Friday, Dec 06 2013 10:40 AM

Action Line: Can a restaurant take 20 percent off the top of my gift card?

  1. 1 of 1

    By Contributed photo

    Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Dear Action Line,  My mother recently gave me a Visa gift card with $50 on it. My wife and I used it to go out for dinner at a local restaurant. The card Mom purchased charged an additional $4.95 but touted on the package that there were no additional fees. When it was time to pay the bill, the server told me that 20 percent of the bill goes to gratuity right off the top. Can they do this?

Dear Reader,  Gratuities actually began as a complimentary practice but have since evolved into an expected offering in today's society. The business, understandably, wants to make sure the card has enough to allow for a tip. Many merchants use processing systems that will pre-authorize an extra 20 percent above the amount of the bill. That's called tip tolerance. If there's enough cash to pay the bill plus 20 percent, the transaction proceeds. If you choose.

You may want to check with the restaurant to find out what its tip tolerance policy is BEFORE dining.

For all businesses, including restaurants, Visa and other major credit card companies offer sound advice on how to best use card processing to help keep customers happy. Transparency and good old common sense is always a good measuring stick, too.

Visa states, " When it comes to restaurants, most customers are looking for the same basic things ... good food, good service, a friendly atmosphere and payment flexibility. A restaurant authorization that includes a tip could lead to customer dissatisfaction. Restaurant owners and their staff also understand operational advantages that Visa payment processing can bring to the table. Whether you work in a full-service establishment or a quick-service restaurant (QSR), you know that a simple card swipe at the register or a wave with a contactless card can facilitate faster transaction processing that is safe and reliable. Visa Tips for Restaurant Staff is intended to provide full service and QSR restaurant staff with up-to-date best practices and helpful suggestions for accepting and processing Visa card transactions. It should be useful to all employees -- new and experienced -- who handle Visa transactions."

The beauty of the major credit cards is that they are accepted almost anywhere. But for consumers, once again, it is BUYER BEWARE!

Ask the restaurant/business what its policy is for using credit cards, gift cards or debit cards BEFORE you order. In a restaurant, it is very easy to ask your server what the policy is before you dine. I highly recommend you do so. Don't be afraid to ask the questions. If you don't agree with the processing of transactions, you can always say so. The restaurant may have other options available to you, like cold hard cash. Or, depending how strongly you feel about it, you can consider dining elsewhere.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or

Have something to share? Comment on this story Daily Deal!

Bakersfield Blaze

Daily Deal

Half off a 4 Pack of Blaze Tickets with 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas

% Off
You Save
22 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals
What do you think?