Cash or Cashless, the Problem is ‘Only’

"We are card only" -- sign on a pub door.

Both cash-only and cashless-only are barriers, and both tend to be driven by the needs of the business rather than what works for customers.

We got talking about this in the pub last night because of a poll from the Beer O’Clock Show:

The arguments against card-only have been piling up for some time:

  • it excludes the poorest in society
  • it discriminates against older consumers
  • it plays into the machinations of global tech giants
  • it contributes to the tracking and influencing of our behaviour.

But on the ground, in daily life, we very much understand the appeal of paying by card in pubs, bars and bottle-shops.

It saves us having to wander round suburbs or industrial estates looking for cash machines, and makes it easier for us to manage our various bank accounts and budgets, with every transaction recorded and reported.

And not taking cards can be excluding in its own way. One publican in a cash-only business recently told us they’d been thinking about getting a card machine purely because they were aware of constantly turning away young people who expected to be able to use cards. About half of them were willing to find a cash machine and come back, but the rest just moved on down the road.

A lot is made of the cost of processing card payments but depending on the size of the business, cash can be just as expensive to handle, and certainly less convenient.  It can require extra staff-hours for counting and banking, and needs transporting, either at considerable cost (secure pickup) or risk, with a member of staff walking to the bank with a sack of readies. (I’ve managed cash-heavy concerns and write from experience. – Jess.)

The presence of cash can also make premises more vulnerable to crime or, rather, advertising total cashlessness can be a good way to deter it.

And some of the objections cash-only businesses have to cards seem to use to be a hangover from a decade ago when banks charged a lot more for the service, and when people who paid by card in the pub were amateurs and freaks.

It used to mean five minutes of faffing around with signatures and pin numbers, holding up the line. Sometimes, there’d also be another minute or two of trying to get up to the limit for paying by card without an additional charge – “What are your most expensive crisps?” Nowadays, it’s a quick one-handed tap and done, and its people fiddling with coins and waiting for change who seem to cause a delay.

Fundamentally, though, we bridle at the idea of businesses doing only one, or only the other, because it’s convenient for them, rather than offering both with the convenience of their customers in mind.

12 thoughts on “Cash or Cashless, the Problem is ‘Only’”

  1. It’s actually cheaper to have cash collected in a secure collection, than going into a bank and paying the cash in, as far as I am aware, these days.

  2. You’re quite right that the problem is not cashless payments themselves, but cashless *only*. A key difference, though, is that nobody is excluded by cash only, whereas many people do not have payment cards.

    1. 96% of UK adults have a current account, and one can assume that it’s a higher proportion of people who can afford to go to the pub.

      https://www.fca.org.uk/publication/research/rb_sector_overview_final_jan17.pdf

      So that’s a concern, but a largely theoretical one.

      As an aside, I was at an event at the weekend where although it wasn’t advertised as one way or the other, the 20-something barman was quite confused when I tried to buy beer with a banknote, he’d obviously not been presented with one for some time.

  3. Everything decision primarily driven by the needs of the business – the beer brand(s) or food served, the pricing, decoration, music, whether they have TVs on or not, etc. – the consideration of what works best for the customer is only secondary to that, and this is no exception, and we should assume have a good reason for that. If for whatever legitimate (or not) reason this, like any other decision, doesn’t work for me as customer, I always have the option of voting with my wallet (or card).

  4. My issue is mainly with the type of card reader used. Here in the US, in most establishments you have to hand over your card. Plus, with tipping being the norm, in many cases the card is processed later in the day when the tip is added. This has caused me to be overcharged many times. For places where they process the card through a terminal, or I can use, say, Google Pay, it’s not an issue. So, for me, it’s a matter of knowing certain establishments are now ‘cash-only’ by my choice.

    1. Contactless card payment is pretty much universal in the UK now, which means you hang onto your card at all times. It is also far quicker than any other payment method, even cash. Tipping isn’t really a problem as it isn’t the norm to tip staff in bars over here.

  5. I understand that Sam Smiths brewery have gone cash only in all of their pubs,even for food orders. For my part,I have only seen card only payments in brewery tap rooms,Cloudwater and Redchurch,I believe that it is sensible,at least with a premises which opens more than a few hours a week to offer the customer a choice of payment methods as this saves losing business

  6. For a new bar appealing to teh yoof, which is in the premises of a former “old man” pub, going cashless is also an extremely effective way of getting rid of its previous customers. (See also: stock only brands that no normal person recognises, if the old codgers still don’t get the message that they’re not wanted).

  7. There are different ways to look at this but machinations, any pun intended apart, have nothing to do with it. It’s just not how business works, international or any other kind.

  8. The first card only bar I went to was before I had a card you could tap. Both myself and the barman were mightily irritated when I had a put my card in the machine and type in my PIN to pay for a half! Now I’ve got a card you can tap I must admit it does have a lot of convenience. My local recently stopped being cash only as too many people expect to be able to pay by card now.

  9. Having to use cash would mean I would to pre load my wallet with far more cash than normal, especially as its well on the way to £8 for two pints in Cornwall , 3 pints for us two & that’s 3 tenners I need

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