Convenience Over Class: Why Going Cash-Free Is Problematic

Living in a vibrant, up-beat city like NYC requires people to live fast-paced lives to match the energy of their surroundings. In order to stay on top, businesses have to meet the demands of their consumers at a reasonable pace. As the pace picks up in modern times and customer demand increases, more and more businesses in New York City are going cashless. But, what does this really mean for us?

Businesses like Sweetgreen, Dos Toros, and Oren’s Daily Roast are no longer accepting cash at their various locations around the city. Stoked by the high volume of customers and desire to move them through the line as quickly and efficiently as possible, these businesses cite their improved ability to meet customer demands at a faster pace as the primary reason for going cash-free. From this, customers can have a better and more enjoyable experience when visiting. Many businesses also claim improved safety conditions when customers visit their store, as being cash-free eliminates the possibility of robberies.

While faster, improved customer service may be beneficial for those who frequent these businesses, a problem arises for New York City residents who may not have the ability to apply for credit cards, create a bank account, or have access to electronic payment apps such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Venmo. This issue targets many lower income communities like undocumented immigrants and homeless citizens. When companies put up paywalls by eliminating cash and pushing electronic payments, they effectively make their business exclusive and inaccessible to many.

Some argue that these businesses are usually not frequented by lower income communities due to their high prices, typically appealing to those who are able, and prefer, to be cash-free. Others also say that this accounts only for a small amount of businesses out of the thousands around New York City, and is no cause for concern. But this might change soon, with credit card companies like Visa encouraging businesses to go cash-free by giving them financial incentives. By enforcing the idea that food can be inaccessible to those who do not have the means to acquire credit or debit cards, the divide between financial income classes becomes much more noticeable and it makes the act of purchasing food class-exclusionary.

Image Credits: 1 - Taken by author at Pasta Flyer on 6th Avenue / 2 / 3 - Image taken by author at Oren’s Daily Roast on Waverly / 4