Follow TV Tropes


Work Off the Debt

Go To
Dishes Timmy's life now.
"In order to pay off these damages, you two are gonna work for me... forever!"

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 do that, the unfortunate victims will invariably have to wash up by handnote . Usually unexplained is how the restaurant was going to get the dishes clean if no deadbeats showed up that night.

For some reason, this remains an Undead Horse Trope, even though, in most countries, a restaurant's only legal recourse to a customer being unwilling or unable to pay is civil action, which in almost any situation would be more expensive than it's worth.

Additionally, there are likely certain legal problems involved with having someone working who is not actually on the payroll. Also, the average person doesn't know how to properly wash and sanitize dishes in a commercial kitchen. No reasonable restaurant would let you in there without any kind of training or skill tests, as that's just asking for a lawsuit, either from a customer who suffered food poisoning from an improperly washed dish or from the offender should they somehow get hurt in there.

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. Dine and Dash is an attempt at defying this trope.


    open/close all folders 

  • A Georgia lottery commercial had a couple consigned to washing dishes at a restaurant in which they dined after the man attempted to pay his bill with Monopoly money.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Aggretsuko: In Season 3, Retsuko isn't watching her gear shifting while in a parking lot and rams a van belonging to a scary-looking guy by the name of Hyodo. Hyodo says he won't press charges if Retsuko works to pay off the repairs for the damage she caused, with Retsuko guessing he's some gangster or trafficker that wants her to do some shady dealing after work. Turns out Hyodo's just the manager of an underground idol trio and needs an accountant to balance his books.
  • 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.
  • Case Closed: If a very rich and very bitchy person is the Asshole Victim in a case, chances are one of the suspects will be a person they forced into this. Whether they're red herrings or the actual sympathetic murderers, that's something else.
  • Chainsaw Man: Denji spends his youth indebted to yakuzas who demand outrageous sums to pay for his father's debt. He begins devil hunting, sells part of his organs, and even humiliates himself in public to amuse the goons while barely keeping up with the interest.
  • 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.
  • Digimon Adventure: In "WereGarurumon's Diner", Matt helps Joe work off a debt he's incurred since their money isn't accepted in the digital world. (American dollars are accepted but Japanese yen aren't.) As is often the case with debt slavery, Vegiemon finds countless excuses, such as wasted ingredients, spills, burnt food and so on (often caused by deliberate trickery), to add extra days to Joe's debt, ensuring he'll never actually pay it off and he'll have to do unpaid work in perpetuity. When Tai and T.K. arrive this trick is revealed, Matt's Crest of Friendship activates when Joe is captured by Vegiemon, after which WereGarurumon beats the daylights out of the owners and they finally go free.
  • 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 sewage water, much to the cook's dismay.
  • 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. She 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.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Arise military cyborgs are essentially serfs to their units until they pay off the cost of their prosthetic bodies.
  • He Is My Master: Izumi needs to pay off a debt incurred by breaking a vase.
  • Hunter × Hunter: The NPC's in Greed Island don't recognize real money as the money used in the game is in card form so Gon and Killua end up washing dishes since, while their meal is free, they still have to pay up for their drinks.
  • Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits has the main character Aoi Tsubaki get into this position when she inherits a major debt from her grandfather. Her other option to pay off the debt is to enter into an Arranged Marriage with the man her grandfather owed the money to and she is determined to avoid that.
  • 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.
  • At some point in Maison Ikkoku, Godai is stuck working at a nightclub that he's in debt with. Kyouko thinks he's job-hunting and makes him really nice lunches to help him; naturally, Godai feels like crap for this. The owner of the club sees said lunches and tells him that he must NOT let Kyouko go away.
  • 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, carefully washing dishes, while the others set out to track Hare down.
  • One Piece: When Marines fire a cannonball at Luffy's ship, he uses his Gum-Gum Balloon to redirect the projectile... straight towards the Baratie, a floating restaurant. The owner, Chef Zeff, tries to make Luffy work for a whole year, but considers the debt paid off after he saves his business from being stolen by Don Kreig and his pirates.
  • The final arc of One Pound Gospel has Ryuusei Kurenai, who will lure everyone in his host club to trick them into buying expensive things because his parents sold him to the club to pay a huge debt and now has to pay it off (something he'd have done a long time ago if he didn't take time off work to be a boxer), and won't shut up about that... Except he's lying about it, and will admit it. Then again, the only reason he's lying is that his debt is twice of what he says.
  • In Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi is forced to become a host after she accidentally breaks a monumentally expensive vase.
  • 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.
  • The eleventh episode of the PaRappa the Rapper anime has PaRappa, PJ and Matt forced to wash dishes when they can't pay for their food, only to get kicked out of the restaurant when they end up breaking all the dishes they washed.
  • 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 Adventures, 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.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: In chapter 76 of the Webnovel, Bitch is shown a piece of paper by Mirelia: a bill with the amount of money the Guild demanded from her for her spending while part of Motoyasu's party. So Bitch must be part of Motoyasu's party as a slave to pay back that debt. Chapter 111 has Bitch try to claim it was "necessary for the sake of the world", but Mirelia said it was for "expensive accessories, precious metals, clothes. A luxury rental estate and several visits to expensive night clubs. Is THAT what you call the sake of the world?".
  • In Reborn! (2004), Tsuna's pals order expensive food, then dine and dash. Tsuna has to work off the debt.
  • Rebuild World: Indentured Servitude is the fate of any hunter who falls into debt in the setting, with the One Nation Under Copyright government taking a very harsh view on it. Akira selling Healing Potion to Revin when he’s Too Desperate to Be Picky and Carol charging a high level hunter 10 billion aurum for a night with her, results in those hunters serving Katsuragi and Viola, respectively. Sheryl also ends up advertising all the money Akira has spent helping her as part of a ploy to get other slum gangs to accept her overlordship, since them refusing to help pay Akira back would presumably earn his wrath (as far as he’s concerned paying back Sheryl’s debt is just Viola’s excuse for being kept alive.)
  • In Sakura Gari, the Princely Young Man Souma forces the young servant 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: Souma keeps his side of the bargain... but Takafumi ends up getting killed by the police during a riot after the debt was paid and Souma hides this from Masataka while keeping him as his "lover". When Masataka finds out, he very understandably blows up at Souma, who only then realises how badly he fucked up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The title character of Squid Girl 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:
    Ika: "What kind of lame wage are you paying me, de geso?!"
  • 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 Cool Spaceship 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.
  • ×××HOLiC has Watanuki having to pay off an increasingly larger debt of working for Yuuko. It's not even his debt, but Syaoran's. Though by building his own set of relationships and memories, Watanuki is cementing his own existence.
  • 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".

    Asian Animation 
  • Adit & Sopo Jarwo: Jarwo and Sopo have a lot of debt to Kang Ujang's meatball shop, and since they don't have the money to pay for the meatballs, they (well, mostly Sopo as Jarwo just orders him around) regularly clean Kang Ujang's dishes to pay for it.
  • Lamput: At the end of "Lamput Checks In", Lamput escapes from the docs once more, but the docs themselves, who are in a hotel diner, are held off by hotel officials who notice they had ordered a chicken and ask them to pay. The docs don't have any money, so they're forced to wash dishes to pay off the debt.

    Comic Books 
  • One "Calamity James" story in The Beano ended with the Born Unlucky protagonist having to wash the dishes in a restaurant, and suggesting to his Personal Raincloud that it could wash, and he'd dry.
  • 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.
  • The Dandy Comic Library #14 "Baby Crockett in: Baby Goes to Town" had the baby visit a posh restaurant and, not realising he had to pay, order everything. After having to wash stacks of dishes, he was hungry again, and found a Greasy Spoon where the proprietor cheerfully told him it was on the house.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gaston Lagaffe takes Jeannie on a date where everything goes wrong, and the evening ends with them having to wash a mountain of dishes because he discovers too late that he forgot the wallet. The joke is not so much this, but rather that Jeannie is so smitten with Gaston that she gleefully makes up excuses for every mistake he does. When Gaston can't find his wallet, she remarks that "geniuses are absent-minded".
  • Superman invokes this trope when he stops off at a diner during the Grounded storyline. He's eyeing a cheesesteak on the menu, but doesn't have enough cash, and to protect his secret identity, he can't use a card. The waitress was willing to give it to him on the house because he's Superman, but he insisted on doing something to earn it. They settle on having him organize the supply closet, which he does in a matter of seconds.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • An Alternate Keitaro Urashima: While visiting Keitaro's parents, Kaolla Su helps herself to some brownies... which were meant for one of their customers. They then force her to work to recompensate them for the cost of both the brownies and the lost business.
  • Blessed with a Hero's Heart: When Kyouya foolishly challenges Izuku to a duel and loses, he's left having to pay a fifty-million eris debt as compensation. He dumps Aela, one of his party members, to pay it for him, without even leaving anything to help her get by in the meantime, and Aela is forced to join Izuku's party to survive. She manages to pay the debt after she kills a Rookie Killer with her bowgun, much to her own surprise.
  • 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.
  • Guardian Blue has a variation. Since as a police officer, Nick was going to start receiving government pay checks anyway, he pays off his debts from his tax evasion by having a chunk taken out of his wages.
  • Miraculous Ladybug Salt-Shots: In My Compensation, Marinette gets frustrated with Alya pawning off her babysitting duties on her "bestie" while pocketing all the money her parents are paying her to look after her sisters. In the process of working things out, her parents learn that Alya has also been racking up a debt at the Dupain-Cheng bakery by helping herself to "free pastries". This all gets her grounded, as she's bluntly informed that her parents are going to help her find a job, and that her paycheck will be going towards paying off the Dupain-Chengs.
  • The Daredevil (2015) fanfic What They Wouldn't Do sees Matt form an acquaintance with Sarah, a woman who has been forced into working for one of Wilson Fisk's old shady front companies to repay her father's gambling debts.
  • Many Baravadans work off their debts to the gods (which are not at all uncommon, more like bank loans than anything else) in With Strings Attached. One way to do it is to make sure the magical baths are still running in the empty, run-down hotels so the occasional traveler can wash up comfortably. Lyndess refused to do any kind of work for the debt she owed the gods, so they exiled her to Ketafa as punishment. No one knows what her problem was, but they've taken to calling her "Lyndess the Example" because she's a reminder that the gods don't take debt avoidance lightly.
  • In Xenophiles' Dinner Club, Cassie, Aftran, Ax, and Marco accidentally go to the wrong restaurant, instead of the one where Rachel's mom knew the chef. They end up paying their bill.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In D3: The Mighty Ducks, the Ducks are stuck with the bill at a fancy restaurant after the varsity team leaves, forcing them to wash dishes.
  • In the opening scene of The Gay Divorcee, Guy and Egbert are threatened with having to wash dishes at a Paris restaurant when they both forget their wallets. Guy (a professional dancer, played by Fred Astaire) eventually agrees to dance for his supper, only for Egbert to find his wallet after all just as the number finishes.
  • Laurel and Hardy:
  • In Love Finds Andy Hardy, Judge Hardy has to deal with a 12-year-old boy who went joyriding with a neighbor's tractor. Judge Hardy, being a Reasonable Authority Figure, sentences the boy to work for the farmer until he works off the repair damage.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.

  • The Afterward:
    • Knights from a poorer background like Kalanthe must pay back the cost of their armor, weapons and horse. All this gets very expensive. This is usually done through marrying someone rich.
    • Olsa had to pay back the Thief Bosses for training her by stealing things which they want.
  • Clocks that Don't Tick features people known as Thralls. They were so afraid of death that they took out a loan in order to go through the setting's incredibly expensive procedure to become immortal. Said loan also 'graciously' provides them with housing and a place to work. However, the interest rate is so astronomically high that paying it off is nigh impossible, essentially making Thralls immortal slaves.
  • The Hardy Boys ended up doing this once. They had their wallets, but the restaurant reserved the right to increase the prices after a certain hour without telling people. The price differential can happen in real life when people expect lunch prices and are charged dinner prices—sometimes because they got there just after the time for the price switch and sometimes because the restaurant accidentally (or so they say) gives them the wrong menu.
  • Used more than once in Robert A. Heinlein's books, including Between Planets and Job: A Comedy of Justice.
  • A variation in the Knight and Rogue Series. Fisk went on trial expecting that he wouldn't be able to pay the fines for his crime, and was suprised when Michael—a total stranger—was willing to pay the hefty difference between his fines and his funds. Since the law actually has a system for making criminals work for those who pay their fines, he's stuck playing Michael's 'squire' for the remainder of the book.
  • Michael Haller's limo driver in The Lincoln Lawyer is a former client of his (he's a criminal defense attorney) who agreed to let Haller keep half the wages as payment of Haller's fees until they're paid in full.
  • Quishan in Lords of the Bow is working as a slave for Chen Yi due to "gambling with him, and losing."
  • In the short story "The Necklace", Mathilde loses a diamond necklace she borrowed from her wealthy friend and she and her husband take out a huge loan to buy a replacement necklace to prevent her friend from finding out. It takes them ten years of grueling work to pay off the loan — and then when she finally tells the truth to her friend after the loan has been paid off, her friend tells her the necklace she lost was a cheap imitation that was worth only a tiny fraction of what she paid to replace it.
  • In Paper Moon, this is why Addie stays with Moses in the beginning — after her mother is killed in an auto accident, he uses the threat of a lawsuit to collect $200 from the responsible family, then spends most of it to repair his car. Addie threatens to report him to the police unless he raises the money to pay her back.
    Addie: I want my two hundred dollars!
  • Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!: Hiro accidentally ends up with a Hero's Slave Harem when he buys out the debts of two women who fell on hard times due to legal problems, planning to have them pay him back by working as his Bridge Bunnies. It's not until way later—after they've both slept with him—that either girl bothers to explain that by local custom, if a male captain takes on a female crew member, she's consenting to be his bed-warmer in addition to her other duties.
  • In The Ship Who..., the time and expense required to raise a suitable human infant into an adult Wetware CPU known as a "shellperson" is quite considerable. The Federation doesn't like words like "slavery" or even Indentured Servitude but they do expect shellpeople to serve in an area that interests them - military, general courier, archeology, as a Space Station, First Contact, etc - until they can achieve "Buy-Out". Helva achieves this in a mere ten years. Unluckier shellpeople take decades or even centuries if they're unfortunate and have to pay for their own repairs, the fee for switching partners etc - fortunately, the process that converts them into shellpeople also makes them very Long-Lived.
  • Spice and Wolf
    • Downplayed with Holo. 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 travelling 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. 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 travelling with him, as her rampage had damaged some of his property.
    • Lawrence ends with a bad bargain that not only bankrupted him but also ended with him having a debt of 47 gold coins which he has to pay in two days or face 10 years of rowing a long distance ship or working in a minenote . He Takes a Third Option by using his connections and the help of his creditor he chooses to smuggle gold into the city, which is no easy feat but he happens to have met just the right person for the job.
  • In Spinning Silver Wanda enters the story when the moneylender's daughter Miryem, unable to get any sort of material payment plan from her father Gorek, sees the strapping farmgirl and demands she work for her family with her wage applied to the debt. Wanda is privately thrilled because it keeps her away from her abusive father and an arranged marriage; when Miryem gives her a raise, she takes the difference in coin to stretch out her service.
  • Slow Life in Another World (I Wish!): A batch of potions that Itsuki meant to sell to the Adventure Guild is broken in an altercation, and the beautiful knight Aina offers to sell herself into slavery to cover their value after his guildmaster demands compensation (her partner Solte tags along to keep an eye on her). Unable to talk them out of it, Itsuki puts them to work gathering alchemy ingredients for him, planning to free them as soon as the money is paid off.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barbary Coast: In "Funny Money", a young gambling addict who owes money to Cash quits gambling and goes to work at Cash's casino as a bookkeeper to pay off his debts.
  • Almost happens in the Black Lightning pilot, where Jennifer goes to The 100 club and starts chilling with Will, until Will is "summoned" to his cousin Lala's office, with the goons dragging Jennifer with him, assuming her to be Will's girlfriend. When Lala points out that Will owes him a lot of money, he decides that Will's "girl" should start working off Will's debt at Lala's motel/brothel. Luckily, her dad blasts into the club and rescues her.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Cheers had Norm painting the office to work off his huge bar tab.
  • In El Chavo del ocho Don Ramón is often hired by Señor Barriga to do some work in the vecindad, such as fixing a wall or painting, in exchange of some of the months of rent he has yet to pay.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • In Family Matters, after Steve accidentally destroys a chunk of the Winslows' house, he uses his transformation chamber to turn into his alter-ego, Stefan, so he can perform at a local night club in hopes of earning money to pay Carl back for the damages. He ends up making enough money, and then some.
  • I Love Lucy: Lucy and Ethel complain about not having equal rights to their husbands and demand as such. Ricky and Fred agree and they head out for dinner, however, Ricky explains the situation to the manager and has the girls given separate checks. Since Lucy and Ethel were expecting their husbands to pay for their food, they don't have the money and are forced to wash dishes. They do get even for this stunt at the end of this episode.
  • In the Kenan & Kel episode "Attack of the Bug Men". The duo is 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.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, the Bundys went to dine at a restaurant and realized they have forgotten the money at home. Bud and Kelly went home to pick it but decided to keep it for themselves and let their parents 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 a compilation video of The Muppet Show, Kermit and Miss Piggy dine out at a fancy restaurant. Piggy orders increasingly more courses as the video goes on, until the very end...
    Kermit: (with the bill in hand) I think you better go on without me.
    Piggy: Oh, alright, fine. I'll see you later. Kissy-kissy! I may go get some pizza. (exits)
    Kermit: Yeah, I may stay and wash the dishes...
  • One Saturday Night Live sketch featured Pablo Picasso (played by Jon Lovitz) having a grand time at a seaside cafe and freely handing out his autograph to patrons and staff in place of money. Dishwashing ensues when management refuses to accept a signed napkin as payment on the check.
    Picasso: "What a revoltin' development!"
  • Scoundrels (2010): Cal is forced to work for Mr. Hong as a lackey to pay back for ruining a precious family relic while he was stealing his mansion.
  • 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.
  • Tsuyoshi in Sh15uya had to do this.
  • This is the entire premise of Side Hustle. Lexi, Presley and Munchy accidentally destroy the prize boat of their principal (and Munchy's dad). He threatens to make them pay off the debt with labor at the school but they come up with an app to land various odd jobs to cover the debt. As of "Thumb and Thumber", Presley wins a new boat for Tedward in a thumb-wrestling tournament after defeating her childhood thumb-wrestling rival, Rago, who was later revealed to be a cheater with his mother kissing his thumb with thumb grease to win each tournament, but then, they destroy Jaget's dune buggy, continuing the premise.
  • That '70s Show: The gang head out to a fancy restaurant, but when the time comes to pay the bill, they don't have enough money. Micheal, Hyde, Jackie, Kelso, and Fez head off to get some money, but we later find out it was a prank on Eric and Donna with the hope this might happen. Eric and Donna are forced to do a Dine and Dash and later repay their friends for the prank.
  • In "The Great Ping Pong Scam" from Victorious, Robbie orders a large amount of caviar, unaware of its price and causing the gang to be unable to pay for the bill. Luckily, the restaurant's booked live entertainment had called in sick at the last minute and customers are complaining, so Tori volunteers to perform in their place to pay.
    • Later in "How Trina Got In", Tori and Robbie must work at Nozu after they forget their wallets and can't pay a bill for their food.
  • Young Sheldon: Sheldon takes on a paper route to pay George after he dismantled the refrigerator, costing his father $200 to get it restored. Though what makes this ironic is that Sheldon is trying to pay off George as soon as possible even though George directly told him, "I don't care how long it takes, you're gonna pay me back every cent of this!"

  • The slaves in The Temple of Aria in Doom Breaker are forced to work until they pay off their debts.

  • 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

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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 Purlie Victorious a wealthy Southern landowner owns most of the land and debt of the local Black citizens, and uses that to force them to work for him in a manner similar to slaver despite the play being set in the 1960s.
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie. (See film examples above.)

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: The original game, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and Animal Crossing: City Folk each begin with the player moving into a new town and buying a house, only to discover that they don't have anywhere near enough money to pay for it. As a result, Tom Nook, the main shopkeep and landlord, hires them as his assistant to pay off part of the debt, which functions as a tutorial mode, leaving them to get the remaining money by themself once they finish their job. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, this is done away with in favor of using Isabelle's mayoral orientation program and Nook's development of the island, respectively, as tutorials; the player still needs to pay off their house by themself, though.
  • Battletech starts off this way: your mercenary company has had a run of bad luck and bad contracts, exemplified by the first mission after the time skip, where your employers double-cross you and you end up not getting paid for the work you did. The costs of running a mercenary company, in fuel, repairs, foods and other consumables, means that you're not even able to make payments on your debts, requiring you to somehow placate your debt holders early on. They also don't want you going too far, so you're forced to pick up terrible paying jobs in a four system area. The debt is bought out by Kamea when you reunite, and she explicitly states that she owns you, but allows you more freedom as long as you show up when she needs you. At the end of the game, she discharges the debt entirely.
  • In Big Sky Country, Cliff tells Morgan that there's one rule if they're going to stay on the ranch going back generations: You sleep here, you work here. Even his own granddaughter's not exempt from the rule.
  • In Crop Rotation, you have eight weeks to pay off the loan used to buy CR-3000, the automated farming machine, and you also have to pay for the weekly expenses. Failing to do so will have your machine confiscated.
  • 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 Dragon Quest XI, after Erik loses his memory and is caught stealing food from the stores of the Salty Stallion, he promises to make it up to the party, offering to wash the dishes or whatever they want. They assure him no such thing is necessary.
  • 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.
  • Two instances of this in Evolution Worlds:
    • Mag's family has been living with such a massive debt to the Society that they have to constantly pay the organization to stay afloat, all due to Mag's father never paying after going missing. It gets even worse by the end of the second game.
    • The same story happened to Chain, but her family sold off their house to pay the debt. In hindsight, now they all live in a bus and are barely living by because of Chain being the only source of income.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • 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 at fire-sale prices. 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. A different sidequest allows the player to make 100,000 gil in one go (with some Save Scumming), at which point it's just a matter of having enough inventory space to store all the purchases.
    • At the start of Final Fantasy XV, the protagonists set out for Noctis' wedding in the Regalia, which proceeds to break down. They end up having to do some work for Cid, owner of the Hammerhead garage and an old friend of the King, to help pay the bill.
  • Exploited in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance if you recruit Makalov. Ike mentions that he's paid off all of Makalov's numerous debts from the company's coffers, but since the debts were lawful, it means Makalov now had a very high debt to Ike. Best get fighting to work it off.
  • In Galaxy Angel II, this is how Anise ends up joining the Rune Angel Wing. She took a huge loan to buy a ship from the Blancmanche company to carry out her raid on the Luxiole and steal the Brave Heart. Unfortunately, her employer betrayed her and destroyed her ship, leaving her in a huge debt with Mint, so she's placed to work in the Rune Angel Wing to pay it off. She eventually does so and joins the team full-time, but in the process also accrues a new debt to Mint.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • Gets discussed during one of the introductory missions of Grand Theft Auto IV, where Roman boasts about his gambling to his cousin Niko:
    Roman: They call me "The Janitor."
    Niko: Because you can't pay your debts and they make you mop the floor?
    Roman: No, I'm the Janitor because I always clean up. I always win, get it?
    Niko: I seriously hope your cards are better than your nicknames.
    • Grand Theft Auto V has Micheal chase after his wife's yoga instructor whom she slept with. In a fit of rage, Michael pulls down a support beam on a house that the man fled to and destroys the entire house. Turns out that not only the house did not belong to the yoga instructor, it belonged to Martin Madrazo, the local drug lord, who is now threatening Micheal unless he repays him $2.5 million. Oops. You do eventually pay off the debt, but it takes up until the halfway point of the story for the debt to finally be resolved and collecting the money yourself outside of story missions doesn't count. The incident kicks starts the main story and Micheal, through an optional phone call, even lampshades the situation by saying that if he hadn't pulled down that house, he wouldn't be in the mess that he is in now. Later in the story, Madrazo commissions Michael and Trevor to do an assassination mission. Except he ordered them to do it for free after their debts were paid, and Trevor got antsy. Trevor responds by biting his ear off and kidnapping his wife. After Michael pays off Madrazo one last time and Trevor (reluctantly) returns Madrazo's wife, Madrazo agrees to stay the hell away from them both.
  • In Hundred Days, you can get a loan as emergency income for your winery and also adjust how much the loan is and the deadline to pay off your debt. This affects the amount of interest you need to pay per turn.
  • Kissed by the Baddest Bidder: Repaying the $20 million she was purchased for as a means of getting herself out of the situation she's in is not always brought up as even being a possibility, but Soryu, at least, seems to consider the protagonist indebted to him. Since it's completely impossible for her to ever come up with that much money, he puts her to work as Mei Ling's companion and then as her stand-in. At the conclusion of Mei Ling's stay in Japan, he declares the debt discharged and the protagonist free... although given that by that point she's fallen for him, she finds herself not nearly as happy about it as she should be.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie, Crow Armbrust's linked victory with Rean Schwarzer has him claiming that he should have paid off all his debts. Rean meanwhile believes that he still has some.
  • 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.
  • Max's Big Bust: A Captain Nekorai Tale: Max and brad get a $5343 debt to the Coffee Shrine, which Ryley forces them to work off. To do so, they have to transform into fox girls and work four hours every Saturday for eight weeks. Brad/Bonnie is not amused by this in the least. Ryley tries this a second time in Max's Bigger Bust, but ends up arrested for violations of labor and debt laws and illegal use of magic after a few days of getting the duo to work for her again, due to another officer learning about this scheme.
  • In Move or Die by Zap Dramatic, Carla breaks a vase of Mrs. Grimm's, and she makes her do this.
  • 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.
  • In No Umbrellas Allowed, you can get a loan from one of your investors, but you have to pay them the interest at certain intervals. You need to manage Darcy's shop in order to fully pay off the debt. Accumulating too much debt and being unable to pay for it will have Darcy kicking you out of his shop.
  • Played with in Persona 5. During the Priestess Confidant, Makoto (the Confidant in question and a party member) meets her new friend Eiko's boyfriend Tsukasa, a host, and becomes suspicious of him, although she admits she doesn't have any actual evidence. That changes when Eiko mentions that Tsukasa broke a bottle of sake at work, and she's taking on work to help him pay it back. It turns out that Tsukasa is a notorious scam artist who's used this trick before, tricking his so-called girlfriends into getting into debt for their sake so that they'll sell their bodies. With the player character's help, Makoto manages to find proof of this and save Eiko from such a fate.
  • Pikmin 2: This is the main issue driving the plot. Hocotate Freight is put in debt from losing a shipment of golden pikpik carrots. Olimar returns with treasure and the company's President sends Olimar and Louie back to the pikmin planet to get more treasure to pay off the debt.
  • Police Quest 2: The Vengeance. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Amusingly, this causes a lot of repercussions to the team. In the 64 game, they could have easily paid the whole debt and lived a life of complete luxury had Fox accepted the offer to work for the Cornerian Army. Turning it down comes to bite them hard in their asses a few years later with not enough mercenary work, leading to Falco ditching them, the ship falling into decay, and the cockpit area gathering lots of trash (especially large pizza boxes). Once their adventures in Dinosaur Planet/Sauria ends with success and they later get to help out Corneria once more in Star Fox: Assault, it turns out the debt still haunts them, which becomes even worse after everyone but Krystal (till Fox drives her away out of unnecessary worry for her well-being) and ROB 64 leave the team.
    • Star Fox Zero tellingly averts all of the above by pointing out during any run in the game that the earnings for the team are two extra digits long.
  • In one quest on Kashyyk in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the player encounters a man being forced to work to pay off a debt that is not even his: His crewmates took off in their ship without settling up their bill first, and as the last crewman around the debt fell to him. You can offer to pay the debt for him, but he refuses since he does not want to just switch his work to you, and the creditor says the value of service such a skilled mechanic can bring in is better than the actual amount of cash owed. During the course of the game you can discover that the creditor is actually running a con; he had killed the missing crewmates so as to force the debtor to work for him.
  • In Suikoden, the team runs into Vincent DeBoule, 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).
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • 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. 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.
    • Chapter 2-3 of Super Paper Mario forces Mario to work off a million-Rubee (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 Rubees stored in a safe at the top level of the house, but you have to jump through many hoops to get it.
  • In Thief Simulator, this is the plot of the game, as you're working to pay off your debt to the Lombardis after they paid your bail.
  • In X: Beyond the Frontier Kyle Brennan is rescued by the Teladi when his X-shuttle malfunctions and strands him in their space without propulsion, weapons or a shield. They stick him with the bill for the repairs and the cost of the shield and order him to remain in Teladi space until he pays off the debt. He has to make money by trading ie buying goods, hauling them elsewhere and selling them for a markup. Which, considering a dynamic economy with fluctuating prices and not much cargo space in your shuttle, makes it quite the grind.

    Web Animation 
  • Manga Soprano: Aki ate at an restaurant that she could not afford, even breaking an expensive piece and asked her sister Haru to pay for her. When she refused she begged the restaurant owner to allow her work off the debt to avoid jail.
  • Sonic for Hire: The second half of Season 2 involves Sonic working for the mafia to pay off a $100,000 debt that Tails had to borrow to bail him out of jail.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • Heroes in Evil Plan are sponsored by the government run "The Company" which sells hero merchandise and licensing to provide a "superhero economy". In order to ensure their heroes keep earning for The Company they charge exuberant rates for advanced medical treatment to bring them back from near death experiences. These debts are used to keep them on brand and selling their services.
  • Inverted (sorta) in Freefall. After Sam tries to buy dinner with a stolen wallet, only to realize that his victim is doing the same thing, they agree that the only "fair" solution is to find a way to get out without either one paying. Unfortunately, they pick a scam the waiter counters easily, end up washing three times their bill in dishes, and Sam's motormouth actually leads to both paying for both bills. Both then gave the waiter a large tip for being a Magnificent Bastard.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Project 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.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius episode "Hypno Birthday to You", after Jimmy hypnotizes his parents into having them throw his next few birthday parties early, he ends up having so many that his parents think he's now old enough to go off to college and plan to give his room to the clown that they hired for his parties. Sometime after they reveal that they were faking it, due to the clown breaking Jimmy's Hypno-Beam, they get slapped with a Shockingly Expensive Bill of $1,695.00. Cut to Jimmy scrubbing floors at his school to pay it off.
    Jimmy: No one with a genius IQ should have to scrub floors to pay off a clown! How long does this go on for?
    Sheen: Forever, trust me.
  • Arthur: In "Buster's Sweet Sucess", Buster is tasked with selling 20 boxes of chocolate for the school's music program fundraiser, but he has such a huge Sweet Tooth that ends up eating all of them, meaning that he owes the school $60. He then tries to make his own chocolates to sell and pay off the debt without anybody except Arthur finding out. Unfortunately, the batch of chocolates turned out to be terrible and because Buster didn't taste-test them so he wouldn't be tempted to go on another chocolate binge he didn't know this until angry customers showed up and demanded refunds. Even more unfortunately, Principal Haney was one of the people he sold the bad-tasting chocolates too, which wound up exposing what happened to the original chocolates. The situation is resolved when a long-time supporter of the music program catches wind of the situation and makes a deal with the school and Buster where he'll pay off Buster's debt in exchange for him working in his joke shop for a few hours during the upcoming weekend. The joke shop owner also buys the rest of the bad chocolates to use as a prank item called "Buster's Clusters" so they wouldn't go to waste.
  • Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper: Erika worked for Madame Carp because her parents borrowed money from Carp to support her.
  • On Big City Greens, Cricket works at Big Coffee in order to pay for damages done to the cafe by his antics. He does eventually pay off the debt, which would then mean he no longer has to work, but he then gets himself into an even bigger debt in order to keep his job. Subverted later on, when Chip fires him along with Gloria and destroys the cafe.
  • On Caillou, this is joked about in "Caillou Becomes a Waiter." When Caillou and his babysitter Julie make a pretend restaurant, the cost for a macaroni meal is four cents, but Caillou tells her she doesn't have any money. She responds that if he can't pay for his meal, he'll have to do the dishes, but says she guesses she can make an exception. He replies that he wants to do the dishes. Afterwards, both he and Julie are at the sink.
  • Camp Lazlo: "Prickly Pining Dining" ends with the Jelly Beans cleaning the bathroom and Scoutmaster Lumpus working as the restaurant's stuffed moose head.
  • The Casagrandes:
    • In "Finders Weepers", Ronnie Anne and Sid find a lost purse with $100.00 in it in the Mercado. While Bobby suggests they put it in the Mercado's lost and found box, Ronnie Anne suggests that she and Sid hold onto the purse while they find its owner (partially to make sure that Carl doesn't steal it). The girls spend all the money in the purse on pizza, a video game, a movie about penguins, and Twelve is Midnight merchandise. The girls soon find out that the purse belongs to Maybelle, and after several unsuccessful attempts to make back all the money they spent, Maybelle has them be her personal servants for the rest of the day by making them do her chores, such as cleaning her house and grocery shopping.
    • In "Maxed Out", Vito owes Hector $10,000 on his tab at the Mercardo, so Hector makes him work at the Mercado to pay it off. Vito is so bad at his job and causes so much property damage that Hector bans him from the Mercado. Soon after, Vito gets a job as a window washer to pay off his debt. In the end, it was revealed that Bobby had accidentally put the decimal point in the wrong place and that Vito only owes $100 to the Mercado rather than $10,000.
  • In the C.O.P.S. (1988) episode "The Case of the Disappearing Dough", Sundown, Bowser and Highway dine at a fancy restaurant and end up forced to wash dishes because the ink disappeared from the dollar bills they tried to use to pay for their meals.
  • The Donald Duck cartoon The Trial of Donald Duck has Donald trying to eat his (packed) lunch outside, but it starts raining. After many comic mishaps, an angry Donald forces his way into a fancy restaurant so he can eat his lunch in peace. The maître d'hôtel charges him for eating his own lunch in the restaurant. It comes out to $39.95, but Donald only has a nickel. The maître d'hôtel responds by taking Donald to court, where the judge forces Donald to choose either to pay a ten-dollar fine or work off his debt by washing dishes in the restaurant for ten days. The trope is subverted because the closing scene demonstrates the problem with this approach, showing Donald breaking dishes nearly as often as he actually cleans them. The maître d'hôtel begs him to stop, but Donald holds up his court order. (And, of course, knowing Donald, he's breaking the dishes on purpose.)
    • A variation occurs in an earlier cartoon, "Donald's Crime", in which Donald robs his nephews' Piggy Bank to pay for a date with Daisy. However, he becomes so guilty about his actions earlier (partially goaded into such by an Interactive Narrator) that he takes the opportunity to pay back his nephews by taking a job as a restaurant dishwasher.
    • Sometimes he is forced to work off a debt to Uncle Scrooge, with the nature of the task varying from polishing coins to tasks of questionable morality and/or legality.
  • This ended up being the solution in the Doug episode "Doug Needs Money" when Doug and Skeeter accidentally broke Mr. Dink's very expensive customized self-portrait barbecue grill during a softball game.
  • In the episode of DuckTales (1987) when Scrooge temporarily loses all of his wealth due to a years-old contract, he and the group (Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webigail, etc.) eat at a high-end restaurant where they were regulars anyway, saying to put the charge on his account. The contract-holder says the account is his as well, and Scrooge says to "Put it on his account." The owner doesn't approve of this and puts them to work in the kitchen washing dishes.
  • In one episode of Dudley Do-Right, Dudley is assigned to tail Snidely Whiplash wherever he goes. One such place was a restaurant, and when Snidely was leaving, Dudley attempted to follow, only to be held back cause he hadn't paid his check, followed by being forced to wash dishes when he doesn't have any money. When Inspector Fenwick finds him, he orders Dudley to get back on the job. Unfortunately, this results in the manager making the inspector wash the rest of the dishes.
  • In an episode of Earthworm Jim, Jim and Peter, along with Bob the Goldfish and one of Bob's minions, spend about a thousand years of "pseudo-time" washing dishes in a restaurant outside time. And then a further 150 pseudo-years (15%) when Jim insists they have tip the waiter (but the others refuse to do more just to tip the valet).
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In "The Big Problem", Timmy wished to be an adult. When he decided to dine at a restaurant, he had to wash the dishes to pay for the bill. The episode provides the image for the main page.
  • In Family Guy, Chris spent an episode doing odd jobs for a neighbor after breaking his window. Of course, the neighbor just so happened to be Herbert.
  • The Flintstones: Fred and Barney were expecting the Great Gazoo to pay the bill at the restaurant. Their wives got them out of it by using their saved vacation money to settle the bill.
  • Subverted in Futurama when it looks like Elzar is about to propose this — but has the gang arrested instead. It's only as they're being carted off that Bender suggests working it off and Elzar agrees to "give it a shot". Double subverted as Bender later quits to join the Robot Mafia, and Elzar's response? "'Kay."
  • Garfield and Friends: Jon and one of the girls he dated had to wash dishes (and some cars) to pay a restaurant bill (and some broken dishes) because Jon forgot his wallet at home. just one of the several ways on which he blundered with that date.
  • In another Classic Disney Short, Crazy With The Heat, Goofy, wandering in the desert, hallucinates a soda fountain ran by an Arab sheik. He orders a grand total of six ice-cream floats, none of which he gets to drink because they disappear the moment he tries to. When the sheik asks for the bill, Goofy refuses, and is suddenly holding a pile of dishes for him to wash, under penalty of beheading if he breaks any of them. Unfortunately, in the end, of course, he does when Donald Duck accidentally runs into him, and the sheik attempts to make good on his threat. Our heroes manage to escape in the nick of time.
  • Hey Arnold!:
    • "Dinner For Four": Helga wins a coupon to a fancy French restaurant. When it comes time to pay the bill, it turns out that the coupon was for the fancy French restaurant across the street with a very similar name. Phoebe wonders why Helga didn't just explain the situation to the waiter, rather than order more food while she stalled for a friend to bring a box of cockroaches over, thus causing a greater debt than she already incurred. They had actually gotten away already, then Arnold got them to turn back and wash dishes to pay.
      Helga: We've gotta come up with a plan to get out of paying. I just need some time to think. We'll stall. We'll order more food. Lots more food.
      Phoebe: But isn't that just exacerbating the problem?
    • "Big Gino": It happens again with Sid getting into debt to Big Gino. Gino's gang begins threatening Sid, but Sid gets Arnold to talk to Gino. Gino respects Arnold, so he proposes having Sid work for him for two weeks to pay off the debt. Sid ends up staying with Gino's gang even after the debt is clear, and trouble ensues.
    • "Harold the Butcher":
      • Harold is caught stealing a ham from Mr. Green's butcher shop (that he later ruins) and as punishment is ordered to work off the cost of the ham. He hates the job at first but ends up enjoying it later and wants to continue working there beyond his original sentence, especially to the point he eventually wants to open his own business. Mr. Green refuses initially because Harold had cost him even more money in ruined meat while working there, but changes his mind after Harold thinks up a clever way to fill customers' orders that he hadn't thought of.
      • In that same episode, after Harold is caught, his parents send him to their rabbi to confess what he did. The rabbi mentions that he had a friend during childhood (who may or may not have been the rabbi himself) who stole a vest from a tailor's shop, and had to work there for a period of time so he could learn how much work goes into producing a vest like that and running a business. In fact, that's where the rabbi gets the idea to have Harold work in the butcher's shop.
  • In the Warner Bros. classic short, Hollywood Steps Out, Andy Hardy (a recurring role played by Mickey Rooney) gets into trouble, and as usual has to ask his dad for help. Since they can't pay the bill, Andy and dad end up washing dishes to the rhythm of the music being played by the band.
  • Home Movies: In the episode "Stow a Way", Brendon, Melissa, and Jason run away from home. when they become hungry, it cuts to them eating at a restaurant with Melissa wondering how they're going to pay for it all. Brendon then offers his own home movies to the head of the restaurant, only for them to be cleaning dishes and mopping.
  • When Vinnie gets stuck paying the Duckie's diner bill in I Got a Rocket, he doesn't have enough cash and ends up washing dishes.
  • Invincible (2021): Titan is initially Trapped in Villainy by the fact that he owes an unspecified debt to the supervillain known as Machinehead. Unfortunately for him, he is so talented at crime that even when finally does pay off his debt, Machinehead refuses to let him quit and holds his family hostage in order to prevent him from being poached by a rival villain or turning hero. This prompts Titan to rat Machinehead out to the Guardians of the Globe and lead them to his hideout.
  • The Jimmy Two-Shoes episode "Catalogue of Misery" has Jimmy become a deliveryman for Misery Inc. after ordering everything from their catalogue, with Lucius threatening to fire Heloise as further justification. However, Jimmy, being Jimmy, helps to make the delivered products a lot less misery-inducing for everyone, to Lucius' horror.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 64, Mr. Cat opens a restaurant which is clearly a Take That! at McDonald's, and when Stumpy places a huge order he can't pay for, Mr. Cat forces him to work as an employee.
  • Kamp Koral: In "The Taste of Defeat", when Plankton drives all of Narlene's customers away, she makes him pay for their food. He can't afford it, so she hires him as her dishwasher.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: In "The Ballad of Brunchington Beach" the protagonists go to the titular cafe, only to find out that Dave ran out on the bill last time he was there and he gets sent to the kitchen to wash dishes.
  • Looney Tunes:
    Daffy: Well, Confucius says "Can't squeeze blood from turnip."
    Porky: Oh, yes. (produces heavy club) Also say "Better you press shirt than press luck."
    • Inverted in Daffy's 1967 cartoon "Daffy's Diner"; Speedy Gonzales doesn't have any money and asks Daffy if he could wash dishes in exchange for a meal. However, since Daffy's angry customer El Supremo wants a mouse burger with a real mouse, Daffy has other ideas.
    • The Looney Tunes Show: At the end of "Members Only", Daffy is working as a washroom attendant at the country club to pay off the debt he had run up on Walter's membership.
  • The Loud House: In "Cheater by the Dozen", it ends with Lincoln and Clyde working at the restaurant to pay off the meal they just ruined.
    • The Casagrandes: In "Maxed Out", Vito owes $10,000 on his tab at the Mercado, so Hector makes him work at the Mercado to pay it off. Vito is so bad at his job and causes so much property damage that Hector bans him from the Mercado. Soon after, Vito gets a job as a window washer to pay off his debt. In the end, it was revealed that Bobby had accidentally put the decimal point in the wrong place, so Vito ended up owing Hector $100.00 and not $10,000.
  • Molly of Denali: In "New Nivagi," Molly and Tooey agree to clean Mr. Rowley's glass figurines in exchange for moose meat and fat.
  • In "Sgt. Gravel To the Rescue" from PB&J Otter, Peanut struggles to return a library book to the book boat on time and has an Imagine Spot about being sentenced to row it as a prison barge with a group of other prisoners for being one day late.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, episode "Bad Fortune in a Chinese Fortune Cookie": After Chugaboom damages the restaurant, the Ant Hill Mob have to work as waiters and dishwashers, but were even worse at that.
  • A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: In "The Wrath of Waitro", Shaggy and Scooby also had to wash dishes to pay for a restaurant bill, and at the same time, a Commander Cool fantasy came into play. They washed so many dishes the waiter even gave them some money after they finished.
  • The Raccoons: In "Stealing the Show!", the Pigs are interested in having the latest Mudman comics, but they can't afford them on their current salary, so Pig Three resorts to shoplifting them from Willow's General Store and lying that he's able to get them for free. He eventually gets caught, though, and he and his brothers are forced to work at the store to pay them off.
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode, "Junk Junkies", Rocko owes the Pizza Face Pizza company $500.95 in unpaid bills, and if he doesn't give them the money by the end of the day, he will have to deliver pizzas as punishment. To raise the money, Rocko holds a Garage Sale. When Mr. Bighead sees the Pizza delivery truck after arguing with Rocko about how he shouldn't have to pay 25 cents for a cushioned toilet seat, he hides in his house to avoid being noticed, implying that like Rocko, he owes Pizza Face Pizza money. At the end of the episode, Mr. Bighead is seen working for Pizza Face Pizza as a delivery man.
  • The Simpsons:
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • "Squid on Strike" provides the quote for the main page. SpongeBob takes his striking way too seriously that he totally destroys the Krusty Krab, while at the same time, Krabs decided to hire him and Squidward back.
    • In "Pat No Pay", Patrick eats a huge meal at the Krusty Krab but has no money ("But I thought you said you could pay for it!" "Oh, I'm paying for it all right... *burp*"), so Mr. Krabs puts him to work at various tasks (none of which involve washing dishes, surprisingly) that he predictably screws up, ending with the restaurant blowing up and Krabs' money going through a shredder.
    • In "Bubble Bass' Tab", Bubble Bass runs up a huge tab at the Krusty Krab, and since he doesn't have the money to pay for his purchases, Mr. Krabs makes him work his tab off. Bubble Bass is so bad at his job that he disgusts the customers so much that they pay Mr. Krabs to let him off.

Alternative Title(s): Working Off The Debt


China Jones

Confucius says can't squeeze blood from turnip, and better you press shirt than press luck.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ConfucianConfusion

Media sources: