Can a restaurant gift certificate be used on more than one occasion?
June 24, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Can a restaurant gift certificate be used on more than one occasion?

A friend recently gave my girlfriend and me a very generous gift certificate for our favourite restaurant. So generous, in fact, that even if we ordered quite extravagantly, we could only use about half of it in one meal. What is the protocol for this situation? Will the restaurant give us another gift certificate for the balance, or will we "lose" what's left over?

Can we be greedy and spread this over two visits, or do we need to resort to being sociable and invite friends, or to ordering a pricey bottle of wine? Neither of us are big wine buffs, but we do have friends.

Bonus question: How are tips handled with gift certificates? Should this be covered by cash, or can the gift certificate cover it?
posted by ocha-no-mizu to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tips should always be in cash, not in gift certificates. Despite the fact that they should be pseudo-cash, they don't work like that, and you might at best end up giving the wait staff a gift certificate to their own workplace, and at worst you give them nothing. Either way it shows a lack of gratitude (having worked in that position).

If it's a gift CARD then you can usually just use what you need to, but for a printed certificate the general rule of thumb is what you buy must be over the price on the certificate. But for such a large certificate they must have known that would be nearly impossible without a large party of people. I'd say that there's so many variables, the best thing to do is let your fingers do the walking and give the restaurant a call to ask what their specific policy is.
posted by arniec at 9:54 AM on June 24, 2009

Best answer: It really depends on the gift certificate's restrictions and the restaurant involved. Most would reissue the certificate with the remaining balance. Worst case, you could probably buy a gift certificate with the gift certificate, but it really depends on the fineprint. Naming the restaurant may help narrow this down, but you'd probably just be best served contacting them directly.

I've always paid tips out in cash.
posted by Rendus at 9:55 AM on June 24, 2009

Best answer: Why don't you just ask the restaurant?
posted by wfrgms at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most gift certificates act like a "credit card" so you should be able to do so. When I've done this in the past, we were just issued another certificate indicating the remaining amount we had left to spend.

However, each establishment has its own rules. Does the gift certificate come with fine print stipulating the rules of its use? If not, why don't you call the restaurant in advance and confirm this with the manager?

TIPS: Tip as you would as if you paid in cash. Please.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:58 AM on June 24, 2009

Best answer: Give them a call. I have had one restaurant tell me I had to use all of the cert, but that place was pricy enough that it wasn't a problem. Also be careful of "must present the gift certificate up front" small print. I don't know if it's just convention or what, but I've always tipped in cash, and when I waited tables always got cash too.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:02 AM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: That sounds like an overwhelming consensus for "it depends". Thanks all for the prompt answers. I'll call the restaurant and find out what their policy is. I thought there might be a universally-accepted standard, but this is clearly not the case.

arniec: But for such a large certificate they must have known that would be nearly impossible without a large party of people.
This particular friend could probably easily spend this on a dinner for two, with a bottle or two of expensive wine and/or champagne. That's fine, but it's not our style; we wouldn't appreciate it half as much as she would.

HeyAllie: Tip as you would as if you paid in cash. Please.
I have no intention of tipping any differently to how I normally would in terms of the amount, I was just wondering if it would actually get to the wait staff if I used part of the gift certificate for the tip.
posted by ocha-no-mizu at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2009

This also depends on what state you're in. In California, for example, gift certificates can't ever expire, and you would either be refunded cash or another gift certificate in the remaining balance of what's not used.
posted by booknerd at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2009

To clarify, no, you should not use your a portion of your gift certificate to tip the staff. It most likely won't be allowed.

I should have been clearer in saying that you should tip in cash as if you paid for the meal yourself in cash.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2009

People are saying that you shouldn't tip using the gift certificate. Is this somehow worse than putting the tip on a credit card?
posted by madcaptenor at 5:40 AM on June 25, 2009

Mad, it's not that you shouldn't use the gift certificate, in most cases, you CAN'T. Most restaurants won't allow you to do that in their rules of use. Probably because it would be difficult to convert cash value out of the certificate.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:50 AM on June 25, 2009

Response by poster: Quick update. The girlfriend, an avid AskMe reader, came across this question yesterday and called the restaurant before I had a chance to. Bless her cotton socks. Their policy was apparently to refund the balance with another certificate if it's more than $5 or so. Also, tipping with the certificate was said to be okay.

But it turns out that this sort of thing varies not only from restaurant to restaurant, but also between staff within a restaurant. We went last night, and the waiter must have gotten a different memo to whoever answered the phone. We ended up getting the not-unsubstantial change in cold, hard cash, a generous portion of which we left as a tip.
posted by ocha-no-mizu at 2:05 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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