In Dining

When a restaurant closes and you have a gift card, what are your options?

Dining Hack: What to do about a gift card from a closed restaurant

Here's the best case scenario: you get a gift card and you use it as soon as possible.

Here's what usually happens: you get a gift card and you hang onto it. It gathers dust in a drawer somewhere. And you forget about it. Or you lose it.

Worse yet, the restaurant for which you have the gift card closes.

It happens all the time. In fact, it's happened recently to a number of Milwaukeeans following the closures of restaurants like Karl Ratzsch, Rosati's and Bucca di Beppo's.

So, what do you do?

Here are some of the options you can explore if you have a gift card for a closed establishment. Keep in mind you need to do these things as soon as possible after the restaurant closes, or you're likely to find yourself stuck and out of luck.

1. Contact a representative from the closed business.

It never hurts to reach out to see if the restaurateur or corporate headquarters has a plan in place for accommodating gift cards, or if they are willing to give you a refund. Just remember, it's a tough time for the business. And in some cases, particularly when a business closes due to financial issues, there may be no money available to refund your card. So, be polite and patient.

And, if don't get the answer you'd like, don't immediately think that taking legal action is a good recourse. Although filing in small claims court may seem like a good option, it's usually not worth the hassle, unless the gift card is for an extremely large amount.

2. See if a competitor will honor the gift card.

Mind you, there's no obligation on the part of the competing restaurant to honor the gift card. And they may not be willing to. However, it's worth a shot. Sometimes restaurants will accept gift cards from closed establishments, or at least give you a discount in exchange for them. It's a show of good will, and it may just win them a repeat customer (be a good person and visit them more than once if they do).

3. Contact the vendor.

If you purchased gift cards from a vendor (restaurants.com, for instance) rather than from the store itself, contact them.

  • Restaurant.com's policy allows you to exchange your gift card for one at another restaurant if a business goes under.
  • Open Table will also make an effort to help set things right.
  • Groupon's policy is a bit more convoluted (and not at all clear on their web site). But, when we called, a representative told us that they'll always work something out so that the customer doesn't lose their money. They first need to verify that the business has, indeed, closed. This can take an average of three business days. Once that information is verified, they will work with the consumer to issue a refund or credit, depending on the fine print included in the original offer.

4. Call your credit card company.

If your gift card was purchased more recently with a credit card, it pays to call the 800 number on the back of your card and ask a customer service representative whether they would allow a return of the gift card. In some cases, there is a 'guaranteed return' policy, which allow for cardholders to return a purchase even if a business won't. Here are just a few examples of such policies: Citibank, Discover, MasterCard, American Express.

5. File a complaint.

As a last resort, you can also file a consumer complaint with Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at datcp.state.wi.us or by calling 800-422-7128. There's no guarantee that your money will be refunded. However, representatives from DATCP will attempt to mediate the situation and ensure no state laws were violated. Read more about gift card facts here.

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