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Say you eat at a restaurant, and after you are finished, the waiter brings you your bill.

Is the restaurant legally obligated to accept pennies as payment regardless of the amount?

(Of course, I am assuming no explicit arrangements regarding this have been made beforehand.)

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    In the UK, 1p and 2p coins are legal tender for any amount up to 20p. In many places you can get mayonnaise for your chips for that amount :-)
    – gnasher729
    May 9, 2016 at 11:06
  • @gnasher729: lol, if I'm being honest with you, mayonnaise on fries sounds a bit... disgusting =P only recently did I find out it was even a thing!
    – user541686
    May 9, 2016 at 11:19
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    @Mehrdad I used to find it disgusting, too. Now, in order of preference, I take my fries (1) with mayonnaise, (2) plain, (3) with ketchup. Ketchup these days is far and away too sweet for my taste.
    – phoog
    May 9, 2016 at 14:37
  • @Mehrdad which state in the US? Oct 21, 2016 at 23:52
  • @FranckDernoncourt: I'm actually not sure where it was, I saw it in a photo a while ago...
    – user541686
    Oct 22, 2016 at 0:25

5 Answers 5

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It doesn't even have to be pennies. Any cash denomination is open to discretion. The Federal Reserve tells us "There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept currency or coins as payment for goods or services. "

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    But they'd have to make it clear before you eat the food. Once you've eaten the food, the restaurant becomes a creditor, and therefore 31 U.S.C. 5103 comes into play.
    – phoog
    May 9, 2016 at 14:40
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    Is there any state law? Oct 21, 2016 at 22:40
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Yes, in Oregon

ORS 72.5110 states,

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.

A patron could therefore say, “You can either accept the form of payment I offered, or exercise your right to demand payment in legal tender. Pennies are legal tender.”

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  • Paying in pennies wouldn't seem to satisfy "by any means or in any manner current in the ordinary course of business", as it wouldn't seem "ordinary". Then if the seller declines and demands legal-tender, that law might be read as imposing a requirement for payment in legal-tender still in an "ordinary" manner.
    – Nat
    Jul 30 at 19:05
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    @Nat Even on that interpretation, it seems like you could first offer a different form of payment, and then say, “If you don’t accept this, does that mean you are demanding payment in legal tender?” I would guess that most judges would probably say that adding a few pennies to make exact change is current in the ordinary course of business, but paying with an entire roll of them, much less an inconvenient number of loose coins that must be counted by hand, is not.
    – Davislor
    Jul 30 at 19:47
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Let's take this at face value. Obviously I can ask the patron to stay until the bill is paid. The bill is paid, as always, when the money is counted and is found to be enough.

So you get someone on minimum wage to count the pennies. At least three times to be sure. And ask them to count carefully so they don't make any mistakes. Counting 2,000 pennies will take an hour, and then at least two recounts. While the customer is waiting. They won't do it again.

After that, you ban them from the restaurant forever.

(Inspired from a story on another site, where a customer in a movie theatre wants to be really annoying, buys a soft drink for four dollars, and drops it intentionally on the floor. The manager asks someone to clean it up, with no complaint to the customer. Later he explains why he was so calm: "We made $3.50 profit on the drink. It took five minutes at minimum wage pay to clean up the mess. As far as I'm concerned he can buy $4 drinks and drop them on the floor all night long.")

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The restaurant is not legally required to accept pennies as a method of payment. However, what is the outcome of this situation going to be?

  • They call the police? There is no crime, only a contract dispute over the method of payment. The police will probably take a report, separate the parties and tell you to take it to court.

  • Take it to court? Judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of (bill). Payable in pennies.

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    Well, if they took it to court, the business could also tack on fees for making them go to court and an arbitrary administrative fee for having to count the pennies. Not sure if they'd get awarded that, but taking it to court is probably not in the person's best interests. They'll likely end up paying a lot more than the bill.
    – animuson
    Oct 21, 2016 at 17:36
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not so in

Germany has a law that states, that you can only pay for items with up to 50 coins, unless it is customary to pay them in small denominations (e.g. bridal shoes are customarily bought for the smallest available denomination).

This is regulated in the Coinage law (MünzG), esp. §3. It dictates (my translation):

  1. Nobody has to accept (german) commemorative coinage of a value of more than 200 € in a single transaction. Also, any payment in legal tender only has to be accepted if 50 or fewer coins are used. This is true even if the value is below 200 €.
  2. The Bundesbank has to take any number of coins of any value, be them normal coins or german commemorative, to either pay bills to them or to exchange for different legal tender.
  3. Nobody has to accept coins damaged beyond normal usage or drilled through. The Bundesbank may not replace coins that were damaged voluntarily that way or where such damage was to be expected.

(1) is the actual relevant statute here, limiting the number of coins useable and also making payment only via invoice for high expense things possible. (2) exempts the Bundesbank from that and (3) makes defaced coinage pretty much valueless.

It is however customary, that banks will accept any number of coins to deposit on a customer's own account, though charges for counting and validation of coinage can apply depending on the bank.

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  • In a UK bank, you can ask them for little plastic bags for coins, you fill them with the right number of coins, and they just put them on their scales. It's precise enough to distinguish between 99, 100 and 101 1p coins. And by luck or design, 2p coins weigh exactly twice as much as 1p coins, so you can even put one British Pound of mixed 1p and 2p coins on the scales.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 28 at 10:51
  • I think (1) would be face value. Many commemorative coins are worth more than face value.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 30 at 13:37
  • @gnasher729 yes, face value denomination
    – Trish
    Jul 30 at 14:25

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