4/12/2012 12:07:00 PM

Restaurant Policy Debates: Should Credit Card Payments Be Limited?

This week, we've been focusing on all things money related for tax time (April 17, peeps - don't forget!), and today we got into a discussion about credit card payments. It's not uncommon for multiple people at the same table to pay via credit card, letting the service staff split the bill. Some restaurants have started to limit this practice, capping the number of cards that can be used per table. Is this a fair way to save restaurant owners some dough on fees, or just an excuse for lazy servers to avoid extra work? To the debate:

James: The other week, I went to Momofuku for one of their large-format dinners. Even though there was nine of us at the table, the menu clearly stated that they "only accept four credit cards per table." Bogus - credit cards are like cash these days, and we should be able to give nine if we want to.

Kelly: I've definitely been in that situation, but at a certain point it does start getting a bit ridiculous don't you think?

James: I think the customer should be able to pay how they want - and having work in restaurants splitting a check nine was and running nine cards is totally doable, it just takes extra time. The problem is that not everyone carries cash these days, so that puts some of the party in an awkward situation.

Kelly: I suppose, but you think between 10 people, at least three or four would have cash on them.

James:Yeah, but what if they don't want to use their cash, or if it's easier to pay with cards? The issue is the policy, which should be nixed.

Kelly: I think it is a bit odd to have a "policy" against it, but if the restaurant is going to have it I suppose it's best to let them know up front, on the menu. I've been to restaurants that didn't tell our group that until they were trying to pay. Also - this does create a lot of extra work for the server, and when it's a packed restaurant on a Saturday night, they can't be spending 15 minutes running credit cards.

James: Yeah, they definitely should tell you upfront, but they shouldn't have to tell you because the policy is ridiculous. The server is presumably getting a larger tip on the big party, so they can spend the extra time running nine cards. I once put two cards down and the server was like "I'm sorry, we don't have the capability to split checks." I saw him print the receipt out on micros two seconds before! I said, "Um, yes you do" He was quiet for a minute, and then took our cards and split the check.

Kelly: Ha. Yeah I'm not sure why certain servers/restaurants have a problem with it, but it is their right to limit it I think. It also probably minimizes the fees they have to pay to the credit card vendors.

James: Again - not the customer's problem. If they are worried about fees they should be cash only or increase the prices a little bit. If you hold out your card, the restaurant shouldn't say "um, but we have these fees..." And why are the fees reasonable for four cards, but five is too many? It's completely arbitrary.

Kelly: I don't really know enough about how restaurants are charged to answer that question but I'm sure it has something to do with limiting the number of transactions. I'm definitely a heavy credit card user these days, but I appreciate as a server wanting to take home at least some cash at the end of the night. Plus, you'd split a cup of tea between four cards if you could. There's gotta be a line.

James: Ha - I would, cash is so early aughts. I'm over it!

Photo: The Comedian via Flickr 

1 comment :

  1. As a former server, it is extremely time consuming to split a bill, especially once it gets to about 6. Most systems don't handle multiple payments effectively. Also the math often has to be done outside of the machine. This increases the chances for human error and any missing money comes directly out of the server's tips. This makes many servers reluctant, plus the time suck during vital lunch/dinner rush can put you very behind.

    In this case I could grab a waiter captain or a manager to handle it because it's not an effective use of time and also prevents the sole burden on the waiter. But not every restaurant has this luxury. I understand there is a loss from credit card fees, but that's a general management I can't speak to

    In some foreign countries, they actually have a portable machine that is essentially passed around the table by the server. Each card is swiped and kept by the owner of the card, the amount can be easily verified from both parties regarding the split and requires significantly less paperwork. A more paperless system seems the most efficient until there is a technical problem. So in restaurants, Cash is still King.