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.

      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

    1. Know­ing Sam Smiths, I’m aston­ished they’re not insist­ing you pay for your beer and food with a cou­ple of chick­ens or three pounds of wool.

  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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