Is it legal for a bar to charge your credit card if you forget to close out your tab?

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Is it legal for a bar to charge your credit card if you forget to close out your tab?

I left my tab open at a bar, only made 2 drink purchases for $12, and $15, and forgot to close out my tab at the end of the night. I am friendly with the manager so I called him right after I left to tell him I forgot my credit card. He said he would lock it up in the office. I checked my credit card statement days later and there was a charge for $79. I do not know if this was a mistake or if somebody deliberately charged my credit card because I forgot to close out my tab and I want to know if it is legal for them to do that?

Asked on June 25, 2011 under General Practice, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You gave the card to secure and pay off the tab. When you left the bar, you implicitly closed out the tab, even if you didn't tell them to do so. At that point, they can charge *the actual amount you drank* and possibly a gratiuity (IF the menus, etc. say that gratuities are automatically charged under certain circumstances, and those circumstances applied).

What they *can't* do is charge even $0.01 more than the amount you actually put on your tab (plus the mandatory gratutity, if applicable). Charging more than that would be theft--they are taking your money--and you could report them to the police; to the agency authorizing and regulating liquor licenses; and/or sue for the money due you (though it's hard to see how that is worthwhile).

The only way in which they might not be liable--but somone else would be--would be if there was someone else on your tab (such as friend or date drinking with you) and that person kept drinking on your tab. If there was someone else whom you'd authorized to drink on your tab and that person kept doing so, the bar probably did nothing wrong--though the drinker may have.

Other than the above, it's difficult to see out $27 of drinks became a $79 charge. If you're friendly with the manager, you might give him a chance to explain and correct any mistakes before you take action.


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