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What Happens to All Those Credit Cards Left at Bars?

And how can I, a very hungover and desperate dude, get mine back?

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of dread when you realize your credit card is missing after a night of drinking. In a hungover stupor, you try to retrace your steps. You started at your local bar’s outdoor drinking area; that part’s for sure. You vaguely remember riding a donkey at one point. Your Uber history suggests you went on something of a bar crawl. Somehow, there’s sand in your pockets, even though you live in a landlocked state.

You look at your last transaction and see a stupidly large charge at a bar you don’t remember being in, but a series of humiliating photos on your phone’s camera roll prove that you were indeed there. They open up again later tonight, and you wonder, What are they gonna do with my credit card, if they even have it?

To find out, I asked the friendly folks in r/ServerLife, who’ve seen us all at our worst, and they each said more or less the same thing: 

  • They either get picked up by the person who left them or put in the safe. If we have the reservation and have the ability to call them, we do that. Otherwise, random cards usually end up being cut up and discarded.”
  • Cash drawer, baby.”
  • “Most places hold them for two weeks and then shred them.” (Some, according to my girlfriend, a retired bartender, keep them indefinitely.)

Forgotten cards are so common, in fact, that many joints even have a sign somewhere on display that says they’ll charge you an “overnight fee,” usually around 20 percent of your tab, if you leave your card behind (which seems fair, especially if you hadn’t tipped before you stumbled off into the night).

As for returning your card to its rightful place in your wallet, your first steps should obviously be calling around to the various establishments you made merry in to see if any of them have it. If they do, simply go get it and make sure to leave a decent tip (probably even on top of the overnight fee, assuming they saw you do some weird shit).

If they don’t have it, you can begin by calling your bank and putting a freeze on new purchases while you continue your search. If you suspect the donkey stole it and fled the country, well, it’s probably time to cancel your card and get a new one.

If you find yourself leaving your card behind often, your best bet is to get in the habit of not opening tabs and instead just paying for each drink separately. Or God forbid, you may need to consider drinking less.

Now shake the sand out of your pockets, grab yourself a Meat Mountain and just be grateful it wasn’t any worse.

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