« Is Film Critic Mike stalling? | Main | A worrisome development »

May 14, 2008

Buyer beware: restaurant gift certificates


You may have missed Deb Patterson's comment yesterday under an entry on unused gift certificates I posted last October that didn't get any response at the time. Here's what she said:

Yes, I too was the victim of holding a gift certificate for a closed restaurant - in this case, Taste. I did email their site requesting a partial refund or at least a few bottles of wine from their leftover supply; however, I did not received a bounce back message or a reply. Taste owners certainly must have had an idea that they were closing in Mar/Apr 08 when they sold my boyfriend's daughter the $100 certificate late in December. Shame on them - and I hope no one makes the same mistake again if the owners resurface.

I wonder if there are any restaurants in the area (or in the Baltimore vicinity)that would accept my $100 certificate at less than face value. We always order at a least a bottle of wine and after dinner drinks so the margin would be there.

I doubt if there's much chance of that, but it reminds me to tell you again: When you get your restaurant gift certificates, boys and girls, use them right away. Which reminds me: e, did you get yours for being the 10,000th commenter, and did you use it yet? If so, where did you go and how was it? Keep us posted, so to speak.


(Chiaki Kawajiri/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:04 AM | | Comments (32)


If the gift certificate was purchased with a credit card you should be in luck. Have the purchaser contact the credit card company and report that the merchandise was not delivered. I did this in a banckruptcy case and was award a full refund. Good luck.

Actually when Crackpot closed suddenly in Bel Air, Looneys accepted their gift cards.

You should also check the fine print, because many store gift cards start deducting "fees" if you don't use them within a year or so of when they were purchased. At $2.00 a month, the value goes down fast. Don't know if this applies to restaurants or to a specific restaurant, but it is worth checking.

Another reason to use them quickly.

I did receive the gift certificate last week! And a handy mug, which I'm sipping from right now. I haven't selected a restaurant yet, but will definitely let you know how it goes.

Thanks again.

A gift certificate from the Maryland Restaurant Association should not have the same disappearing act as a merchant specific certificate has. Although it might be nice to give a 'free meal' to a particular restaurant, in to-day's world a third party (Visa/Mastercard) gift card and a note expressing the hope of a good meal at X is probably a better way to go. The cards can be had from all over and their reliability is certainly better.

I am vindicated!

e received her gift certificate and her mug.

My prize karma is back in force. Woo hoo.

Please explain to me why a gift card should be reduced in value if not used quickly. Someone buys a $100 card and you don't use it immediately. When you finally do use it the price of food/booze has probably risen. Doesn't the establishment have the advantage?

If I was a restaurant, I would encourage you to never use it. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to lose it. Maybe they want you to come in right away because you will discover how awesome the place is and come back for more. It's probably some intricate quarterly P&L corporate thing.

We have a gift certificate for Taste too. Didn't use it because we knew it would be a lousy meal and we would end up paying something extra to use it at that overpriced, mediocre establishment. I hope something better goes in there because it's a nice spot.

Ms. AnneB: back on the meds, please.

A while ago I was given a gift card for the Z'Tejas steakhouse in the Columbia Mall. Before I got a chance to use it, the restaurant had closed and a Pizzeria Uno moved in.

I did get to use the card at a different link in the chain, in Arizona. See, a small benefit to chain restaurants. The food wasn't too bad, either.

I wanted to thank Elizabeth for her help in posting my request re my unused gift certificate to the now defunct Taste. A wonderful, classy restaurant group offered to validate it in full and a dinner group offered me a full credit as well. I'm not sure if I should mention their names here - I'll leave that decision up to her. I certainly didn't have any hope, but am so gratified that they had the heart to make everything better. I will make sure to speak highly of them to everyone I come into contact with!

The claimed justification for monthly service fees on unused gift cards is that the issuer has to keep track of the open balance on each unused card and show the total balance of all unused cards as a liability on its balance sheet. Given the cheap cost of computerized record-keeping these days, I think this claim is a bunch of hooey. Since most gift card issuers tend to be publicly traded restaurant or store chains, they get to reduce their liabilities (and improve their balance sheets) by imposing the fees. So, creative accounting tends to justify the policy.

By the way, Maryland law was amended in 2005 to limit charges for the first 4 years after issuance of a “gift certificate” (which includes a plastic gift card honored only at the issuer's store/chain). Different rules apply to a "gift card" processed through a national credit or debit card service that can be used at any number of unaffiliated stores. So, there’s a difference between getting a Target gift card (honored only at Tar-zhay) and getting a Visa gift card that can be used anywhere. See Sections 14-1319 and 14-1320 of the Commercial Law Article of the Maryland Code.

hmpstd, you are giving Hal VoR a run for the title of most reasonable and informative. Thanks!

I heard Taste is reopening under new management at the same location. You should write the Liquor Board and ask that the new owners honor your gift card as a condition of Liquor Board approval of transfer of the license, or ask that the old owners reimburse you as a condition of allowing the transfer! You have rights...

Deb, if EL allows, I'd be interested in hearing who made the offers.

Dahlink said: hmpstd, you are giving Hal VoR a run for the title of most reasonable and informative

VoR is just a title (honorary, in my case), like PhD. It's perfectly acceptable for more than one person to have a VoR. Whichever one of you bestowed it on me (it might have been you, Dahlink) can certainly bestow it on hmpstd.

Deb, I'm sure they want you to mention their names, I would susupect that free goodwill advertising is why they did it. Cynical me? Just tell us, that way you don't put EL in the position of possibly promoting a restaurant. Spill it.

They actually don't, I guess because they don't want to do it for everyone who has a Taste gift certificate. EL

Reason is higly overrated. Although during the Age of Reason we were quite successful with the Great Witch Eradication Project. Auto-da-fé! Not to mention the American Indian consolidation movement and the world-wide eradiction of local rule movement. Oh Reason, you are fickle! J'accuse Hal Laurent! Your reason will be the death of all of us.

Huh, selfless good will? How about that.

Thanks hmpstd for that accounting magic explanation. So the restaurant rightly views it as debt. Not only is this debt interest free, but is will be reduced gradually through inflation. So that sounds profitable already. Add fees of $2 a month say and that is more profitable than inflation, since the average gift certificate may be $100 and inflation is less than 0.2% per month, so those fees eat away at the value 10 times faster than inflation. Bravo, what a scam. And the record keeping for gift cards is trivial, far far less than the cost of a credit card transaction. I just write the record keeping program in my head.

Speaking of bistros and closing restaurants, whatever happened with Timothy Dean Bistro?

For the moment, still open. EL

Thanks, avian flesh! I always wanted to be the object of "j'accuse". :-)

Great Witch Eradication Project

I'm afraid I must tell you that they missed a few...

Hal VoR--yes, I was the one who dubbed you the Voice of Reason, but you added the title yourself. ;->

I for one have had just about enough of OMG's Baroque Bashing. I may have no recourse but to start attacking your post-modern musings.

Bring it if you got it! ☺ Don't flatter me, I'm barely modern.

I was the one who dubbed you the Voice of Reason, but you added the title yourself.

I just abbreviated it. :-)

Post-modern, RoCK? On this blog it should be Sun-modern.

Feathered Friend, how could you? J'accuse AND Norbit??? You're killing me. You are the imaginary friend I make up in my head. I think I am dreaming this blog.

Hey, stop taunting me Bourbon Girl! I had to invent Single Malt Girl to get over you. Arrrggggg, the levels of fantasy are owl boggling!!!! I am I said. I am said I. And I am Neil Diamond because I am Reverend Blue Jeans! I am I said. etc.......

I heard one of our elected officials state at an open meeting last night that Taste is being taken over by Christopher Daniels, and that there is a hearing about the liquor license in June. Can anyone confirm?

Not exactly. Daniel Chaustit, one of the two chef/owners, is in the process of buying it. Other than that, no connection with Christopher Daniel. The Christopher (Chris Ellis) is staying with Christopher Daniel. Chaustit hopes to open in mid-July under another name. More details in next Wednesday's Table Talk column. EL

J'accuse, Norbit, YLT, and Neil Diamond??

Truman Show for sure.

Cue Blood on the Tracks and I will lose my mind.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected