Yesterday, my friend and I were on the phone, and she was telling me about how she went into Sweetgreen to get a salad but she only had cash on her (because she had lost her debit card the night before). When she went to pay, she realized that the store was cashless and had to run back to her (luckily nearby) apartment to get a card. This made me wonder why exactly so many stores (including ByChloe, Tendergreens and Shake Shack) are attempting to implement cashless policies.

I never carry cash around. Most of the time, all I have with me are my debit and credit cards, and those are usually tucked into the sticky pocket attached to my phone. I'm scared I'll lose cash and I always feel like I would be more reckless with it than I would be with my debit card. However, I'm in the lucky position to have a bank account and a credit card and not need to carry cash around. But not everyone is in that same position - so why is the cashless restaurant trend rising?

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Caroline Ingalls

After doing some research into the decision to make Sweetgreen cashless, I discovered some of the top reasons behind the Sweetgreen CEO's Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jammet's decision. Here they are:

Safety and Hygiene

If there's no need for a cash register, then there's less of a chance of a storefront being robbed and endangering the lives of its customers and workers. Sweetgreen's co-CEO Jonathan Neman reported that before the chain got rid of cash, they experienced several armed robberies each year. Now, that threat has been eradicated. Additionally, by eliminating cash, which carries over a hundred different strains of bacteria, transactions are more hygienic — employees don't have to switch back and forth between handling food and cash.

Speed and Mobile App Integration

Going cashless also cuts down on transaction times and increases customer flow. Employees save time on transactions because they don't have to handle and count cash — Sweetgreen reports that employees can increase their transactions by 5% to 15% per hour, which in turn makes customers spend less time waiting. That's especially helpful during the lunch rush, when lines can sometimes be out the door.

There are two ways to pay cashless at Sweetgreen: with your debit/credit card or with the Sweetgreen app. By going cashless, the Sweetgreen CEOs hope to encourage even more app usage. Within the app, customers can customize salad orders and order for pickup, optimizing the process of ordering and receiving food. The app also personalizes the Sweetgreen ordering experience, as customers can filter out unwanted ingredients in salads as well as see recommendations based on past orders. In turn, this can also help increase overall growth for Sweetgreen. Co-CEO Jammett says that eventually, he hopes that data from the app can help Sweetgreen chefs create custom salads through the app that aren't on the menu.

Backlash and Sweetgreen's Response

Sweetgreen is not the only fast-casual food chain to have gone completely cashless (except at their locations in Massachusetts, because of state law). The rising "no swipe, no service" pattern has created a lot of backlash and criticism for excluding certain customers, specifically low-income and seniors, from dining at out. The problem with being cashless is that restaurants are making the assumption that all of their customers have bank accounts. However, this may not be the case. Having a bank account requires a certain amount of money to create that account, and having a credit card requires a certain income level and credit score. Turning someone away for only being able to pay in cash immediately creates an elitist environment.

Many critics have also made the argument that the credit card industry is behind the rising cashless trend. With cashless companies, credit card providers and banks are able to better track consumer spending and have a higher chance at collecting more fees from business and customers. According to a CNN article from July 2017, Visa announced that it would give $10,000 to 50 restaurants and food vendors for committing to going cashless.

Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman responded to the backlash last September saying that the exclusionary nature of being cashless is an issue that they hope to address in the near future; however, there has been no further update.