‘Cash only’ outdated, frustrating


Gabrielle Gussin, Contributing Columnist

NYU students are fortunate to live in an age when we can Seamless our dinners, Uber our car rides, and Venmo our friends payment. All of these services are at our fingertips with no need for cold hard cash. While this technology increasingly makes things more convenient, it also robs us of our patience. That is why it is so annoying when it comes time to pay the bill at a restaurant or cafe and you’re told, “Sorry, we’re cash only.”  If I can use Venmo to instantly put $20 in the pocket of my friend across the country, it seems especially frustrating that a successful business can refuse to take a debit card.

Though the additional fees required to offer debit and credit transactions can be a burdensome expense for small businesses, many consumers, myself included, would be willing to pay a small service charge in order to pay with a debit/credit card when lacking cash. Companies have emerged to address this precise issue. “It’s Simple to Accept Credit Cards” is the motto of Square, Inc., a mobile payments service founded in 2009. Square allows merchants to accept debit and credit cards using a small card reader that connects to the audio jack of a smartphone or tablet. Now many brick-and-mortar stores are forgoing the traditional cash register for the Square Stand, an iPad-based point of sale system that allows customers to pay for their purchase. Square Stand does charge 2.75 percent per swipe, but these costs could be passed on only to the consumers who choose to use their cards.

I don’t anticipate all New York businesses will abandon their cash-only policies, even with the rise of services like Square. Cash transactions still have their place when they add to a business’s nostalgic atmosphere. For instance, Katz’s Delicatessen still operates on a ticket and cash payment system, which hasn’t changed since 1888 when the deli was first established. This element adds to the old school, authentic New York City deli experience that one has while dining at Katz’s. While part of Katz’s appeal is its historic charm, the use of cash at thriving modern businesses feels like a
step backwards.

For the vast majority of burgeoning New York City businesses, where a cash-only policy does not serve nostalgic purposes, the decision to accept debit and credit cards should be simple. For every new business that may not be able to afford the equipment or charges just yet, there is a well-off establishment, such as Tompkins Square Bagels, that has failed to make the electronic switch. By not offering this service, many businesses are losing customers who would be happy to pay, if only they were allowed to swipe.


A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 12 print edition. Email Gabrielle Gussin at [email protected]