Cashless restaurants miss out on key customers
It happened again last week; this time at a salad shop. My order was ready and I presented my handful of singles only to be reprimanded with the words I’ve come to detest: “I’m sorry, sir, we’re cash-free.”
WHAT?? Apparently I’d walked into yet another shop that’s only accepting credit cards. This is happening more and more lately. And while I can see the benefits of going cash-free, I still think it’s a terrible idea for small businesses like your pizzeria.
Let’s start with the reasons restaurants are excited about the cash-free model. Swiping cards is much faster than taking cash. There’s no need to count change and no back-and-forth about breaking large bills or a customer’s request for specific denominations. Cash is notoriously filthy, and I don’t love the idea of the same hands making my food and handling an unknown quantity of bacteria. Accepting only digital payment eliminates theft at the store level since there’s no cash to steal, and your employees who once found it all too easy to slip a few bills from the till into their pockets will find it impossible. And of course let’s not forget the fact that customers tend to spend more when the number of bills in their wallets doesn’t serve as a limitation.
Even with the many good reasons for going cashless, I still think it’s a bad idea for independent pizzerias. The very thing that drew me to pizza as a kid was the fact that it’s an inclusive food. Everyone is welcome at a pizzeria and anyone can afford to be a customer. Choosing to decline cash means excluding customers who are unable to pay by card. Anyone who doesn’t have a permanent address will not be welcome at your pizzeria. Anyone with bad credit history will not be welcome at your pizzeria. Anyone who isn’t old enough to have a credit card or a checking account will not be welcome at your pizzeria. Going cashless discriminates against the poor, the young and anyone who chooses to avoid taking on unnecessary debt, from my point of view. Massachusetts has already passed a law requiring retail businesses to accept cash and other states are likely to follow.
When I make small purchases for things like ice cream, a chocolate chip cookie or my mid-afternoon espresso, I do it with cash because that’s my “treats account.” I feel such a sting after making my way to the register only to find out that my cash isn’t welcome. In most cases, I’ll just take my business elsewhere. Bougie parts of New York City like Soho are becoming strongholds of cashless businesses … so I’ve taken note of the stores that accept cash, avoiding those that do not.
With online ordering on the rise and table reservation apps depending on credit card deposits, digital payments are clearly important to the future of the American restaurant industry. But paper currency is still the most frequently used payment method in America. Keep that in mind when considering the growing trend of the cash-free model and remember the risks you’d be taking by adopting a discriminatory practice that excludes rather than welcomes new customers.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.