Can A Restaurant Refuse A Gift Card?

Have you ever received a gift card to your favorite restaurant, only to be turned away when trying to use it? It’s a frustrating experience that leaves many wondering: can a restaurant actually refuse a gift card?

Yes, a restaurant can refuse a gift card. But there are many factors that come into play, such as state and federal law, expiration dates, and the restaurant’s own policies.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the laws surrounding gift cards, explain why a restaurant may refuse a gift card, and offer some tips to avoid this situation altogether.

What The Law Says About Gift Card Payments

Gift card payment.
Gift card payment.

The laws regarding gift cards vary from state to state, but there are some general rules that apply across the board which are similar to refusing cash payments.

According to the Federal Gov, gift cards cannot expire within five years of the purchase date. Additionally, any fees associated with the gift card must be clearly stated on the card itself or in the packaging.

Some states have additional laws that protect consumers when it comes to gift cards.

For example, in California, it is illegal for gift cards to have an expiration date or any fees (with a few exceptions, such as for gift cards to a specific service, like a spa).

However, these laws do not necessarily mean that a restaurant must accept a gift card.

In fact, some states specifically allow businesses to refuse gift cards, as long as they post a notice stating that they do not accept them.

Why Restaurants May Refuse Gift Cards

There are a few reasons why a restaurant may refuse a gift card, even if they technically should accept it according to the law. Here are a few possible scenarios:

  • The gift card has passed its expiration date. While most gift cards are now required to have a five-year expiration period, some older cards may have shorter expiration dates. Additionally, some states allow businesses to set their own expiration dates, as long as they are clearly stated on the card and do not expire within five years.
  • The restaurant is in financial trouble. If a restaurant is facing bankruptcy or other financial issues, they may choose not to accept gift cards in order to conserve resources and stay afloat.
  • The gift card was purchased from a third-party seller. While it is generally safe to buy gift cards directly from a restaurant, purchasing them from third-party sellers (such as online auction sites) can be risky. The restaurant may refuse to accept these gift cards due to concerns about fraud or counterfeit cards.
  • The restaurant’s policy has changed. While rare, it is possible for a restaurant to change their gift card policy and stop accepting them altogether. In most cases, they would need to provide reasonable notice to customers and ensure that any outstanding gift cards are refunded or exchanged.

Tips How To Avoid Gift Card Refusals

If you want to avoid the frustration of a gift card being rejected at a restaurant, there are a few steps you can take:

  • Check the expiration date: Make sure the gift card hasn’t expired before trying to use it.
  • Call ahead: If you’re unsure whether a restaurant accepts gift cards, call and ask before making a reservation.
  • Buy directly from the restaurant: To avoid issues with third-party sellers, consider purchasing gift cards directly from the restaurant or their website.
  • Review the restaurant’s policy: Before purchasing a gift card, check the restaurant’s policy to ensure they accept them and understand any restrictions or limitations.


Are All Gift Cards The Same?

No, gift cards can vary depending on the restaurant or store that issued them. Some may have expiration dates or usage restrictions, while others may be more flexible.

Can A Restaurant Refuse A Gift Card That Was Purchased Directly From Them?

Technically, a restaurant can refuse a gift card for any reason, even if it was purchased directly from them. However, this is rare and usually only happens in extreme situations (such as if the restaurant is closing down).

Can A Restaurant Charge A Fee To Use A Gift Card?

No, federal law prohibits businesses from charging fees to use gift cards. However, there may be fees associated with purchasing a gift card (such as a shipping fee or activation fee).

What Should I Do If My Gift Card Is Refused At A Restaurant?

If your gift card is refused at a restaurant, try to understand why and see if there is anything you can do to resolve the situation (such as providing proof of purchase or checking the expiration date). If the restaurant refuses to accept the gift card without a valid reason, you may need to contact the issuer or seek legal advice.


While it can be frustrating to have a gift card refused at a restaurant, it’s important to understand the laws and factors that can come into play.

By checking expiration dates, purchasing directly from the restaurant, and reviewing their policies, you can increase the chances of your gift card being accepted.

Did you find this guide helpful?
Norah Clark

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, the founder and editor of YummyTasteFood! She's a seasoned food writer and editor with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry as a former pastry chef, sous chef, and barista. When not writing about food, she explores new recipes or travels the world for culinary inspiration.

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