Cashless restaurants find unexpected benefits during pandemic
Loop North News

HOTELS & RESTAURANTS

21-Jul-20 – Restaurants and other food establishments in downtown Chicago are finding unexpected bonuses to going cashless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few years, several popular downtown restaurants have gone completely cashless. Many food establishments made the switch for safety reasons and to improve efficiency. In 2018, Goddess and the Baker, with three locations in the Loop and one in River North, went cashless, explaining that “cash-free stores reduce the likelihood of robbery, keeping employees safe.”

Lyfe Kitchen

LYFE Kitchen, with locations in Gold Coast, River North, and Streeterville, started slowly with one cashless location in August 2019 and then converted their other locations after reopening under Phase IV guidelines.

Emily Paulsen, Director of Marketing & Sales at L3 Hospitality Group, owner of LYFE Kitchen, noted improved efficiency with employees and managers no longer counting money.

Both food establishments say employees have been happy with the change. Paulsen says her employees are “thrilled.”

Tamar Mizrahi-Stone, partner at Goddess and the Baker, says the switch has “taken away a lot of stress and tension on our end.”

Goddess and the Baker

Neither establishment has seen much pushback. Paulsen says the “large majority of guests haven’t noticed or minded.”

Before the change, only a small percentage of sales at Goddess and the Baker were cash-based and so the change, says Mizrahi-Stone, was “uneventful.”

Advocate for homeless says cashless stores are not the biggest problem

Critics of cashless stores say they exclude people without access to credit cards. Chris Jelkes, Special Project Coordinator for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says, however, the issue has not been a big deal. Other issues, he says, such as restaurants closing during the shutdown along with their public bathrooms, were a much bigger challenge for people experiencing homelessness.

Many believe that requiring credit or debit cards presents challenges for people unable to obtain such cards and could make access to food difficult for people who lack credit.

Some cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, have banned cashless shops, and other cities are considering a ban. According to the United States Department of the Treasury, however, there is no federal law that requires stores to accept cash.

With the pandemic, the move toward cashless stores has provided some benefits.

Emily Paulsen

“I think the team feels safer,” said Paulsen (left), whose LYFE Kitchen locations have implemented sanitation protocols to protect employees and customers, such as wiping surfaces regularly, especially those touched by customers.

“You can’t wipe down individual bills,” she noted.

The health risk associated with handling money, epidemiologists believe, is low, based on the available information right now.

“Transmission via fomites  – contaminated surfaces such as money, toys, whatever – isn’t as big of a concern as we once thought,” explained Katie Suleta (right), an epidemiologist with a background in infectious disease. “Opening your mail – mostly paper – is considered low risk for transmission. Now, with that said, that doesn’t mean no  transmission.”

Katie Suleta

“The chances of transmission increase with greater numbers of people interacting with a particular thing,” said Suleta. “Money isn’t exchanged nearly as often these days as it used to be, so for this purpose that’s good.”

However, she points out that communities that are already disproportionately hurt by COVID-19 may be more likely to be using cash more often and “there may be more virus circulating in those communities.”

Another unforeseen benefit of cashless food establishments is pointed out by Dr. Allen Helm, Senior Biosafety Officer at The University of Chicago. Since credit and debit cards are arguably a more efficient way to pay, they could reduce the amount of time consumers spend in food establishments, therefor, he says, reducing their risk of infection.

By Elisa Shoenberger | Loop North News | bowlerhatfox@gmail.com

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