Is Cash Passé?
ADWEEK|February 4, 2019

When it comes to taking payments, more and more businesses are going exclusively digital. But not everyone is buying into the trend.

Robert Klara

IN his nearly 30 years in the restaurant business, having done every job from waiter to regional director, Michael Ryan has learned a good deal about running a profitable house. His operational savvy helped make a success of legendary New York City names like Shaw’s Crab House and Blue Water Grill. Meanwhile, his watchful eye took note of many liabilities: the time it took to count the register drawers at night, for example, or the fivers and ten spots that would sometimes disappear into employees’ pockets as they worked behind the bar.

Which is why both locations of his latest concept, Filipino taqueria Flip Sigi, do not accept cash.

Before the restaurant adopted e-payments exclusively, “the manager was spending 20 hours a week counting cash, going to the bank and signing off on everybody’s [drawer],” Ryan says. If an employee’s count came up short, they’d be held to account for the shortage. That, Ryan says, “builds up animosity—and that takes its toll.” Today, with no cash in sight, Ryan’s manager can concentrate solely on running the restaurant, and endless cash-outs are yesterday’s problem. “We close at 11 and we’re out by 11:15,” Ryan says.

Though the cashless movement is largely coastal and urban—and confined, for now, to restaurants and takeout places—a growing number of businesses in America’s major cities are turning a cold shoulder to greenbacks.

At its 75 locations spread between Los Angeles and eastern seaboard cities like Philadelphia and Boston, artisanal salad shop Sweetgreen began going cashless in 2017. So did taqueria Dos Toros, with 20 locations in New York and Chicago. The influential fast-casual restaurant Tender Greens, with 27 units dotting the California coast, went cashless early in 2018. Situated in New York and Boston, locavore lunch spot Dig Inn stopped accepting cash at locations where 8 percent or fewer of the transactions were in cash, and Starbucks has been testing a cashless system at a Seattle location since last year. New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group currently has four concepts that no longer take cash—“and we have others on the way,” founder and CEO Danny Meyer promised on the company’s website.

Across the country, mom-and-pop restaurants have also joined in, some of them spurred by Visa’s 2017 “Cashless Challenge,” which handed out $10,000 prizes to 50 operators with the best stories of how eschewing paper money has helped their businesses. (Winners included Houston’s Peli Peli Kitchen and an Austin, Texas, Mexican food truck called Alli.)

“We observed about a year and a half ago that there was a front edge of this movement [of] small businesses eliminating cash altogether,” explains Visa’s chief product officer, Jack Forestell. “We thought that was an interesting choice.”

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