LevelUp pitches businesses on a ‘credit card diet’ to trim down fees

I’ll never forget my first dinner in Boston’s North End: A few generous portions of pasta and red wine in, I reach for my credit card ready to pay.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the waitress told me. “We don’t accept credit cards.”

I was pretty sure I could feel her eyes rolling at me the whole sheepish walk to the ATM.

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It was a rube mistake, trying to use credit at a traditional Italian restaurant in that part of town, and for good reason.

Credit cards cause all manner of headaches for local business owners, one of the biggest being the fees: Fees to own the machine, fees taken out of every transactions, fees for chargebacks or lost receipts or if a customer’s magnetic swipe doesn’t work quite right.

LevelUp has been aggressively capitalizing on this fee angst, positioning itself as the more merchant-friendly alternative that lets users charge by phone while letting restaurants keep the fees at bay.

Today, they banded 20 restaurants on the East Coast together to stop accepting credits cards — for one day only — to raise awareness about their app, and the fees local retailers face with credit cards.

“The Credit Card Diet is a bold move on behalf of merchants to prove that their overall economic health can be much better without accepting plastic cards in store,” said Seth Priebatsch, chief ninja at LevelUp in a statement. “We know the shift to mobile is going to take years, but we hope this one day event showcases why this shift is better for consumers and merchants and why we should all try to push the shift forward.”

If it catches on, I might finally be able to go the North End and not worry about whether I have enough cash on hand to afford that linguine. Assuming, of course, my cell phone battery doesn’t die.