugglers who helped the family enter Kirkwall.
- In Final Fantasy X-2, the merchant O'aka ends up in deep debt to some Al Bhed moneylenders after a business deal goes bad. You can either turn him over to the Al Bhed looking for him, or you can take him onto your airship and buy items from him until you pay off his 100,000 gil debt. If you pay off his debt, he'll reopen his shop and start selling some very useful items. If you turn him over to the Al Bhed, they put him to work at an excavation site in the desert to pay off his debt.
- Almost the entire point behind the mercenary work in the Star Fox series. The Great Fox mothership was purchased/built by Fox's father, James, who racked up a huge bill for the ship. The bill was passed down to Fox after James was killed, so Fox and his crew do mercenary-for-hire work to pay off the rest of the bill.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, you can break the chandelier of the Lumpy Pumpkin to get a Piece of Heart. Doing so will piss off the owner, starting a series of sidequests where he makes you work to repay the chandelier.
- In Move or Die, Carla breaks a vase of Mrs. Grimm's, and she makes her do this.
- The plot for Pikmin 2 is basically this. Louie's ship was attacked by a space bunny while delivering a load of golden pikpik carrotsnote putting Hocotate Freight in dept. Olimar returns with tresure and Prez sends Olimar and Louie back to the pikmin planet to get more tresure to pay off the dept.
- Neverwinter Nights 2:
- Qara is shanghaied into the party after nearly burning down the Sunken Flagon, an inn owned by the Knight-Captain's adoptive uncle. To pay for the damages Duncan forces her to use her magical talents to help the party, and has her tending bar when the group is at the inn.
- Duncan calls in a favor from a Noodle Incident to get Bishop to help the party track the githyanki that attacked the Flagon and kidnapped Shandra Jerro. Bishop stays afterwards for his own reasons.
- Secret of Mana: The Sprite debuts in a show at Gaia's navel, claiming to be working off a 50,000 GP debt. It's a scam run by Sprite and a dwarf.
- In Eternal Sonata, when Frederic Chopin, Polka, Beat and Salsa are rescued by a Baroque Ship, Beat asks Prince Crescendo if there's anything they can do to thank them, and suggests "This little squirt [Salsa] could wash dishes for you!" Salsa is not amused, but Crescendo says that it's fine, that they don't owe him anything. Later, however, when a pirate ship shows up to menace the Baroque Ship, the party goes aboard to fight off the pirates.
- Inverted (sorta) in Freefall. After going to dinner with a man he stole a wallet from (long story), Sam agrees to race to avoid paying the bill. The loser would pay for both. However, the terms of the race were a little unusual and Sam's motormouth lead to both paying. Both then gave the waiter a large tip for being a Magnificent Bastard. Notable because neither was unable to pay the bill, so they weren't technically working off the debt but trying to avoid paying.
- In Sluggy Freelance people who try to dine-and-ditch in the Dimension of Sham-Pain are forced to toil for an eternity in the Sudsy-Dish Mines.
- In the Touhou 4koma doujin Life of Maid, Hong Meiling, the Scarlet Devil Mansion's resident Chew Toy, talks Sakuya into going with her to an ice cream parlor that they find out is run by Letty and Cirno. Meiling tries to eat an entire Super Winter Earthquake, a massive bowl of ice cream that took resident Big Eater Yuyuko 5 minutes to eat, in 30 minutes or less to try to win 30,000 yen. Meiling fails miserably, meaning she has to pay 10,000 yen, and neither she nor Sakuya have that much, so after Sakuya (being Sakuya) bugs out using her time-stopping ability, Meiling has to work off the debt by being a waitress at the ice cream parlor for a while.
- In Everyday Heroes, when Summer and Carrie get a little carried away at the local amusement park, they have to spend a few weekends working there to pay for the repairs.
- In I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space!!!, Betty is rescued by the "hero" Male Man, who promptly presents her with a bill for his services. As she cannot pay, Betty ends up working as his maid/slave for years until she runs away with the pirates.
- In this◊ El Goonish Shive wallpaper, evidently Hedge and Vladia could not pay at the restaurant they are depicted in and, according to company policy, they were zapped by Ellen and made to work off their bill.