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Restaurants Are Encouraging Cashless Pay in Attempt to Limit Exchange of Germs

Health experts merely suggest that you wash your hands after handling money throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, but some restaurants are trying to cut out cash entirely

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Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food and Travel Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

As restaurants risk dramatic drops in sales or outright closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses are encouraging customers to pay with credit or debit card and payment apps like Venmo, while others are introducing no cash policies to limit the exchange of germs during transactions.

On Instagram, The Purple House in Maine wrote “we would ask as well that you consider paying with credit card or Mobilepay to avoid cash handling as a means of protection for our community.” Los Angeles pop-up Zoe Food Party said Venmo is “preferred until further notice.” Call Your Mother in D.C. noted it added “a new card reader so that guests can pay without handing over their credit cards.” Call Your Mother tells Eater it was already planning on installing its new card reader before any outbreaks, as it’s “it’s easier for both our team and guests and also allows for Apple/Google/Samsung Pay.” San Francisco’s Churn Ubran Creamery wrote it is “encouraging” contactless payment, as “receiving cash puts the staff and other customers at risk.” And notably, Dick’s Drive-In in Seattle, which was cash only for 62 years and only began taking cards four years ago, said that while it’s still taking cash, those interactions require “additional sanitation requirements,” so credit is now preferred.

WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS ❤️. Also please read this to the end. . In light of current events, we are taking extra precautions...

Posted by Anthology Coffee on Thursday, March 12, 2020

There’s little evidence that avoiding cash is actually safer for employees or customers. On March 2, The Telegraph published a widely-cited article which said the WHO recommended contactless payments, as “banknotes may be spreading the new coronavirus.” Reuters also reported the U.S. Federal Reserve was quarantining dollars repatriated from Asia before recirculating them. However, the WHO stresses that the Telegraph report was misleading. “WHO did NOT say banknotes would transmit COVID-19, nor have we issued any warnings or statements about this,” a spokesperson told MarketWatch. “We were asked if we thought banknotes could transmit COVID-19 and we said you should wash your hands after handling money, especially if handling or eating food.”

The trend has already been going toward cashless pay; last year around 80 percent of payments in the U.S. were through credit cards or payment apps. But not everyone can afford to go cashless. Cashless restaurants are inaccessible to those without bank accounts, credit lines, or smartphones. “A ‘no cash’ sign is a ‘not welcome’ sign for many without ready access to credit, including those who are low or fixed income, homeless, undocumented, young, or victims of identity theft,” wrote Chicago Alderman Ed Burke in an ordinance against cashless businesses. As Melissa McCart wrote for Eater, “It’s useful to think about who [a cashless] system benefits most: the businesses and banks, at the expense of consumers.”

Federal law leaves the decision on whether cashless policies are discriminatory up to local government, and quite a few cities and states have prohibited the practice. New York City banned cashless businesses earlier this year, following in the footsteps of San Francisco, Philadelphia, and the state of New Jersey. Because of that, restaurants are mostly using suggestive language, saying they “prefer” cashless payment, or even encouraging customers to order delivery in order to minimize contact.