But going cash-free has its own pitfalls.
In the restaurant world, “cash only” restaurants aren’t that uncommon. In an industry with extremely tight margins, forcing diners to use cash has plenty of benefits, both licit (like not getting hit with credit cards fees that typically take around 2 percent of your revenue right off the top) and illicit (like keeping tips off the books). Far less common are restaurants that only take credit cards: Cash is, after all, cash. But for Visa, cash is actually the enemy, and apparently the credit card giant is hoping to make “card only” restaurants the wave of the future by offering restaurants some pretty tempting benefits.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Visa is planning to offer as many as 50 restaurants and food vendors $10,000 each to upgrade their payment systems to accept things like contactless payments, as well as to cover some additional marketing expenses, as long as they agree to only accept debit, credit and smartphone payments moving forward. “We’re really viewing this as the opening salvo,” Jack Forestell, Visa’s global head of merchant solutions, was quoted as saying about the new initiative which will begin accepting applications from interested vendors in August.
For obvious reasons, Visa’s long term goal is to cut into cash sales as much as possible, seeing as the company doesn’t get a cut whenever you hand over a stack of $20 bills. “We’re focused on putting cash out of business,” Visa CEO Al Kelly said last month. But paying with cash is still very popular: In 2015, 32 percent of all consumer transactions were cash, compared with 27 percent for debit cards and 21 percent for credit cards.
Needless to say, going cashless has its advantages too. One restaurateur told the WSJ that he believes his managers save about 23 hours’ worth of work per week not having to count cash, order change or deal with going to a bank. But businesses also risk alienating customers who prefer to use cash or, in some cases, can't get cards. In fact, a study published last year found that about 64 percent of Americans aged 16 to 36 don’t even own a credit card. Sure, many of them probably have debit cards, but the number of debit card holders in the US in 2014 was projected to be about 197 million; that’s a lot, but still significantly below America’s adult population that year of over 240 million. Is it worth potentially alienating 1 in 5 customers that walk through the door?
In the end, like with any financial decision, costs and benefits exist. Visa knows where its alliance lies; for restaurants, the decision may be slightly less clear. Meanwhile, for consumers, if you don’t have a card – be it for financial reasons or because you’re living off the grid or whatever – you may want to start checking a restaurant’s payment policy before you order your appetizers.