Does Panda Express Take EBT? Understanding Payment Options

Panda Express is a popular fast-food chain that offers Chinese-American cuisine, and questions often arise about their acceptance of EBT, which stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. EBT is a system that allows state welfare departments to issue benefits via a magnetically encoded payment card, commonly used by people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. While it is known that SNAP benefits are intended for the purchase of groceries, there is a component of the program called the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) which expands these benefits to dining establishments for certain eligible individuals.

The RMP is specifically designed to serve the elderly, disabled, and homeless populations who may not have the means to prepare their own meals. However, whether Panda Express accepts EBT payments is not uniform across all locations. The acceptance of EBT by Panda Express and other fast-food restaurants largely depends on whether the state or county they are located in participates in the Restaurant Meals Program and allows such establishments to join the program.

Consequently, the ability to use EBT at Panda Express is conditional and varies by location. Patrons interested in using their benefits at Panda Express should check with their local restaurant or consult their state’s SNAP guidelines to confirm participation in the RMP. Additionally, they can use tools like the SNAP Retailer Locator to find eligible eateries in their area that accept EBT. Therefore, determining if Panda Express takes EBT requires a bit of research based on one’s specific circumstances and geographic area.

Understanding EBT

EBT, which stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer, is an electronic system that allows state welfare departments to issue benefits via a magnetically encoded payment card. It is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. These cards are similar to a debit card and can be used to purchase eligible food items at authorized retail stores and participating food establishments.

Eligible food items typically include:

  • Breads and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meats, fish, and poultry
  • Dairy products

The system is primarily known for its use with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP aims to assist low-income individuals and families in purchasing the food they need for a nutritionally adequate diet.

Some states have implemented a Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) as part of their SNAP offerings, which allows certain qualifying groups, such as the elderly, disabled, or homeless, to use their EBT benefits to purchase hot meals at approved restaurants.

However, not all states participate in RMP, and within participating states, not all locations of a restaurant chain like Panda Express may be authorized to accept EBT. The availability of this program can vary widely from one area to another and is contingent upon the state policies and the participation of individual restaurants. It is advised that individuals check with their local county or state SNAP office to understand the specifics of EBT acceptance in their area.

About Panda Express

Panda Express is a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in American Chinese cuisine. It was founded in 1983 by Andrew and Peggy Cherng and is recognized for bringing a taste of Chinese-inspired dishes to the masses in a quick-service format. The first location was opened in the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California.

The chain is known for its orange chicken, chow mein, and fried rice, among other signature dishes. Panda Express operates over 2,000 locations globally, with the majority situated in the United States.

Headquarters Rosemead, California
Founded October 1983
Number of Locations Over 2,000
Key People Andrew Cherng (Co-Founder), Peggy Cherng (Co-Founder)

Panda Express locations are commonly found in shopping mall food courts, but the chain has also expanded to other environments, including stand-alone restaurants, airports, military bases, amusement parks, and college campuses. Panda Express is unique in that it is a family-owned business and does not franchise its operations, despite its widespread presence.

Aside from providing dine-in and takeout services, the company has also adapted to contemporary needs by offering online ordering and delivery options through various third-party services.

Catering to a diverse customer base, Panda Express continuously innovates its menu, offering a variety of entrées, appetizers, and side dishes. Some locations also include a “Panda Tea Bar” where customers can order customized beverages.

EBT Eligibility for Fast Food Programs

Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) is typically used for purchasing groceries by beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, some states offer a Restaurant Meals Program that expands EBT usage to include hot, prepared foods from participating restaurants for those who may not be able to prepare meals for themselves.

Eligibility for using EBT at fast food establishments like Panda Express is dependent on both the individual’s circumstances and state participation in the Restaurant Meals Program. Here is a brief overview of the criteria for this program:

Criteria for Individuals:

  • Age: Often reserved for the elderly.
  • Disability: Individuals with disabilities may qualify.
  • Homelessness: Those without a consistent place to live.

State Participation:

Not all states participate in the Restaurant Meals Program. States that do allow EBT use at select fast food chains may have different eligibility requirements and must opt into the program.

Restaurant Participation:

Even within participating states, not all fast food chains or individual locations choose to participate in the program. Each restaurant must apply and be approved by the state to accept EBT.

Individuals interested in using EBT at fast food establishments should verify their own eligibility and check if their state participates in the Restaurant Meals Program, as well as confirm whether the specific restaurant location accepts EBT. For Panda Express, while some locations might accept EBT under this program, the majority do not. It’s always advisable to contact the location directly for the most accurate information.

Using EBT at Panda Express

At certain Panda Express locations, customers may use their EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards to make purchases. However, this is dependent on whether the particular state or county operates a Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) as part of their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The RMP is designed to assist individuals who might not have the means to prepare food at home, such as the elderly, disabled, and homeless.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Location: Only available in states/counties with the RMP.
  • Program Enrollment: Must be a participant in the SNAP with RMP benefits.

It’s important to note that while some Panda Express locations accept EBT, others do not. This variance is often due to differing state policies and whether the Panda Express location has opted into the program. To determine if your local Panda Express allows payment via EBT, it is advisable to contact the restaurant directly.

Steps for Using EBT at Panda Express:

  1. Confirm that your local Panda Express participates in the RMP.
  2. Ensure that your EBT card has sufficient SNAP benefits.
  3. Order from the eligible Panda Express menu items.
  4. Use your EBT card at the time of payment as you would a regular debit card.

California’s CalFresh, for example, does not permit EBT food benefits to be used at restaurants, including Panda Express. Hence, those residing in California would be unable to use their EBT at Panda Express for purchases.

Lastly, keep in mind that EBT cards are intended for the purchase of food items and should not be used to buy non-food items or alcoholic beverages. The guidelines of the USDA that regulate the use of EBT benefits strictly prohibit such purchases.

Alternative Payment Methods at Panda Express

At Panda Express, customers have a variety of payment methods at their disposal beyond EBT, which is not typically accepted at these restaurants. Understanding the available options can make the purchasing process smoother and more convenient. Here is a summary of alternative forms of payment that Panda Express generally accepts:

  • Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover are widely accepted.
  • Debit Cards: Most debit cards can be used, as long as they have a Visa or MasterCard logo.
  • Cash: Traditional currency is always a viable option for payment.
  • Gift Cards: Panda Express offers its own gift cards, which can be used as a form of payment at their locations.
  • Mobile Payments:
    • Apple Pay: Panda Express accepts Apple Pay, offering a contactless payment method.
    • Google Pay: Similarly, Google Pay is another contactless option available to Android users.
  • Online Payments: When ordering through the Panda Express website or mobile app, customers can pay for their meals before arriving at the restaurant, using most standard electronic payment methods.

While payment methods may vary slightly from location to location, these are generally the standard alternatives offered at Panda Express outlets for a customer’s convenience. It’s always best practice to check with the specific outlet for the most accurate and updated information regarding available payment options.

Advocacy for EBT Acceptance

Efforts to expand EBT acceptance to include fast-food restaurants like Panda Express have seen significant advocacy. Advocates argue that allowing EBT, which stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer, for use at such establishments can provide more food options for those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They emphasize the importance of access to prepared meals for individuals who may not have the resources or ability to cook at home.

Key Points from Advocates:

  • Accessibility: Prepared and hot meals can cater to the elderly, disabled, and homeless who may find cooking challenging.
  • Convenience: EBT usage at fast-food chains could offer SNAP recipients the same convenience that other customers enjoy.

Proponents often highlight the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), where EBT acceptance is part of a broader initiative aimed at specific vulnerable groups. They remind stakeholders that criteria to participate in such programs are stringent, proposing EBT use as a supplement rather than a substitute for grocery shopping.

Advocacy Actions:

  • Lobbying for the expansion of the RMP to more states and counties.
  • Engaging with policymakers to discuss the benefits of EBT acceptance at restaurants.
  • Educating the community and SNAP recipients on their rights and available options.

Advocates for EBT acceptance at Panda Express and similar restaurants continue to push for policy changes that would enable wider access to meals for those utilizing SNAP benefits, emphasizing choice and need within the community.


Panda Express’s acceptance of EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) is contingent upon location and participation in the Restaurant Meals Program. While the majority of Panda Express restaurants do not accept EBT, those that are part of the Restaurant Meals Program do allow the use of EBT by eligible individuals.

Eligibility: The Restaurant Meals Program is designed to assist those who may not have the means to prepare food at home, such as the elderly, disabled, and homeless. To use EBT at participating restaurants, individuals must be qualified for this specific program.

State Participation: It’s important to note that the Restaurant Meals Program is not available in all states. This means that the acceptance of EBT at Panda Express is limited to certain geographical areas where the program is active.


  • Check locally: Patrons should verify with their local Panda Express to confirm whether they participate in the program.
  • State resources: For accurate and current information, individuals can consult their state’s EBT services or SNAP program.

In summary, it is possible to use EBT at Panda Express under specific circumstances tied to the Restaurant Meals Program. Customers should perform due diligence to ensure their local restaurant’s participation before attempting to use their EBT benefits.

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