Are restaurants allowed to accept food stamps?

paying at a restaurant
To accept EBT cards, a restaurant needs to sign an agreement with the state. / Photo: Shutterstock


A customer asked me if I accept EBT cards. I didn’t think that was allowed. Is that a thing now?

– QSR Owner-Operator, California


Yes! In some states, including yours.

EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, cards work like debit cards and can be used to redeem a variety of benefits but, most notably, the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This federal food assistance is administered by the state and colloquially called “food stamps.”

Historically, SNAP benefits could be redeemed solely at grocers and only for certain items such as produce, proteins, dairy, breads, snacks and beverages, excluding alcohol, tobacco, supplements, pet food, beauty and cleaning supplies or hot prepared foods.

However, seven states—Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island and Virginia—have recently started an additional SNAP program called the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). More states are in the process of bringing that program on. In states that offer the RMP, elderly, disabled or homeless people can purchase food at restaurants using SNAP benefits.

To accept EBT cards, your operation will need to sign an agreement with the state that may require discounted pricing. According to the USDA: “Each state can set their own requirements for choosing how many and which restaurants they want to allow to participate in their state's RMP.”

If you are a quick-serve restaurant with an accessible price point, my advice is to explore all opportunities to capture revenue in this time of rising costs. It is good to navigate the system wherever possible.

More on SNAP RMP here.