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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: http://www.dca.ca.gov/legal/s-11.htm

              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.

              2. Order more food!!! hehe

                1. I recently used a gift card and had .23 cents remaining....but did they give me any change??? nooooo. Okay this is different situation but some places can be really bad about balance on certs.
                  I would try to invite more people too if I was you,or really try to get another cert for your next visit.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: LARaven

                    Same thing for me - I had a few dollars left on a $50 Sur la Table GC, and they wouldn't give me the remaining money (it was under $5.00). I was forced to buy something else to use it up (it's not close to where I live, so I didn't expect to be back there anytime soon). Definitely turned me sour on GCs from them, especially with the attitude I got from the staff member.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      My standard policy for dealing with such GC's with an amount on them smaller than any item I'd want in the store, and where I'm not likely to return or need anything again soon... I turn to the next customer I see, tell them the balance, and let them have it if they'd like.

                      Oh... and with regard to the large balance, I'd be really surprised if they don't give you a new GC with the balance. However... I agree with the others who say call and check.

                      1. re: abowes

                        Oh, it's not that I didn't WANT anything - I just didn't *need* another jar of mustard or jam. :-) But I bought one anyway. But I do like the idea of giving it to someone in line behind me. Will have to remember that next time it happens.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Someone did that to me in a store, not a restaurant, once, and even thought it was only about $1.27, it totally made my day.

                    2. re: LARaven

                      to laraven:

                      less than a quarter and you were offended? oh, my.

                    3. Agree with others and call ahead. Likewise you should ask if you can use the cert for the tip. there have been threads on that subject on CH and jfood would suggest checking with the resto.

                      Assume you would receive the balance as a secondary GC, unless there is something written on the GC stating that no replacements or balance s due will be forthcoming. Good idea below to check the CA laws. Please do it beforehand, speak with th resto beforehand otherwise you will be sitting there thoughout the meal wondering and not concentrating on having a great meal.

                      1. ...and if it turns out you won't get a GC on an open balance and you really do have a full value GC; consider going another night with a larger group so you are sure to enjoy the full benefit of the gift.

                        I had this occur twice with GC's. First time we had to walk away from a 50.00 balance and didn't learn that was their policy until the bill arrived (and we were first timers). Second time, I asked to speak with a manager and we rec'd a new GC that was issued for the remaining balance (I believe at the time it was 40.00) but only good for during the week, no weekends.

                        So-it pays to know where you stand in advance.

                        1. It's just good business for the rest to issue another GC. But definitely check ahead. I would also ask about tax on the meal as some places charge tax on the original GC when it is purchased.
                          I always did this with GC purchased at my rest. The GC is intended as a gift for someone else so with tax already out of the way, it was pure food enjoyment for the holder.

                          1. Thanks for all the feedback, tips, and links re: California State Law.

                            The certificate was the result of a silent auction bid.

                            I called the restaurant and asked what their gift certificate policy was -- they replied saying they would create a gift certificate for the remaining balance.

                            When I got home and checked the certificate -- it had an expiration date of November 2006!!! (6 months after the event, btw). I called the restaurant again and inquired if they would still honor it -- and, thankfully, they did.

                            ALSO... the funny thing is... our bill came up to $197 pre-tip... so all that thinking for not! Will post a review of the place tomorrow on the LA Board. Definitely not worth the $197, btw.... but they definitely had great customer service and were very accomodating.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: The Oracle

                              Wow, you are lucky they honored an expired GC. Most places wouldn't.

                              1. re: mojoeater

                                Per the link in a post above, most gift certificates sold in California after 2004 can not contain an exipration date, and it is illegal not to honor it, so at least in CA, where OP was, most places not only in fact would, they are obligated, to honor it (though I didn't read the fine print to see if this applies to something the retailer/restuarant donated to an auction).

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  "Gift certificates" that are donated by a restaurant to a fundraiser like this are distinct from gift certificates or gift cards that are paid for with cash. Because no one paid for the certificate (the purchaser made a donation to the organization that the certificate was donated to), they are exempt from the usual laws. Usually these types of certificates will not only have an expiration date, but will also have other restrictions on their use.

                                  It was nice of them to honor your cert.

                                  1. re: cyberroo

                                    In a silent auction the winning bidder pays for the item (in this case a restaurant GC). Whatever the winner paid on the bid is the out of pocket value for the dinner even if the printed value of the GC states "up to" 200.00. And incidentally, such a bid is not a tax write off since the OP rec'd a dinner in exchange for their auction win.

                                    When the OP added that their GC was gained as a result of a silent auction, that changed its "the value."

                                    It was nice of the restaurant to honor an old auction item, but also easier for them to move on rather then string along what was actually a donated dinner.

                                    Also, when the OP stated originally that it might be difficult to spend 200.00 (altho good for you-197.00 is pretty darn close) at this restaurant, I thought chances were good that the auction item was inflated to attract a high bid. It happens...

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      One should never try to double-dip on a GC bought at a charity event. Feel good about the donation, enjoy the meal, use the GC and move on. In this case the resto was doubly charitable. They donated to the charity and then honored a GC that expired. For that they deserve MAJOR Kudos. Hopefully the OP will give the name so others can "give back" to this resto. Nicely done.

                                      BTW - the OP is entitled to a tax deduction for anything it paid to the charity in excess of $200.