Prominent Cashless Chain to Accept Cash Once Again
For years a big question surrounding FinTech, cryptocurrencies, and mobile payments has been whether these technologies would accelerate a move toward a cashless future. Between a majority of Americans stating that they believe the country would go cashless in their lifetime and a slate of retailers announcing they’d be moving away from cash, it did seem as though payments were headed in that direction. However last week the cashless trend took a major step back as one restaurant chain that had previously ditched paper currency said they were going “back to the future.”
Sweetgreen — a salad-centric fast-casual chain — stopped accepting cash at all of its restaurants nearly two years ago. Since then the restaurant has often been namechecked in discussions about the growing trend of cashless operations. Of course not every aspect of this conversation has been positive, with some suggesting that these policies were discriminatory, leading some cities and states to even pass laws making it illegal for businesses not to accept cash. Perhaps due in part to these reactions, Sweetgreen announced via a Medium post that it would begin allowing cash payments once again.
Detailing their initial logic in moving to a cashless system, the company wrote, “When we decided to go cashless it was based on our core value of win win win — the customer wins, the community wins, the company wins. We believed there were many advantages that would benefit the [Sweetgreen] community, including employee safety— reducing incidents of robbery, sustainability — fewer armored cars and less paper, and efficiency — it would speed up service in our restaurants.” Unfortunately the chain says that this policy change left out customers who only use cash and might not have other payment options. As they explain, “Ultimately, we have realized that while being cashless has advantages, today it is not the right solution to fulfill our mission. To accomplish our mission, everyone in the community needs to have access to real food.”
Easily the biggest criticism that was thrown at Sweetgreens and other brick-and-mortar retailers that disallowed cash payments was that such actions left out unbanked individuals that might not have credit or debit cards to pay with. Moreover the majority of these unbanked consumers tend to have lower incomes. The Washington Post reports that this led the District of Columbia to be among those looking at legislation to curb cashless operations. Discussing the proposal, D.C. Councilman David Grosso said, “By denying patrons the ability to use cash as a form of payment, businesses are effectively telling lower-income and young patrons that they are not welcome.” Meanwhile the Post notes that New Jersey and Philadelphia recently passed similar bills.
Ultimately, facing regulatory hurdles and backlash, it’s no surprise that Sweetgreen is currently reversing course. At the same time their post does make it clear that they still believe in the benefits of a cashless future — it’s just that said future is not here yet. But, with FinTechs and others introducing new banking features to help bridge the gap between banked and unbanked, perhaps a cashless proposal will prove less divisive in a few years’ time.