Cashless restaurants are easier on owners, but leave some customers out

The trend of not accepting cash, even in casual restaurants, is growing as some cities and states make it illegal

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
A sign at Penny Red's fried chicken inside of the Brakeman lets customers know that only credit and debit cards are accepted.

In the past few months, two new casual restaurants in downtown Detroit have opted not to accept cash. They are joining a nationwide trend of cashless food businesses. 

We knew this day was coming. It seems my whole life I’ve been hearing that someday we’d live in a cashless society. 

I understand why many businesses want to only take credit cards. The processing fees are piddly compared to the security that business owners feel knowing that every cent is accounted for and there’s no chance of an employee making a mistake that costs them cash (or straight up pocketing it). A business owner can also feel at ease knowing that not having cash in the building may be safer for her employees, too. 

There’s also the argument that being cashless is faster, which I don’t buy. You could save seconds, maybe, but that is if every customer has their credit card handy and has a properly-working credit card (I’ve seen plenty that are taped together or have a worn out magnetic stripe).

Cash is a pain for business owners. You have to count it, bank face it, physically take it to the financial institution and make sure change is on hand. And it’s dirty! 

That’s at least five reasons to be cashless, and I’m sure there are others. I think the ONE reason to accept cash trumps them all, though. 

Being a cashless business excludes people. 

I understand not accepting greenbacks for things like rent, car payments, bills, fines and some large purchases (money orders are usually OK), but we’re talking about a slice of pizza or a pint of beer. Sure, you can walk over to CVS, buy a Visa gift card with cash and use that, but all that for lunch? 

Everyone doesn’t have a bank account or credit cards. Some people use cash to budget their expendable income. Others use cash because they don’t want their spending tracked for various reasons. 

Yes, it’s an exception, not the rule, but why exclude anyone based on their financial position that day? 

Many occupations still center largely around cash, including those in the service industry and other people who get cash tips. Even the budding legal marijuana business is cash-based because of the difficulties with banking considering that pot is still illegal on a federal level. 

There is no federal law requiring private businesses to accept cash. Some cities and states, however, are taking a stand.

This summer a new law goes into effect in Philadelphia that will require businesses to accept cash. This month New Jersey became the second state to outlaw cashless business practices, following Massachusetts. 

The aforementioned two Detroit restaurants that are cashless are Mootz Pizzeria and Shinola Hotel's the Brakeman (with Penny Red's fried chicken inside). Both opened recently in downtown Detroit with much fanfare. 

I'm not here to flog them. Besides being fun, new spots with quality food, they seem to really want to embrace the city and be part of the development. (In fact, on a recent visit to Mootz, which also accepts Apple and Google Pay, an employee did try to accommodate my cash so long as I had exact change.) If they want to truly be welcoming to all Detroiters, though, they should get a cash box. 

Restaurants may go out of their way to put local artwork on the walls to show support for the community. They serve paper straws and wooden forks instead of plastic to show they care about the environment. They have a diverse staff. Many bend over backwards with special menus for gluten-free or vegan diets.

But if you only have cash? The message they’re sending is “keep walking.”

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Mootz Pizzeria in downtown Detroit has a sign outside letting customers know they don't accept cash.