Ask LH: What Happens When A Restaurant Won’t Take My Card?

Hi Lifehacker, If I enter a restaurant because I’ve seen a sign saying they accept a particular credit card (such as American Express or Diners Club) but they then refuse to take the payment, what is my recourse? Agreeing to their requests to pay cash or use another card (both of which might be cheaper for them) reduces the value of the transaction to me, and this seems like bait-and-switch. On a related note, if I enter an establishment and then decide to cancel the transaction because at payment time they refuse my card, despite having advertised acceptance, is there any redress for my wasted time? Thanks, Card Carrier

Picture: Miki Yoshihito

Dear Card Carrier,

The #firstworldproblem here is that both involved parties are guilty of unpleasant conduct. The restaurant managers are acting like cheapskates by rejecting a payment method they have specifically advertised, and you’re acting like a jerk by assuming that spending even one minute discussing payment methods is such a huge personal affront that you immediately need to consider seeking compensation. A sense of proportion is always helpful.

If the restaurant is displaying a sign saying it accepts a specific card, then yes, it should accept that card, and not try to persuade you to do otherwise. If there’s a problem with using a specific payment method on the day (imagine the overall system is down), then that should be indicated before you order. So the first thing to do is politely insist on using your card of choice.

However, if you’ve already eaten the food and the staff aren’t budging, the reasonable and sensible thing to do is to pay by another means. Chances are you won’t visit that restaurant again, but this isn’t an issue that’s worth stressing over.

To describe this situation as ‘bait-and-switch’ is a massive over-reaction. Bait-and-switch would be promising you lobster and then selling you tinned tuna in a lobster shell.

If scoring frequent flyer points (or whatever card bonus you’re seeking) matters that much, then seek specific assurance that you’ll be able to pay via your chosen means as soon as you enter the establishment, no matter what the signage says. And if your time is so valuable that you can’t afford to spend the 30 seconds finding this out would take (which the tone of your question suggests), why do you care about credit card usage bonuses?


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33 responses to “Ask LH: What Happens When A Restaurant Won’t Take My Card?”