Sweetgreen reverses its no-cash policy

The pioneer of cashless payments says the benefits are outweighed by the exclusion of some customers.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Sweetgreen fast-casual chain is dropping its cashless-only payments policy, saying the operational benefits are outweighed by the “unintended consequence” of some consumers being unable to become customers.

All 94 branches of the salad chain will resume accepting cash by the end of the year, the brand said in a blog installment posted Thursday. Units in Philadelphia will be forced to make the changeover by July 1 because cashless businesses are officially banned from the city as of that date. Cashless restaurants and retailers are already outlawed in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Similar bans are being eyed in New York City, San Francisco and other areas. Proponents say that requiring payments by credit card or smartphone discriminates against low-income consumers who may not be able to afford those options.

Sweetgreen dropped cash as a customer payment option in 2016, citing a host of operational advantages. Serving times would be reduced by eliminating the need for cashiers to count cash and the change returned to customers. Eliminating cash also lessened the chances of employees being endangered by robberies, and Sweetgreen cited the ecological advantages of eliminating paper receipts and the need for armored-car pickups.

“Going cashless had these positive results, but it also had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash,” the chain said in today’s blog post. “Ultimately, we have realized that while being cashless has advantages, today it is not the right solution to fulfill our mission. To accomplish our mission, everyone in the community needs to have access to real food.”

Two weeks ago, Amazon confirmed that its Amazon Go c-store/restaurant hybrid would similarly retrofit operations to accept cash. A signature characteristic of the concept is the ability of customers to take what they want and leave without even stopping at a cashier’s station.

Sweetgreen’s decision in 2016 to stop accepting cash prompted a number of other operations to similarly limit payment options to credit cards and smartphones in at least some of their outlets. The converts included Dos Toros, Union Square Hospitality Group’s Daily Provisions, Starbucks and Shake Shack.

Sweetgreen did not say how it will accommodate cash going forward.

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