Innovations and Payment Systems

30 renowned restaurants that don’t take credit cards


Some beloved eateries all across the United States refuse to take credit cards from patrons, yet still find a way to thrive

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At a time when you can use plastic to pay for almost anything, a small number of wildly popular restaurants across the country still do not take credit cards.

It seems that every city has a few great, cash-only holdouts. Many of these restaurants are iconic, with rich histories, a line out the door and a loyal customer base.

Take Philippe The Original in Los Angeles, birthplace of the French dip sandwich. You may wait an hour to get to the front of the line, but try to pay with your Visa card and you will be out of luck.

30 renowned restaurants that don't take credit cards

It is the same story if you want to sample the signature oysters at Casamento’s in New Orleans (enjoyed by celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Peyton Manning), the renowned beef on weck at Bar-Bill in East Aurora, New York, or dozens of other famous dishes at eateries throughout the country.

These cash-only restaurants are shunning plastic at a time when most of their competitors are moving in the opposite direction. In fact, the National Restaurant Association says 96 percent of full-service restaurants accept credit or debit cards.

Jump to the list: 30 renowned restaurants that don’t take credit cards


Taking a costly stand
Passing on plastic can save a restaurant some serious dough. Restaurants pay a “swipe fee” every time a customer pays with a card. The fees vary, but the National Restaurant Association — which is pushing for legislation to limit the fees — says they have been rising and now average about 4.3 percent. That is a big hit to many restaurants, where the profit margin typically is in the middle single digits.

Despite the potential savings, most restaurant owners recognize that not taking cards can frustrate card-carrying customers and hurt sales, says Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst for the consumer market research company NPD Group. NPD has found that consumers spend more when they pay with a card than they do when paying with cash, Riggs says. And a 2012 survey by restaurant guide Zagat found that about 40 percent of diners actually avoid restaurants with cash-only policies.

Terri Hall, a small business owner in St. Petersburg, Florida, says that when she dines out, she finds cash-only policies “cumbersome and annoying.” She says she loves the food at one cash-only eatery in her community, but she often heads elsewhere because she doesn’t typically carry cash. “I’ll go around the corner to another dive that’s not quite as good, but it’s easier because it takes credit cards,” she says.

Why they do it
So if a cash-only policy has the potential to drive away customers, why do so many popular restaurants do it?

Some say it is about tradition: “It’s worked for us for 106 years, and we see no need to change. It’s part of our ambiance,” says Mark Massengill, managing partner at Philippe The Original, noting that requiring people to pay cash also keeps the line moving.

Others blame the hassle: “We just don’t want to mess with dealing with the machine and figuring out how to give the girls their tips,” says Debbie Wertel, co-owner of Skip’s Diner in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Many of these restaurants ban credit cards despite knowing the policy may cost them patrons.

“In all honesty, I have lost customers over it,” says John Kemper, owner of the Blue Bonnet Cafe, known for its home cooking in Marble Falls, Texas. “When we have a line out the door, if someone doesn’t have cash, we’re sorry, but there’s not a lot we can do. Restaurants like us that have been around a long time can afford to do this because we’ve got a large, built-in clientele.”

Kemper figures he saves about $100,000 a year by not taking credit cards. He says the extra money lets him offer his employees benefits such as free food, high-quality health insurance and a retirement plan in which he matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to 3 percent. That means employees stick around, he says, and customers are happier because of the higher level of service.

Pablo Solomon, an artist in Lampasas, Texas, and a regular at Blue Bonnet, says he has no problem with its cash-only policy. In fact, he respects it. “We know that the owners are using the extra money to be fair to their workers, and it works,” he says. “My wife and I have been going there for almost 30 years, and some (of) the same people are still working there.”

Offering customers ways to pay
Many restaurants that don’t take credit cards have put in cash machines to prevent customers from leaving in search of an ATM and not coming back.

Wertel says she had an ATM installed earlier this year as a convenience for customers. “Before we had it, one waitress made this guy leave his cellphone when he went to get cash, and he was like, ‘You’re making me leave my $200 phone for a $7 bill?'” Wertel recalls. “He was so mad. Now with the ATM, we don’t have to do that anymore.”

As an added bonus, many venues collect some or all of the ATM fee. So if those eateries start taking plastic, they not only pay extra fees, they also lose a revenue source. “I’m not going to pay a credit card company to take cards when I’ve got a machine right here that generates $300 a month for me,” says Casamento’s owner C.J. Gerdes.

What happens to diners who have no Visa or ATM card? Of course they can offer to wash dishes, but most restaurants grant some leeway.

Jesse Carpenter, co-owner of the Omelettry in Austin, Texas, says even though the venue doesn’t officially take checks, “If a little grandma comes in and has no cash, I’ll take a check.”

If a little grandma comes in and has no cash, I’ll take a check.

— Jesse Carpenter
The Omelettry, Austin, Texas

Other restaurants may keep your driver’s license until you return with cash, or just take your word that you will come back.

At Pomodoro — a popular cash-only Italian restaurant with locations in the Boston area — if you can’t pay, they write your name in “a tiny little file that we keep between the wine bottles,” says Stephen Shellenberger, manager of the Brookline Village location. “Some people come back and pay the next day, some come back in a week. When you trust people like that, it helps build loyalty. If you lose a few, it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme.”

Meanwhile, some restaurateurs are exploring other options. New York steak house Peter Luger, which has long eschewed credit cards, offers customers its own Peter Luger charge card. “We didn’t want to pay the fees, and it helps the restaurant feel more like a club,” says Peter Luger Vice President Jody Storch. “Our hope is that our customers will see our card in their wallets, and it will remind them to come in.”

Other restaurants are hoping mobile payments one day will bring them the best of both worlds: Customers will be able to pay by directly debiting their checking accounts, while restaurants avoid the dreaded swipe fees.

And a few holdouts have started taking credit cards despite a long history of steering clear. “We still have signs up that say we don’t take credit cards, and we want people to use our ATM, but the truth is, if a guy gets to the front of the line and hands me a card, I’ll take it,” says Vida Ali, an owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark restaurant in Washington, D.C. “I know no one walks around with cash anymore, including me. That’s the way of the future.”

Following is a list of a few of the great restaurants across the country that do not take credit cards. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Have your own favorite cash-only nominee? Tell us in the comments below.

Blue Bonnet Cafe
restaurants that don't take credit cards Marble Falls, Texas
A true Texas cafe since 1929, it serves home cooking and breakfast all day.
Takes: Cash, checks (with a phone number)
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $1.50 fee.

Philippe The Original
Phillippe The Original Los Angeles
Established in 1908, it is famous for the French dip sandwich, the signature dish it is said to have invented.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Two on the premises, $2 fee.

Original Pantry Cafe
Los Angeles
Another L.A. institution (since 1924), it is known for its breakfast menu, especially the pancakes.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2.50 fee.

El Gallo De Oro
El Gallo De Oro Chicago (Marquette Park neighborhood)
Much loved by locals and college students for its quick, delicious Mexican tacos and burritos.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2 fee.

Colonnade Restaurant
Colonnade Restaurant Atlanta
Family-owned restaurant that has been serving classic Southern food since 1927.
Takes: Cash or check
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2 fee.

The Ethiopian Restaurant
Denver’s first African eatery, it has been serving Ethiopian fare since 1985.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Half a block down the street.

Tom’s Home Cookin’
Specializing in Southern comfort food, this diner’s menu changes each day depending on what’s fresh.
Takes: Cash only (including euros!)
Nearest ATM: One block away.

The Omelettry
The Omlettry Austin, Texas
Established in 1978, it is known for its funky atmosphere, gingerbread pancakes and, of course, omelets.
Takes: Cash or (reluctantly) check
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $1.50 fee.

Boston (North End and Brookline Village neighborhoods)
Often named one of the city’s top Italian restaurants.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Next door (North End location) or directly across the street (Brookline Village location).

Joe T. Garcia’s
Fort Worth, Texas
Established in 1935, this tiny Mexican restaurant has customers sometimes waiting for hours to try the famous enchiladas and homemade tortillas 
Takes: Cash, checks with ID
Nearest ATM: Two on the premises, $2.50 fee.

Marrakesh Philadelphia
A Moroccan institution for 38 years, you can order off the menu or try their authentic seven-course feast.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: About 15 yards down the street.

Peter Luger Steak House
Peter Luger Steak House Brooklyn, New York (second location in Great Neck, New York)
Famous for its USDA prime dry-aged steaks, it’s been named by Zagat Survey as the best New York City steak house for 30 years in a row.
Takes: Cash, checks, debit cards, their Peter Luger card
Nearest ATM: Next door.

Las Cuatro Milpas
Las Cuatro Milpas San Diego (Barrio Logan)
Run by three generations of the Estudillo family, its authentic Mexican fare (rolled tacos, chorizo) always draws a crowd.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: One block away.

Payne’s Bar-B-Que
Payne's Bar-B-Que Memphis, Tennessee
A family-run business since 1972, its pork barbecue is often labeled the best in Memphis, especially the top shoulder sandwich.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Across the street at the gas station.

Deluca’s Restaurant
An iconic breakfast spot in the city’s strip district that claims to have the best breakfast in town.
Takes: Cash only (but its second location in Robinson township does take plastic)
Nearest ATM: PNC Bank two doors down or WesBanco across the street.

Dinker’s Bar
Dinker's Bar Omaha, Nebraska
A landmark since 1965, burgers (“Omaha’s best burger”) are its claim to fame, but it’s also known for its homemade onion rings.
Takes: Cash or check
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $1.75 fee.

Casamentos New Orleans
In business since 1919, this is where celebrities head for the best oysters in town.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $4 fee.

Heart Attack Grill
Heart Attack Grill Las Vegas
Provocative diner known for its high-fat menu, which includes the world’s “most calorific burger” and “flatliner” fries cooked in pure lard.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $0.75 fee.

The Sundowner
West Sedona, Arizona
Friendly neighborhood watering hole loved by the locals and famous for its burgers. 

Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2 fee.

Skip’s Diner
Skip's Diner Green Bay, Wisconsin
Established 40 years ago, this old-fashioned diner is known as much for its breakfast as for its burgers.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2.50 fee.

Bar-Bill Tavern
Bar-Bill Tavern East Aurora, New York
Popular pub-style tavern is known for its beef on weck and chicken wings.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2.25 fee.

Pine Club
Dayton, Ohio
Open since 1947, this landmark steak house has been called one of the world’s greatest old dining institutions.
Takes: Cash, checks or Pine Club house account
Nearest ATM: Gas station across the street.

John’s of 12th Street
New York City (East Village)
Founded in 1908, this classic Italian restaurant isn’t fancy, but the food and service are solid.
Takes: Cash or check.
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2.75 fee.

Pasta Mia
Pasta Mia Washington, D.C. (Adams Morgan)
Some consider it the best Italian restaurant in Old Town, and you can’t beat the prices.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Next door.

Barney Greengrass
New York City (Upper West Side)
It has been a favorite spot for old-style Jewish food such as blintzes, Nova and smoked sturgeon for more than a century.
Takes: Cash only on weekends (takes credit cards on weekdays, $10 minimum).
Nearest ATM:  Inside the CVS store across the street.

Schaller’s Pump
Chicago (Bridgeport)
This 133-year-old tavern has simple food and reasonable prices, along with plenty of White Sox fans.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $3.50.

Paseo Caribbean Restaurant
Seattle (Fremont, Ballard)
Long lines are a testament to the popularity of this food stand’s messy sandwiches.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Two blocks up and across the street at Marketime Foods (Fremont location), or the Surf Ballard store next door (Ballard location).

The Daily Catch
The Daily Catch Boston (North End)
Serving up Sicilian-style food in a tiny space, it is said to have some of the city’s best seafood.
Takes: Cash only (but the Seaport location does take cards)
Nearest ATM: Citizens Bank next door.

Hubcap Grill
Houston (downtown)
Hole-in-the-wall that claims to have the state’s best burgers, along with unusual toppings, such as Cheetos.
Takes: Cash only (but the Houston Heights location does take cards)
Nearest ATM: On the premises, $2.50

Swan Oyster Depot
Swan Oyster Depot San Francisco (Nob Hill)
This fish market/food counter has been serving fresh-from-the-water seafood since 1912.
Takes: Cash only
Nearest ATM: Chase Bank across the street.

See related: 5 places with the highest ATM fees

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