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May 7, 2007 11:25 AM

Gift Certificate - what to do when left with a huge balance?

I have a $200 gift certificate for a restaurant I plan to go to tonight. I know there is no way my party of 2 will use all $200. I'm assuming with drinks, apps, mains and desserts - we'll likely spend $100 - so the question is -- if I spend about $100 - do I insist on another certificate for the unused portion? Or is it up to the establishment to decide what they want to do (this is in California - if that makes any difference).

I haven't contacted the establishment yet to find out what their policy is - I am assuming that they'll say that I forfit the balance and I wanted some 'hound feedback as possible ammunition in building my argument for otherwise...


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  1. Contact the establishment. A gift certificate should be like cash so you should either get the balance in a gift certificate or cash change.

    1. If you're really worried that you'll forfeit the balance why don't you call ahead and find out. If you'll lose it, which I doubt, invite some friends or use it another time when you can get your money's worth out of it.


      1. It depends upon what type of certificate it is. If you paid $200 for a $200 gift certificate, it should be the same as cash and have a remaining value equal to $200 minus what you spend tonight.

        If you paid less than $200 for the certificate, if someone who gave it to you paid less than $200, or if it is a bonus certicate costing less than $200, or nothing at all , the uses, life of the certificate, and restrictions are solely up to the establishment.

        1. Definitely talk to them first. Most places will give you the remainder as a new gift certificate, but you won't know for sure until you ask.

          4 Replies
          1. re: mojoeater

            very few places will give you a balance that large back in cash.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Where I work, we issue a new GC if the amount of change is under $5. But we always give a new one - you don't ever forfeit that balance, at least anywhere I've worked before. I agree it would be unlikely you will get cash.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                I didn't say cash, I said a new gift certificate.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  I was agreeing with hotoynoodle, not criticising your post.

            2. My understanding is that California has unusually strict consumer protection laws related to gift certificates and gift cards, you might try researching the legal angles on this, because they may, in fact, have no choice at all but give you another gift certificate for the remaining balance.

              Here's the Department of Consumer Affairs FAQ on the Gift Certificate law:

              It seems to indicate that they have to either give you cash, or give you a replacement certificate for the remaining value, but can't force you to use it or lose it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jacquilynne

                Did you receive the GC as a gift? In an auction? Or from the restaurant? If it was a certificate which was purchased for $200 they will have to give you the balance back in cash or another GC. If it was a GC you got through an auction or other means it might be considered a promotion by the restaurant. If it is a promotion you would forfeit the balance. You should call in advance. If it is a promotion chances are they won't give you the balance back, so call a friend or two and invite them out to dinner with you, buy and expensive bottle of wine. Or randomly buy another tables dinner, there are plenty of ways to use the $200 in one shot.