« The early review: Johnny Rad's | Main | Concert review: Goo Goo Dolls at Pier Six Pavilion »

August 4, 2010

Are $10 credit card minimums fair?

Yesterday, when I hit up Johnny Rad's, my beer cost $3.25. I looked in my wallet, and realized I only had three one-dollar bills (such is the life of a two-bit hack journalist). 

Feeling like a schmuck, I had to give the bartender my credit card. To try and set things right, I tipped him two bucks in cash.

This would never have happened at Club Charles or The Ottobar, because they both require $10 minimums on credit card purchases. Ditto for Down the Hatch. I realize this policy is because credit card companies take a big cut of every charge a customer makes. From what I understand, the bars would barely see a penny if you were running up $2 and $3 tabs. But how do you feel about it? I want to hear from bar owners and bar-goers alike ...

I know people who are afraid of carrying cash -- period -- in some Baltimore neighborhoods, so they carry credit cards instead. But if they go to a place like Club Chuck, they have to buy three or four beers just to use their credit cards.

Lucky's, the convenience store on Fort Avenue, tacks on an extra 25- or 50-cent fee for every purchase made with a credit card under a certain amount (sorry guys, I can't remember the exact number, it's been a while since I was there). Why can't more bars do this, instead of minimums?

Forgive me if I'm missing a law that prohibits these practices (I was never good with math or law). But I think it's a fair question. Thoughts?

Follow Midnight Sun on Facebook and Twitter @midnightsunblog
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:03 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


I can see a $5 minimum, because it does cost them to use credit card machines. But a $10 minimum is pushing it a bit.

bar owners dont do it because of the fee as much as to prevent people from paying for every single beer each time with a credit card. If you run a 3 dollar tab its only costing the bar 10 cents or so, but its obnoxious when someone has 10 beers and they want to run the card every single time

I always figure the simplest solution is the best, which is simply to charge the customer whatever the credit card company charges the store. Station North Arts Cafe at Charles and North does that, and it serves as a subtle incentive to buy more at each trip - i.e. if you plan to go there for breakfast and lunch, buy them both at the same time. Minimums are dumb.

For Visas:
U.S. retailers may require a minimum purchase amount on credit card transactions. The minimum purchase amount must not exceed $10 and does not apply to transactions made with a debit card.

I've patronized several bars that have minimums, and my way of "making it right" is to buy a drink for someone who needs one over the course of the bartender's shift. Usually, that gets you a couple brownie/nice person points in that bartender's eyes, and the minimum stops applying to you.
The one thing i dislike is when it's shift change, and you're stuck. You have to order another one from your current 'tender to make the minimum, and then end up being ignored or sneered at by the on coming 'tender. Not a nice place to be.
I understand why because of the credit charge companies, vendor fees, and provider cost. They REALLY take a chunk, especially if you don't have a high volume of credit card transactions.
For business owners, I'd suggest renegotiating terms with your providers. They're not the only ones out there, and there ARE options if you're willing to invest an afternoon to find them.

The practice of requiring minimums is illegal. Period. The credit card company takes the same amount out of the swipe for a $1 charge or a $1,000 charge. To my knowledge the deal between credit card companies and vendors varies based on credit history (on that front, I could be wrong).
I say all this having worked in bars in restaurants for more than eight years. Many venues also provide ATM machines to alleviate this sort of issue. If you are afraid of carrying $10 or $20 in your pocket while walking around the city then how is it you feel comfortable walking home at night instead of taking a cab -- which would require the aforementioned $10 or $20.
Minimums are not fair to customers or even service employees who have to explain to bar-goers that they have to either drink more or fork up more cash at the faceless owner's request.

Most credit card companies don't allow merchants to set minimums on purchases. So an establishment is likely violating their agreement with Visa, MasterCard, et al., in setting a minimum -- and the consumer can call them out on it.

I'm fairly certain that this type of policy is in violation of the credit card agreement with visa etc. But lost of bars do it anyway. It may cost more to process each card for whatever the amount but at least your not pissin off your patrons.

Also, not only is there the swipe and process fee... which is standard. They also get a percentage of the amount. Most processors charge 2 to 3 % of the check amount. It's a freakin racket.

Consumerist outlines the merchant policies of Discover, Mastercard, Visa, Amex, etc...

pretty sure congress just passed a law making this practice legal...I think its perfectly fine for establishments to have a minimum charge, although my guess is it's more useful as a way for patrons to buy more than they planned to in order to meet the minimum than it is a strategy to avoid CC charges...certainly works on me when I'm out of cash.

I don't know why people are so indignant about it. If it's their establishment, let them do it. If you don't like it, don't go.

The new financial reform bill that passed last month includes a provision that officially legalizes minimums for credit card purchases, so now it's very much allowed.

That said, as a routinely cashless bar-goer, I think they're annoying.

This has always been a point of contention with me. Technically Visa and MasterCard don't allow it. But the retail establishment really doesn't deal directly with them, but with a processing company. This middle man gives them enough cover to do it without Visa or MasterCard really caring too much.

Personally, if a retailer choose to accept payment for goods and services in the form of a credit card, they should bear all costs involved. Is it fair? Depends. A service is being provided for the retailer which they would otherwise be unable to do on their own.

If they feel the need to raise the cost of drinks by ten cents each to cover this, that's fine with me. But I think that it is bad business practice to ask me to supplement the cost of you doing business. Another way around it is to install an ATM machine and don't accept cards at the bar.

Gas stations get around the legal issue by offering a "discount" for cash. Why not offer bar patrons 10% off for paying in cash? I could even get around that. But forcing me to spend a minimum amount sucks.

“Visa's rules require merchants to always honor valid Visa cards in their acceptance category regardless of purchase amount. When cardholders see the Visa logo, they expect to be able to make a transaction without discrimination."

Mastercard has the same rule.

If a merchant requires a minimum I ask them to reconsider.If their answer is still no,then I leave and promptly report them to the credit card company,who will remind them that it is against their merchant agreement.

As for Lucky's,they are not permitted to add anything to a credit card purchase BUT they can discount for cash.

I'd like to see places offer options, like why not try and up sell me to a gift card rather than send me out to an ATM to pay a fee to some random bank.

Lots of conflicting info in this thread's replies.

I got burned on a minimum once. I ordered one or two drinks and the bill was probably 8.50 or something. The place was a couple blocks from my house so I walked one of my friends home (intended to come back and keep drinking) but it got late and I never made it back out. I hate to do it, but I'll tip extra if I leave a card for the next day (and they typically say "last night's bartender will get the tip"). Anyway, the next day I go get my card and they charged me $15. Why? Because that's the minimum they can charge, was explained to me. Felt kinda ripped off on that one. I won't name the now closed bar, but it used to be on the corner of Charles and Fort.

Good discussion. Tiki Bar had a minimum of $10, but given the unique location/atmosphere and them hosting the Social, I certainly wasn't going to sweat it.

Also, having an atm in the corner of the bar isn't a great alternative to minimums for people who rarely carry cash. These atm's are usually bank xyz which charges everyone $2.50 to use them. Add in a couple bucks from your bank and your $3.25 beer is now $8.75 after tip. I rarher just order an extra beer or two and hit whatever minimum they have. (Or carry cash, like I usually do.)

If a bar is really concerned about it why not just offer an incentive to use cash? Slightly raise prices to offset these "crippling credit card fees" and then offer 5% off your bar tab or something for using cash? This would make them seem alot cooler, and wouldn't turn any customers away. If I know there's a minimum and I don't have cash I just won't go to that bar.

I don't especially mind the minimums (which were illegal until recent), but I do mind the minimal swipe amount for tabs at some bars. Mcgerk's has like a $15 minimum-- like you swiped your card at a hotel and they put a hold on it.

My biggest pet peeve and this usually only happens when my people patronize establishments is both the non announced added gratuity and the "you must pay for every drink when you receive it." Luna De [Ahem] or whatever it's called on Pratt did both to me- not only made me pay per drink with a credit card--while by myself- and added gratuity.

Sam-don't bother testing this theory- it only happens to "certain groups of people" on "certain nights".

Wouldn't having three one-dollar bills would make you a 24-bit hack journalist?

@Cheap Jim --

why didn't you just man up and drink 2 more beers?


I'm with double b. More beers is always the right answer.

A $10.00 minimum charge is reasonable by my standards (beer(s) + shot). However I've been to some places where $25.00 is the minimum -forget it.

I'm a bit confused. According to the Consumerist, merchants are not allowed to charge a surcharge or fee for using a credit card, but they are allowed to give a discount for using cash. Isn't that just the same thing?

The CARD Act passed in 2009 does not address interchange fees other than to call for a detailed study of their effect on small businesses and consumers. The bill on interchange fees in the current Congress is stalled in committee, I believe, where it will likely remain now that the larger financial reform bill has been passed.

As it stands, all the card networks (Visa, MC and AMEX) usually prohibit merchants from "steering," which is just the industry term for coercing customers into using cash or some other payment method. That includes setting any minimum charge amount. To do so is a breach of their contract with the card network, although enforcement of this rule is obviously lax. I would guess many small business owners don't know the details of their agreement with the networks so aren't knowingly breaking the contract.

Mr. Twain, what is the answer and where have you been? what is the final answer, there has to be a lawyer amongst us. Can bar say that there is a minimum and can bars discount a check if people pay in cash?

I have seen both things in Baltimore?

My favorite thing is when bar(s) use cash boxes and I wonder if they are paying taxes on those sales.

Next time this happens you can feel free to buy me a drink, Sam. Or anyone else... Booze Karma is the best kind of Karma.

I don't mind, if I'm under the minimum when I'm closing out (which is rare), it usually means a shot to push me, and my tab, over the edge.

my god gloria, why next step it up and suck down one those manly appletini's your so fond of...

You could be like Captain Larry's, take cash only then have an atm that works about 10% of the time. No worries, I consider myself lucky if I get the drink I ordered in there.

Some restaurants/bars even pass this fee on to their employees. Forcing them to pay back to the restaurant 4-5% of their credit card tips to cover the surcharge. Which is completely unfair.

Let me be the one to put it back on the credit card companies. I mean really, why judge ourselves on whether we want to pay unnecessary fees? Credit card companies are supposed to be making their money on interest. If the businesses and the customers joined together against the card companies, then maybe we would get somewhere. The longer we try to work around the problem, the longer it doesn't get fixed. Get ready, until then, fees will just keep going up!

As an bartender in a busy Fells Point bar I have to say, it is a huge pain and delays service to others when I have to stop and wait for a credit card approval on your credit card for your $3.75 beer. Everyone has to wait for you. If you pay cash I can jam through your transaction and get to the next thirsty patron. If is make a face, it is because each time I get slowed down, it cost me money. If you are going to hang around for some live music, run a tab. If you are going to bar hop, get a cash injection before starting or get some friends and buy rounds.

I'm pretty sure you can not set a min. amount on purchases, never could although many do. Congress passed where its legal now to provide discounts for cash vrs. debit, so hay make my beer slightly cheaper and I'll always pay in cash! :)

I'll take "Things I don't care about" for $500, Alex. haha, i can't believe this is still getting comments.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Please enter the letter "f" in the field below:
About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

Most Recent Comments
Recent tweets
Sign up for FREE nightlife alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife 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.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Photo galleries
Stay connected