Visa Promoting New York Eateries with Consumer Hot Line

NEW YORK - Visa U.S.A. has unveiled a New York restaurant promotion, seeking further inroads into American Express' travel and entertainment business.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based card association said Tuesday that it will add a consumer hot line to help New York City restaurants drum up business and to encourage diners to pay with their Visa cards.

The telephone service, which will begin on Aug. 15, will supply callers with information and connections to more than 1,000 participating New York restaurants.

The promotion is the latest volley in a highly publicized marketing battle with American Express over restaurant business. Both companies are seeking to demonstrate a strong commitment to helping restaurants weather the recession.

American Express' Efforts

American Express Travel Related Services Co. began piloting a similar phone service, available only to its cardholders, in San Francisco and Boston last fall, a company spokesman said. The company plans to expand the service to select markets this year.

Pointing out a minor victory in its pursuit of restaurant business, American Express on Tuesday announced that Sfuzzi Inc., the operator of 10 Italian restaurants frequented by a young, upwardly mobile crowd, will begin accepting its card at all locations on Aug. 1.

Only Sfuzzi's New York and Washington outlets now take American Express for payment. The New York card company said it would work with the four-year-old chain to encourage cardholders to frequent all its restaurants.

Restaurants are a major component of the country's $245 billion travel and entertainment market and have emerged as a fertile battleground for the credit card wars. In May, Visa said it would foot the bill for ads in Chicago and San Francisco newspapers to attract diners to restaurants that market a preference for Visa.

Simultaneously, American Express announced a radio campaign to encourage people to eat out more.

Visa's latest effort, its New York restaurant hot line, will be available to all consumers who dial 212-888-FOOD. Callers can use touch-tone phones to request descriptions of various restaurants in certain categories.

The service will connect callers directly to restaurants for reservations and other information. Callers will be encouraged to use their Visa cards.

Participants will also distribute Visa Dining cards that offer 10% discounts at certain restaurants when Visa cards are used for payment.

The food fights between Visa and American Express captured headlines in the spring, when a group of Boston restaurants launched a revolt against the higher fees charged by American Express.

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