Skip to Content

How Do You Buy Restaurant Meals with EBT?

How Do You Buy Restaurant Meals with EBT?

You may have heard that some people are able to purchase restaurant meals, like McDonald’s or even Denny’s, with their food stamps cards. If you also have an EBT card, you’ve probably wondered how to buy restaurant meals with EBT.

The process is exactly like buying groceries. You even use the same EBT card! You just need to make sure that you are eligible for this special program, that your caseworker has enabled that option on your card, and that the restaurant you are visiting is set up to process food stamps transactions. The hardest part is getting ready to buy restaurant meals. Once you’re all set up, the rest of the process is quite easy!

When restaurants are approved to accept EBT, they receive a payment terminal that is similar to what you use in a grocery store. This allows them to take your payment in the same way that a store would. The experience of buying a meal is remarkably similar to the experience of buying groceries.

The important thing is to do all the work beforehand to verify your eligibility and confirm the restaurant’s enrollment so that you don’t get surprised by a failed transaction at the register.

Make sure you are eligible for this special program.

The first step to purchasing restaurant meals with EBT is to make sure that you are eligible and enrolled in the special program that authorizes these purchases.

Not everyone who has an EBT card can use that card to purchase restaurant meals. In fact, this program is usually limited to those who cannot safely prepare or store their own food at home. This usually means seniors, disabled people and those that are homeless. There are a lot of gray areas, though, so we have some additional information about eligibility in our guide.

If you meet that criteria, then you also have to live in a participating state. Although the federal government has authorized this program, not all states participate. In fact, most don’t. We have an ever-updated list of participating states.

If you meet the eligibility requirements and you live in a participating state, then your caseworker should automatically enable your card for the Restaurant Meals Program. Once they enable it, you should be able to use that card to purchase restaurant meals at participating locations.

Make sure the restaurant is set up to process EBT.

Most restaurants are not set up to process EBT transactions. This is even true for nationwide chains, like McDonald’s or Jack in the Box. Although some specific locations in some areas can process those benefits, most locations simply can’t.

So, the second step to buying restaurant meals with EBT is to make sure that you’re visiting a restaurant that can process those transactions. We have a list of specific restaurant locations for your convenience.

Just swipe your EBT card like you would at a store.

Once you know that you’re eligible and that you are visiting a participating location, the rest of the process is very simple. You just need to order your meal and swipe your EBT card like you would at a grocery store!

The law requires participating restaurants to offer low-cost meals to their EBT-paying guests. This could be in the form of a special value meal, a standard publicly available value meal, or discounted meal options. You should always inquire about this while you are at the restaurant.

Just like grocery stores are not supposed to charge sales tax on food stamps purchases, restaurants can’t charge you tax either. They also aren’t supposed to charge you for a gratuity. You should always check your receipt to make sure you were charged the correct amount.

FAQ about Buying Restaurant Meals

This program is not well-known, so it’s natural for people to have questions about how it works. If you don’t see your questions answered here, please ask us in the comments!

Do I need a different EBT card to buy restaurant meals?

No. The same EBT card you use to purchase groceries can also purchase restaurant meals if you are eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program.

Will I get extra food stamps if I buy restaurant meals?

No. The Restaurant Meals Program allows you to buy hot, ready-to-eat meals but it does not provide you with any extra money. You will still get your regular issuance amount.

After I buy a meal, will I get a receipt showing my balance?

Yes. Just like you get a receipt with your balance after purchasing groceries, you should also get a receipt with your balance after purchasing a restaurant meal.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.