Ask The Salty Waitress: Does The Klutz Who Spilled Red Wine On My Clothes Owe Me?

Hi Salty, please tell me what I should have done in this situation. I've been thinking about it since the incident happened last weekend and am still pissed about it.

I was out to dinner with three friends at a nice restaurant, the kind you have to dress up. During dinner, a customer at the table next to us knocked his wine glass over and spilled red wine on half of my outfit, staining my sweater and my pants. (If it matters, the pants are dry-clean-only.)

All he said was "Oh, really sorry." Then he half-assed mopped up a little bit of the wine on the floor and went back to his dinner. Our server came over with more towels so I could clean off my clothes, but obviously both the sweater and pants are ruined. The guy who knocked the glass, of course, didn't get any on him.

My question is: Does this guy owe me for the damage to my clothes? Should I have confronted him about it? His apology was barely an apology, and the restaurant didn't do anything about the situation either other than bring me napkins.

Thanks,Covered In Cabernet


Hey Covered In Cab, Honey, I hear you. As a longtime server, I can't begin to tell you about all the gross substances that have been dumped on me—or that I have accidentally dumped on others. Reminds me of the Great Gravy Incident of 1993, in which I actually spilled a gravy boat onto a woman's white linen dress. I still feel badly about that—the dress was nicer than anything in my polyester roster.


In that case, since it was my dummkopf error, management covered that customer's dinner and dry-cleaning bills (and gave me a stern talking-to). In your case, though? Hard to say. Let me take off my apron and put on my Judge Judy robe for a sec: Since a fellow patron was at fault here, I don't think you can blame the restaurant. In a perfect world, the guy would have been more apologetic and offered to replace your damaged clothing. But in a perfect world Mr. Salty (played by Chris Hemsworth) would be rubbing my aching feet right now, so we know life isn't always perfect.

If you're still hot as a kettle, there's some small comfort in knowing you're not alone. Heck, I was once barfed on by a child at work. But at the end of the day, no one's on the legal hook. According to a New York Times column about such restaurant spills, going to court is expensive, and restaurants know that a customer probably isn't going to drag out a legal battle over dry cleaning.

Hindsight being 20/20, you could have insisted at the time that the guy pay to replace your outfit (with some pizzazz, too, like standing up in the middle of the restaurant and shouting, "I demand satisfaction!"). At that point, management probably would have gotten involved and urged that guy to make amends, since it was his fault. The restaurant might have also comped your drinks to help make up for such an unfortunate incident, maybe. But making such ruckus would have colored your whole nice evening out with your friends (instead of just the wine coloring your pants), which is likely why you didn't kick up a giant fuss at the time.


I'd say in the future you could switch to black (as my beloved Sylvia comic strip put it, nothing lasts forever except for red wine on a white couch), but it was his wine glass, not yours. So you may want to just chalk this up to a crappy mistake. I know, easy for me to say—but into each life, a little red wine must spill. Sorry about your outfit, but honestly, if that's the worst thing that happened to you this week, I'd say you're doing okay.