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I ate in a restaurant one day and paid with my Discover credit card. The restaurant reluctantly accepted it but told me that this card incurs a higher fee to them. The next day after my meal, they refused to accept this same credit card. I happened to carry enough cash with me and paid with cash instead.

My question: Do I have the legal right to insist on making the payment with my Discover credit card? If not, what if I only carry one Discover credit card with me? That is, what if this is the only payment method that I can offer?

Just a side note: Discover's website says that "Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards." But practically many places have the ability to charge a Discover card but prefer not accept it. Not a legal issue but a frustrating observation.

Edit I called Discover customer service and here is their response:

Just go to places where Discover Credit Cards are accepted.

Doesn't sound very helpful.

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  • In this specific instance, any chance that: (a) they had been thinking about getting rid of Discover but hardly anyone used it; (b) day 1 they accepted it reluctantly and decided to then stop taking Discover at all; (c) day 2 they had a new policy in place "no Discover", not specific to you? Jul 5 at 14:24
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    Also keep in mind that technically every merchant decides which cards to accept. The classic is Visa/Mastercard/Discover/American Express, but many places (especially gas stations) take "everything" and there are others (e.g., Costco) which take only one credit card (but any debit card) - currently I think Visa but previously AmEx. The decision is usually based on fees but sometimes other factors (e.g., Costco pushes a co-branded card) and there is no guarantee that a place that accepts one card will accept another. Jul 5 at 14:26
  • Related: law.stackexchange.com/q/22315/11906 Jul 5 at 15:12
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    Does the restaurant have signs that say they accept discover cards? This information will have a big impact on the answer.
    – Joe W
    Jul 5 at 16:01
  • @JoeW, no. But apparently, they have the ability to accept it but they prefer not to.
    – Zuriel
    Jul 5 at 18:06

4 Answers 4

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You have the legal (contractual) obligation to pay the amount that you owe for your meal. The restaurant can refuse to accept a particular kind of payment, such as check, cash, credit cards (generally or brand-specific), various cash-transfer programs, foreign currency, bitcoin or ridiculous numbers of pennies. There is no requirement that they do today what they did yesterday.

If you have in your possession only a Discover card, and if they are unwilling to accept service barter as payment (washing dishes is classical), then you would have a debt to the restaurant which you must pay in a reasonable time, using an acceptable medium (such as cash, unless they don't accept cash). They cannot make it impossible or highly burdensome for you to discharge your obligation (e.g. they cannot demand Krugerrands or Mongolian ᠲᠥᠭᠦᠷᠢᠭ as the alternative payment, unless you are in Mongolia).

You were given advance notice of this possibility of non-acceptance, yet you willfully proffered a card that you knew that they were not likely to accept a second time. Your hands were not clean, and if this had gone to court, you could not expect mercy from the court on the grounds that you were surprised that they didn't accept your card.

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    Note that the restaurant may have an agreement with Discovery that requires them to accept Discovery. Jul 4 at 23:46
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    I disagree that he was "given advance notice of this possibility of non-acceptance". The restaurant preferring that he used a different payment method does not translate into a warning that they would refuse it next time.
    – Ángel
    Jul 5 at 0:51
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    Cash is legal tender, at least in the US. They can say that they don't accept it until they're blue in the face, but once the debt exists, it's too late for that.
    – Kevin
    Jul 5 at 1:51
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    This business about "cash is legal tender" and must be accepted at places regardless of what they say about it is wrong, and has been answered many times on the web, included here at law.stackexchange.com and also here at law.stackexchange.com.
    – davidbak
    Jul 5 at 3:14
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    @davidbak The first one presumes proper notice of a no cash policy before eating the food (thus entering the contract/incurring debt), and the second is before the food is even provided, therefore no debt exists. So you're right in certain circumstances, but not universally like your comment implies..
    – Logarr
    Jul 5 at 3:36
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The important thing is, as already stated in @user6727's answer that you still owe the money for the meal, even if you cannot pay. Most courts won't call it bilking though if you were willing to pay but unable to in the acceptable payment method (despite having the equivalent amount of equity). For example if the door on the restaurant had a sticker "Visa accepted" but on that day, after the meal, the payment service is out of order for some reason (and you carried no cash) its obvious that you didn't intend to skip the bill.

Now a dispute may arise on the exact alternate payment method, but most hosts will offer you an alternative in this case, such as a bill, or they accept that you leave the restaurant to use a nearby cash dispenser.

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    Why no sources for your answer?
    – BCLC
    Jul 7 at 20:11
  • @BCLC This is just common sense, actually. What other options would there be? The host can't keep you there forever (and it's not going to help getting his money). He could call the police, but they wouldn't do more than identify you and then tell you to somehow pay later. No offense has been committed here.
    – PMF
    Jul 8 at 5:29
  • Of course, there's also the "human factor" in here: If you had been visiting this restaurant many times before and/or the host knows you, and/or you ate an ordinary lunch, he'll be more likely to believe you that you'll pay later. If you visited that restaurant for the first time and you ordered five expensive courses with even more expensive wines, that's a different story.
    – PMF
    Jul 8 at 5:32
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Your question says only that this happened somewhere in the United States. What form of payment is considered sufficient varies from state to state. (Federal law says that U.S. currency is legal tender for all debts, but not necessarily as payment for all goods and services.) Generally, a seller is not obligated to accept a tendered payment, but tendering a valid form of payment fulfills the obligation to pay. (With the exception that a check doesn’t count if it bounces.) I am not aware of any jurisdiction in the U.S. that obligates all restaurants to take Discover-brand credit cards.

In the state of Oregon, the applicable law would be ORS 72.5110, “Tender of payment by buyer.” This says

Tender of payment is sufficient when made by any means or in any manner current in the ordinary course of business unless the seller demands payment in legal tender and gives any extension of time reasonably necessary to procure it.

In this state, the only form of payment a restaurant is obligated to accept would be cash, and not any particular credit card. In practice, “extension of time reasonably necessary to procure it” means enough time to go to the nearest ATM, withdraw some cash, and come back.

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  • @reirab Although I originally said which specific jurisdiction I was talking about, and cited its state law, I’ve edited my answer to clarify that this does not apply everywhere in the United States.
    – Davislor
    Jul 6 at 20:57
  • Thanks. Your answer previously seemed to imply that legal tender was required to be accepted in every state and that you were merely supplying one state's law as an example, which was the reason for my original comment.
    – reirab
    Jul 6 at 21:12
  • Why is this the only answer with sources while unsourced answers get highly upvoted?
    – BCLC
    Jul 7 at 20:12
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    @BCLC The top-voted answers got here before me and already had upvotes when I posted. Not many users go to a question that already has four answers and scroll all the way down to read the one at the bottom. Many of those probably thought one of the top two answers deserved an upvote as well.
    – Davislor
    Jul 8 at 1:19
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The only thing any place of business MUST accept is cash, basically (though there are laws in place in many places limiting the amount of cash that can be accepted). Usually an electronic bank transfer is acceptable in place of cash.

Credit cards are NOT cash, and acceptance is not required by law anywhere I'm aware of. Of course a business may have a contract with a credit card provider mandating they accept that specific credit card for any transaction (usually any transaction over a specific value). But that's a business contract between two legal entities and definitely not a legal requirement.

A government putting in place a legal requirement for businesses to accept a specific credit card would greatly overstep its boundaries, and be playing favouritism with that credit card company. Not something you want any government to do.

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    "The only thing any place of business MUST accept is cash": there are many businesses that don't accept cash, and this is generally legal, in the US at least.
    – phoog
    Jul 7 at 14:35
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    Why no sources for your answer?
    – BCLC
    Jul 7 at 20:12

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