I had it happen to me a few times that my credit card was blocked or deactivated by the bank without letting me know, and I only that found out while trying to pay. To counter that I always carry some cash. Now I've been hearing about some newfangled "cashless" restaurants. Thankfully, I'm not aware of any where I live, but what would happen if I went into one of those, ate, tried to pay with card, it failed, then I offered to pay with cash?

As I understand the legality would work something like this:

I accept the the contract where I agree to pay with card in exchange for food

I attempt to fulfill the contract to the best of my ability, but am prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond my control

At this point I owe the restaurant the money, but since the original transaction failed, this is a debt, which I offer to settle with legal tender

Is that how it would work? Or are there some additional issues? Or is it one of those gray areas that'll only become concrete once it happens and actually goes to court?

  • Having a functional credit card is not beyond your control. Not knowing whether your card works or not is your issue to solve with the bank. – Nij Dec 20 '18 at 22:09
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    @Nij Bank suddenly blocking my card without warning is not under my control, and is not within my capacity to solve, as I can't prevent the bank from blocking it. Not only that, but the bank may block it for completely legitimate reason, such as if the number was stolen from some server (also completely beyond my control) Ultimately, I can guarantee I have cash in pocket, I can't guarantee that my card will work, because that's not up to me – Maxim Dec 20 '18 at 22:24
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    @Nij I only have one credit card. – Maxim Dec 20 '18 at 23:58
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    @Nij consider this: Maxim drives to another city, buying some fuel and paying tolls with his credit card. (This is a pattern of use that has caused my cards to be blocked in the past.) Immediately after using the card, he goes to a cashless restaurant, buys and consumes some food, and then, when trying to pay for his.meal, discovers that his card has been blocked. What then? It's a perfectly reasonable question. Instead of scolding Maxim for allowing himself to get into this situation, why not just answer it? – phoog Dec 23 '18 at 3:51
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    Practically speaking, I doubt it will ever get to legal issues. The restaurant will surely anticipate this possibility and have a contingency plan that results in them being paid and nobody getting sued. My guess is that the restaurant will eventually, grudgingly accept your cash. You might have to wait for your change as a check from the corporate office. If this happens to you repeatedly, or they suspect you're doing it on purpose, they will ask you not to come back, and possibly refuse to serve you if you do. – Nate Eldredge Jan 20 at 1:17

That is not how it would work.

A term of our contract is that I will not accept cash. You have breached the contract by not paying when the contract required you to. Your breach of that term does not force me to waive the term that you won't pay with cash (although I can - for consideration or otherwise).

I can sue you, claiming the money owed and damages for the breach of your not paying when required. If and when I win, the judgement is a debt and that can be settled with cash.

Alternatively, I can detain you (using reasonable force) and call the police to have you arrested for theft.

As an aside, you state "am prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond my control" like this excuses you from fulfilling the terms of your contract. In general, it doesn't. You must do what you contracted to do irrespective of outside circumstances. It is possible for a contract to be frustrated, however, that requires a significant and radical change to the rights and obligations where it would be unjust to hold the parties to their word. Your bank cancelling your credit card doesn't qualify.

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    I'm still curious how that would work in real life, even if non-working card doesn't count as circumstances beyond one's control, it is still in reality beyond my control, you can detain me or call the police, but that's not going to make the card functional again. It seems like the only path is a court, but that can only force me to pay cash, which I'm already willing to do – Maxim Dec 20 '18 at 23:48
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    Doesn't theft require mens rea? Clearly, if I attempted to pay by card and was frustrated by something I could neither control nor predict, and offered an alternative form of payment, it seems pretty clear that I had no intention of eating without paying. – David Thornley Dec 21 '18 at 0:06
  • @Maxim The court may force you to pay damages in addition to the initial amount, such as court fees, the other parties time and trouble, the other party's lawyer's fee, interest, etc. The police perhaps could also charge you with theft and jail you. The practical answer is to have multiple credit cards, from different banks, so that it is unlikely that all will be blocked at once. You may also be able to ask the establishment to check the current validity of a card before making a purchase, if there is reason to doubt it. – David Siegel Dec 21 '18 at 0:10
  • @DavidSiegel I doubt they could get me for theft (for reasons David Thornley stated), but the damages is a good point. Of course the really practical answer is to not go to a cashless place to begin with :) – Maxim Dec 21 '18 at 16:04
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    @Maxim You probably could not be convicted. But you might possibly be arrested and spend considerable time and trouble dealing with the issue. – David Siegel Dec 21 '18 at 23:52

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