Today, Philadelphia became the first U.S. city to ban cashless stores. The Wall Street Journal reports that as of this July, most retail stores in the city will be required to accept cash — restaurants included.
The debate around cashless businesses, those that require payment by credit or debit card, has reached a fever pitch. Last fall, a New York City Council Member introduced similar legislation, while in February, New Jersey passed a bill banning cashless stores. (New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will need to sign the law for the ban to go into effect.) Since the late 1970s, the state of Massachusetts has had a law requiring stores to accept cash, but this is the first time a city has successfully enacted a ban on cash-free establishments in response to the growing number of cashless businesses.
The supporters of this legislation argue that stores that don’t accept cash discriminate against multiple groups of people. Cash-free businesses are inherently classist, sending a clear message that lower-income customers who may not have credit or bank accounts are not welcome. As Eater reported last year, an ordinance introduced in Chicago in 2017 argued that cashless businesses discriminate against young people, given that credit cards often have age requirements. Finally, businesses that require payment by card leave out customers with privacy concerns.
Food businesses are at the center of this debate. Restaurants of all kinds now refuse to accept cash, including Ludo Lefebvre’s Petit Trois in Los Angeles; Danny Meyer’s New York City restaurants Daily Provisions, Martina, Caffe Marchio, and Tacocina; and fast-casual chains like Sweetgreen and Dig Inn. Just last week, upscale coffee chain Blue Bottle announced it would experiment with cashless stores; burger chain Shake Shack briefly flirted with the idea of going cashless before changing its mind. In fact, Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee was inspired to introduce the new bill after he noticed a few sandwich shops going cash-free.
These restaurants posit that going cash-free makes transactions faster and more efficient. It’s also safer for employees who don’t have to carry large sums of money. (When Sweetgreen still accepted cash, multiple employees were held up at gunpoint.) And still others argue that, like it or not, the future is cashless, and banning cashless businesses doesn’t do anything to get low-income, unbanked people the access to increasingly necessary cashless payment methods.
In Philadelphia, the new law has a number of detractors, including the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, and the National Retail Federation. But restaurateurs have already started reversing course. Goldie restaurateur Steve Cook told the Wall Street Journal that while he doesn’t think the policy is great, “it’s not going to be make-or-break for whether our business is successful.”