Receiving a restaurant gift card can be an exciting gift. Whether you got it for your birthday or another special occasion, having a prepaid card to your favorite eatery is always appreciated.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The expiration date and policies for restaurant gift cards vary by state and specific restaurant. However, most restaurant gift cards are valid for around 12-24 months from the date of purchase or last use.

Federal law prohibits gift cards from expiring less than 5 years from issuance but doesn’t apply to restaurant gift cards.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide a detailed overview of the typical validity periods of restaurant gift cards and the factors that influence how long they remain usable. We’ll also share tips to make the most of your card and avoid losing the value.

Typical Validity Periods for Restaurant Gift Cards

Restaurant gift cards are a popular choice for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. However, it’s important to know the validity period of these gift cards to ensure that they can be used before they expire.

Here is a complete guide to the typical validity periods for restaurant gift cards.

12-24 Months from Purchase/Activation Date

Many restaurant gift cards have a validity period of 12-24 months from the date of purchase or activation. This means that the recipient has plenty of time to enjoy a meal at the restaurant of their choice.

It’s important to note that the validity period starts from the date the gift card is purchased or activated, not from the date it is given as a gift. So, if you receive a gift card that has been sitting in someone’s drawer for a few months, make sure to check the activation date to determine how much time you have left to use it.

Varies by State Laws

In some states, there are laws that regulate the validity periods of gift cards, including restaurant gift cards. These laws aim to protect consumers from gift cards that expire too quickly. The validity periods set by state laws can vary, so it’s important to be aware of the regulations in your state.

For example, some states may require restaurant gift cards to have a validity period of at least five years. Checking your state’s laws can help you determine how long restaurant gift cards are good for in your area.

Depends on Individual Restaurant Policies

While there are typical validity periods for restaurant gift cards, it’s essential to remember that individual restaurant policies can vary. Some restaurants may choose to have shorter validity periods, while others may extend the expiration date.

It’s always a good idea to check with the specific restaurant to determine how long their gift cards are valid for. This can usually be done by visiting their website or contacting their customer service.

Factors That Impact Gift Card Validity Periods

Type of Restaurant (Chain vs. Independent)

The type of restaurant, whether it is a chain or an independent establishment, can have an impact on the validity period of gift cards. Chains often have more standardized policies, including set expiration dates for their gift cards.

Independent restaurants, on the other hand, may have more flexibility in determining the expiration dates or may even choose not to have any expiration date at all.

Card Has Initial Activation/Purchase Date

The validity period of a restaurant gift card is often determined from the date of its initial activation or purchase. This means that the clock starts ticking as soon as the card is first used or when it is purchased.

It’s important to keep track of the activation/purchase date to ensure that the gift card is used before it expires.

Card Has No Expiration Date Printed

Some restaurant gift cards may not have an expiration date printed on them. In these cases, it is best to refer to the restaurant’s specific policies or contact their customer service to inquire about the validity period.

It’s always a good idea to use gift cards sooner rather than later to avoid any potential issues.

State Expiration Laws

State laws can also impact the validity period of restaurant gift cards. Some states have laws that regulate gift card expiration dates, ensuring that they have a reasonable amount of time before they expire.

It’s important to be aware of the expiration laws in your state to understand your rights as a gift card holder.

Restaurant Specific Policies

Each restaurant may have its own specific policies regarding gift card validity periods. Some restaurants may have a set expiration date, while others may allow gift cards to be used indefinitely. It’s always a good idea to check the restaurant’s website or contact their customer service to understand their specific policies and ensure that you use your gift card within the designated time frame.

Tips to Maximize Your Gift Card Value

When you receive a restaurant gift card, it’s important to make the most of its value. Here are some tips to help you maximize your gift card value:

1. Use Soon After Receiving

Don’t let your gift card gather dust in a drawer. Use it as soon as possible to enjoy a delicious meal at the restaurant. This way, you can fully enjoy the experience and make the most of your gift card.

2. Note the Expiration Date

Always check the expiration date of your gift card. Some restaurant gift cards have a limited validity period, so it’s crucial to use them before they expire. Mark the expiration date on your calendar to avoid any last-minute surprises.

3. Read Fine Print on Terms & Conditions

Before using your gift card, take the time to read the fine print on the terms and conditions. This will help you understand any restrictions or limitations that may apply. For example, some gift cards may not be valid for certain menu items or may have blackout dates.

4. Load Card into App If Possible

If the restaurant offers a mobile app, consider loading your gift card into the app. This allows you to easily track your balance, receive notifications, and even earn rewards or discounts. It’s a convenient way to ensure you make the most of your gift card.

5. Ask for Extensions Near Expiration

If your gift card is approaching its expiration date and you haven’t had a chance to use it, don’t hesitate to reach out to the restaurant and ask for an extension. Some establishments may be willing to extend the validity period or provide alternative options for using the remaining balance.

6. Spend Remaining Balances

When you have a small balance remaining on your gift card, make sure to spend it wisely. Consider ordering appetizers, desserts, or drinks to fully utilize the remaining value. Don’t let those few dollars go to waste!

By following these tips, you can make the most of your restaurant gift card and enjoy a memorable dining experience. Happy dining!

What to Do If Your Card Expires

It can be disappointing to find out that your restaurant gift card has expired. However, there are several options available to you if this happens. Here are some steps you can take:

Request a Replacement Card

If your card has recently expired and you still have the physical card in your possession, you may be able to request a replacement card from the restaurant. Some restaurants have policies in place that allow customers to exchange expired gift cards for new ones.

It’s always worth reaching out to the restaurant’s customer service department to inquire about this option. They may require you to provide proof of purchase or other information to process your request.

Negotiate an Extension with the Manager

In certain cases, you may be able to negotiate an extension of the expiration date with the restaurant manager. This is more likely to be successful if you have a strong relationship with the restaurant or if you have a compelling reason for needing an extension.

It never hurts to ask, and the manager may be willing to accommodate your request, especially if you are a loyal customer.

Use the Card as Partial Payment

If your card has expired and you’re unable to get a replacement or an extension, consider using it as partial payment for your meal. Even if the card doesn’t cover the full cost of your bill, it can still help reduce your overall expenses.

Most restaurants will accept expired gift cards as a form of payment, but it’s always a good idea to check with the staff before using it.

Donate the Remaining Balance

Another option is to donate the remaining balance on your expired gift card. Many restaurants have partnerships with charitable organizations, and they may allow customers to transfer the unused funds to support a good cause.

Not only will you be able to help others, but you’ll also be able to make the most out of your expired gift card.

Sell the Unused Portion

If all else fails, you can try selling the unused portion of your expired gift card. There are various online platforms where you can list your gift card for sale, and interested buyers can purchase it at a discounted rate.

Just make sure to follow the guidelines and safety measures provided by the platform to ensure a smooth transaction.

Remember, each restaurant may have its own policies regarding expired gift cards, so it’s important to reach out to them directly for the most accurate information. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to use your gift cards as soon as possible to avoid any expiration issues in the first place.

Things to Know About Restaurant Gift Card Laws

Federal Gift Card Act

The Federal Gift Card Act, passed in 2009, established rules and regulations for gift cards across the United States. Under this act, restaurant gift cards cannot expire within five years from the date of purchase.

This means that as a gift card holder, you have at least five years to use the full value of your restaurant gift card.

Additionally, the Federal Gift Card Act prohibits restaurants from charging any fees, such as maintenance fees or inactivity fees, unless the card has not been used for at least one year. This legislation ensures that consumers are protected from unexpected charges and can fully enjoy the value of their gift cards.

State Expiration & Fee Laws

In addition to the federal regulations, individual states may have their own laws regarding the expiration dates and fees associated with restaurant gift cards. Some states, such as California and Massachusetts, have stricter regulations that extend the expiration date beyond the five-year federal requirement.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific laws in your state to understand your rights as a gift card holder.

For example, California law states that restaurant gift cards must never expire, while Massachusetts law requires a seven-year expiration period. These state laws provide additional protection for consumers, ensuring that their gift card retains its value for a longer period.

Reporting Unredeemed Cards

Restaurant owners are required to report the value of unredeemed gift cards as income on their tax returns. This means that even if a gift card has not been used, the restaurant must still account for it as revenue.

This reporting requirement helps to prevent businesses from benefiting financially from unused gift cards.

By reporting unredeemed cards, restaurants are incentivized to promote the use of gift cards and provide better customer service to encourage cardholders to redeem their value. This benefits both the restaurant and the gift card holder, as it encourages the utilization of gift cards and ensures that their value is not lost over time.


The validity period of restaurant gift cards can vary widely depending on the issuing establishment and governing state laws. While most tend to expire within 12-24 months, taking steps like registering your card, spending the balance quickly, and checking terms and conditions carefully can help you maximize the value.

With a little planning ahead, you can often extend unused balances on expired cards by negotiating with managers or utilizing creative solutions. Understanding the applicable federal and state gift card statutes is also useful.

With this guide, you now have the key information needed to enjoy your restaurant gift card to the fullest!

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