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How to Use an eGift Card at a Restaurant

Paying a restaurant bill with an eGift card poses a challenge for customers who don’t want their smartphones taken out of their sight. 3 easy fixes below.

how to use egift card at restaurant

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to dinner at Claim Jumper restaurant for two reasons. The first is that I had a Landry’s eGift card I wanted to use. Of all the restaurants in the Landry’s family, Claim Jumper is the closest to me. The second, more important, reason we visited the restaurant is that she and I share a love of French onion soup. I wanted to introduce her to the big bowl of cheesy goodness this place serves.

The eGift Card Hiccup

The dinner was delicous and the French onion soup did not disappoint, but when the server arrived with the bill, we had a small hiccup. I explained that I would be paying with an eGift card located on my smartphone. The server paused and replied, “O-kaaay, let me figure out how this works.” Then she walked off to speak with her manager. Upon return, she said that I needed to write the eGift card number on my bill. Then she would take the bill back to the cash register and manually enter the number. After a short delay, the payment was accepted, but the situation reminded me that we don’t have this part of eGifting figured out.

What’s Different About eGifts at Restaurants?

A digital gift card is easy to present at a regular store because you take your payment and the merchandise you want to buy up to a cash register. When it’s time to present payment, you show the cashier the eGift card on your phone and he or she will either scan the phone or manually enter the eGift card numbers into the machine. Even if the cashier needs to handle the device in order to complete the transaction (e.g. numbers are hard to read), the smartphone never leaves your sight. But at a restaurant, the point of sale is located separately from where the paying customers are.

After a meal, the server brings you a bill, and you hand over a form of payment which the server then takes to a cash register in another room in order to run the transaction. Sending cash or a credit card seems reasonable, but it doesn’t feel right to give your phone to someone who is busy manning mulitple tables, handling multiple bills and juggling a myriad of customer requests all at the same time. It’s not that I think anything unscrupulous would happen (though it certainly could), I think the biggest issues would be liability, privacy and convenience.

From a liability standpoint, who is going to pay for the repairs if your phone is accidentally dropped, misplaced or stolen while it’s out of your hands? Privacy is a big concern as well. Suppose the server is holding your phone when you get a financial alert from your investment bank account or an embarrassing text from your mom? Lastly, time would be working against you. Unless the cashier takes the phone (without touching any buttons) straight to the cash register and enters everything quickly, the phone could time-out (depending on your power save settings). If the phone times out, the server would have to return to the table, wait for you to unlock the phone and start the process all over again. Giving your passcode to the cashier as an alternative would be foolish. For these reasons, it just doesn’t make sense to give your phone to the server unless you can keep it in sight at all times.

3 Ways to Use eGift Cards at Restaurants

My guess is that one day the point of sale will move closer to the table, possibly even bypassing the server altogether with a phone-initiated transaction that goes straight to the restaurant’s payment system. eGift cards will be easy to redeem because you’ll just push a button and send. Until then, below are three ways you can use an eGift card at a restaurant worry-free.

1. Print the eGift Card Number at Home

Before going to the restaurant, print the eGift card on your home printer. If you received the eGift card via email, then print the entire email. If you received something else–such as a link to a website that shows the egift card–then use a snipping tool to get a screenshot of the eGift card information. Then print the screenshot on your printer. As a last resort, simply jot the numbers down onto a sticky note and take it with you.

By the way, printing an eGift card is also be a good backup method to use if you’re worried about your phone running out of battery before the cashier comes for payment.

2. Write the eGift Card Number on the Bill

Do like we did and write the eGift card number on the bill when it arrives. Be sure to include the personal identification number (PIN) if applicable. If you’re worried about having cell phone reception once you get into the restaurant, take a screenshot of the eGift card via your phone before you leave. That way, you don’t need the gift card app, email or website to work–you simply need to pull up a photo from your phone. Most phones can access images without Wi-fi or “full bars.”

3. Take Your Phone to the Cash Register

Many restaurants have a cash register at the main entry. Rather than give payment to the server, ask if you can pay directly at the cash register. If that is not an option, then take your phone and accompany the server back to the cash register yourself. It might not be protocol and is definitely inconvenient, but this saves you and the restaurant from dealing with any of the issues described above.

As soon as I told the server I would be paying with an eGift card, we both knew something didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t want to send my phone off and the server didn’t want to take it. But we needed a way to get the eGift card number from my phone to the point of sale without the server physically taking the device out of my sight. Though writing the number down seemed clunky, it also seemed to be the safest way to pay.

Have you ever used an eGift card at a restaurant? How did it go? Got any tips you want to share? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@GCGirlfriend).

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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