As a growing number of restaurants in Washington D.C. have decided to go cashless, some lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require retailers to accept cash. According to The Washington Post, the bill is in response to several cashless establishments popping up in the area. Critics say that the policy shuts out the one in 10 District residents who don’t have bank accounts, as well as undocumented immigrants who can’t easily sign up for cards.
“By denying the ability to use cash as a payment, businesses are effectively telling lower-income and younger patrons that they are not welcome,” said D.C. Council member David Grosso.
Similar legislation was unsuccessfully introduced in Chicago last year, while Massachusetts has an obscure 1978 pro-cash law which local retailers said is not enforced. Companies choosing to accept only debit and credit cards say it makes good business sense.
Washington restaurateur Bo Blair, whose company Georgetown Events operates eight fast-casual and three sit-down restaurants, decided to experiment going cashless when opening Surfside in 2015. Though it might make more sense for small businesses(SMBs) to try to avoid card processing fees, Blair added that cash has its own costs, including armored vehicles taking money to banks, an extra hour for workers to close out the register, employees stealing money — not to mention that some of his places had been robbed.
“Not having to worry about employees stealing or getting robbed is a huge lift off our minds,” Blair said.
But other restaurateurs say refusing cash payment is disrespectful to some of their customers.
“Not everybody is able to buy a smartphone,” said Amsterdam Falafelshop Owner Arianne Bennett. “Not everybody is in a position where they can get a credit card. Not everybody is even in a position where they have a stable bank account to be able to use the debit card. But they are hungry too, and have $10 in their pockets and they would like to spend their legal American form of tender, known as cash, with you. As society and technology evolves, we must ask ourselves always, not just ‘can we?’ But ‘should we?’”
The International Currency Association even launched a “Cash Matters” initiative last year, which was supported by the ATM Industry Association. The Association called the D.C. bill “a historic development in the nation’s capital in the long war against cash, waged by the card brands.”
Mike Lee, the ATM group’s CEO, said, “When card brands diminish human choice in the payments sector, they corrode a part of freedom itself in the wider economy.”