- Six Sweetgreen Philadelphia locations will start accepting cash payments on July 1 after two-plus years of not doing so following a February ban on cashless stores by Philadelphia City Council. Additionally, the 94-unit chain will accept cash systemwide by the end of the year, according to Bloomberg.
- Co-founder and chief concept officer Nicolas Jammet said the company is evolving from where it was three years ago and is currently testing equipment and processes to make the necessary changes to accept cash.
- The company anticipates 5% of its customers will use cash.
Philadelphia City Council's ban on cashless stores became the first among U.S. cities, followed by New York City and San Francisco. If these moves prove anything, it's that the cashless trend — forged by concepts like Amazon Go, Sweetgreen, Chopt and Dig Inn — might be coming to an end.
When Sweetgreen initially made this move, co-CEO Jonathan Neman said its intentions were to provide more safety for its employees and more speed for its customers, many of whom are younger and digital natives who don't really use cash. A swift outcry ensued — and perhaps for good reason. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, about 6% to 7% of Americans don't have a bank account.
This number is significantly higher for underrepresented demographics. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 34% of blacks, 17% of Hispanics, and 29% of people with salaries under $30,000 use cash for most, if not all, of their purchases. This is why Philadelphia councilman Bill Greenlee fought for that city's legislation, calling the idea of going cashless elitist.
There's no doubt the world is moving toward an increasingly cashless environment and fast. Six out of 10 transactions were cash a decade ago, a number that shrunk to three in 10 today. This ratio could shrink to one in 10 within a decade, according to Forbes. A number of factors are driving this trend, including technology advancements, lower costs, higher levels of security and increasingly tech-savvy consumers. The restaurant space should keep pace with this trajectory as major chains like Taco Bell and McDonald's move to adopt kiosks and promote their mobile apps with payment abilities.
But there are a number of reasons why many analysts believe cash isn't going away, at least not anytime soon. In addition to enabling payments for the people without bank accounts, cash is also the best remedy for identity theft and the most private method of payment. For concepts like Sweetgreen, it also comes down to payment choice. That alone should be enough for restaurants to reconsider any move toward going entirely cashless. With legislation like Philadelphia's starting to kick in, however, these concepts won't have to worry about making that decision anymore.