Should a Restaurant That Doesn't Take Credit Cards Let Customers Know?

Posted on 26 Apr 2015 00:14

As hard as it is to believe, there still exist some restaurants that take only cash, and no credit cards. Some even take cash or check. Can you imagine? Who carries a checkbook anymore? Of course, this situation exists even more often in other businesses, such as dry cleaners or barber shops, where the owner thinks the fees charged by the credit processing company are too expensive. Still, eating a meal at a restaurant only to belatedly find that they do not accept credit cards is a frustrating and embarrassing situation. The question is, are they required to let you know?

The truth is that some very small restaurants operate at margins that are so tight that the payment of commission and transaction fees would make it quite difficult, if not impossible, for them to operate. Sometimes, this problem is due to a failure to control costs and a short-sighted penny-pinching attitude. The upshots to accepting credit cards is fairly easy to see: Most everyone uses them!

A frequent solution to this problem is placing an ATM within the premises so that patrons can conventionally extract cash when they need it to pay for their meal. This is seen as tacky by some but it is certainly better than being left with no means to pay. However, one of the biggest complaints, with or without an ATM, that customers have is a restaurant's failure to inform patrons that they do not accept common credit cards. If you check online reviews of restaurants that do not accept credit, you will find this complaint in many of them.


Image by Philip Taylor PT via flickr


Image by Philip Taylor PT via flickr

As well, in a higher-end restaurant, cash-only could require customers to carry hundreds of dollars in cash on their person. Many people are uncomfortable with this, especially if they live in an area where muggings are frequent. Suffering the embarrassment of not being able to pay, even though you have a perfectly good credit card with you, is not likely to make you want to come back to a restaurant.

However, restaurants are not required to explicitly inform you that they do not take credit cards.

Look For the Credit Card Logs

In reality, though, it is easy to tell. If you are having this experience more than you feel warranted, you may want to get in the habit of looking for the familiar credit card logo stickers on the front door displayed in some other conspicuous place like a placard on the host stand. Most credit card companies require these to be displayed. If you do not see these stickers, then ask if they take credit cards before you eat at the restaurant.

Restaurants Should Let Customers Know When Credit is Not Accepted

This day and age, it is a courtesy to the customer to clearly inform them when credit cards are not accepted, and it is bad business to do otherwise, so when a restaurant does fail to inform, you should feel justified in not repeating your business. For the most part, not accepting credit cards is bad business in itself, but it is sometimes unavoidable, so an owner should do their utmost to see that customers are not put in awkward situations. Despite what some old fogeys might insist, payment by credit card is the norm today, not the exception!

Discounts for Paying Cash

Some restaurants that accept credit cards offer incentives to pay cash, such as a free dessert or a discount. Most credit card companies do not allow business to offer cash discounts. This is a violation of the terms. It also sends a bad message to customers, making them think they are not paying the right amount when they do use credit cards. Often, the discounts make little sense, as they are greater than any credit card fees that would be incurred by the business and end up costing the restaurant more, not less.

Should you, as a customer, feel slighted when made to pay more for using a credit card? Probably. Paying with credit cards does not make you unusual and sending the message that credit card paying customers are not as welcome as cash paying customers is only going to alienate a large swath of potential patrons.

What Do You Do When You Only Have Credit Cards and They Accept Only Cash?

Don't worry, it isn't likely that a restaurant owner is going to call the cops on you if you don't have cash to pay for your meal. Under shop keeper's privilege, a restaurant owner or manager does have the right to temporarily detain you for the amount of time it takes to figure out whether you were intentionally trying to defraud them. Obviously, in this situation, you did not intend to defraud them, and you are not saying that you won't pay, only that you don't have cash on-hand to pay. Most savvy business owners, unless you ran up quite a large bill, are not going to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Calling the police would be a waste of time, and a serious problem in customer relations! The police would most likely do nothing other than suggest that the owner give you some time to come up with the cash, whether this be calling a friend to bring some cash to you, or going to an ATM machine. Trying to sue you for this would cost much more, in the long run, than the cost of a simple meal. At the same time, other customers would clearly see the treatment you were receiving for a simple misunderstanding (for which the restaurant can take some of the blame, if not all of it).

It is very likely that an owner will simply comp the meal. It is better to lose the cost of a meal once in a while than to create a "situation" with a customer. A savvy owner will know that when they do what they need to do to make things as easy, and unembarrassing as possible for you, you may become a repeat customer. Possibly even a loyal one.

Most of the time, however, you will be given a chance to procure the cash needed and come back to pay. You may be asked to leave something behind that you will need to come back for, although even this may not be required.

No, they will not allow you to wash dishes to pay your bill! That is a TV and movie trope only.

Restaurants, Displaying Credit Card Logos in More Places May Increase Ticket Amounts!

Research has indicated that when restaurants display credit card logos conspicuously, not only on the front door, but at the host's station, or on a tipping tray or ticket folder, customer's willingness to spend increases. You can place the logos on your menus (keep it tasteful), on a table tent, or in many other creative places. It may even increase tips!

Lynn, M. (1996). Seven ways to increase servers' tips [Electronics version]. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 37(3), 24-29.
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