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Patrons of Sweetgreen are very particular about their salads. When the company recently removed bacon and sriracha from the menu, customers took to social media to complain. But after a handful of Sweetgreen restaurants stopped accepting cash in January, barely anyone noticed, according to the company’s owners.
Even Sweetgreen executives thought going cashless was “a harebrained idea” at first, said Jonathan Neman, a co-founder and co-chief executive of the company. “But we looked around and saw that airlines haven’t been taking cash for a while.” At Sweetgreen’s locations throughout the United States, cash purchases have declined to less than 10 percent today from 40 percent of all transactions when they opened their first location nine years ago, he said. Sweetgreen now has 48 locations.
Although America is far from becoming a cashless society, cash transactions are less frequent than even a few years ago and some restaurant owners are betting that customers will be comfortable doing away with cash for convenience.
Restaurants like Sweetgreen are pushing credit and debit cards and mobile apps for payments. Apps enable restaurants to gather data and feedback, and allow consumers to order ahead and skip long lines.
“One of the biggest complaints at Sweetgreen is the line, so by reducing cash we’re able to serve customers a lot faster,” Mr. Neman said. At the six Sweetgreen locations where cash is not accepted, employees can perform 5 to 15 percent more transactions an hour, he said.
In a cash-free environment, employees are also safer, Mr. Neman said. There have been only a handful of thefts and robberies since Sweetgreen has been in business, but he said he believed that going cashless deterred thieves. “I don’t think anyone’s coming in to steal arugula.”
Forgoing cash is not without obstacles, though. Many Americans still use cash by choice or because they have no alternative. A 2015 study on consumer payment choice from the Federal Reserve found that although credit card use was steadily rising, slightly over 26 percent of purchases were still made in cash. Those transactions tend to be small in value. Mobile payments are expected to continue growing as well. Forrester Research forecasts in-store mobile payments will grow to nearly $34 billion in 2019 from about $4 billion in 2014. Sweetgreen has its own app, which allows customers to order and pay. The company’s in-app purchases make up one-third of the company’s transactions, Mr. Neman said.