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Why Restaurants Going Cashless Should Be Troubling

Monetary transactions these days, for most of us, consist of ones and zeroes. It all happens electronically, and some of us go weeks without handling paper money at all. However, others live and breathe on paper currency: Some don't have credit cards or bank accounts, and cash-only people are often poor.

A story in USA Today about restaurants going cashless presents obvious concern. As the paper reports:

Restaurant owners say ordering is faster from customers who slap down plastic instead of dollars, cutting a few seconds out of the process. But most of the benefits appear to accrue to the restaurants: less time taken counting bills, reduced pilferage, no armored-car fees or fear of stickups.

It's less hassle for the business. I get that. However, I'm more than a little alarmed at the prospect of businesses turning down legal tender as a general rule.

One issue is the creation of a new kind of discrimination; people who don't have bank accounts or other electronic payment options are essentially told they are not welcome. This sort of policy essentially caters to the elite. Granted, it's a pretty broad elite, but some are still barred from completing transactions.

Another issue is the inability to maintain privacy. Cash transactions are un-traceable for most purposes. People who like to use cash for any of the myriad legal reasons they may wish to hide their actions for will be out of luck.

Further, by creating an environment that shuns cash, tipping must go through one's card, where it can be monitored by the employer. Tips were usually something the wait staff could handle privately, but not anymore.

It helps that the big chains are still going to accept cash for the foreseeable future. Further, it seems most people are just fine not using cash. At least one of the cashless restaurants reports cash purchases "having fallen from about 70% in 2010 to 19% before the change."

Business are free to do what they wish, but I can't help but see the elimination of cash transactions as a bad development for the consumer.