Why a Popular Salad Chain Stopped Using Cash
Sweetgreen, a high-end salad chain, has everything a kale-obsessed millennial might want: A rotating list of fresh fare, a community vibe in its stores, and a rich social media presence. What it doesn’t have is cash registers.
When customers visit the dozens of Sweetgreen stores, which are clustered (surprise!) in urban areas like Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, they can swipe a card or pay with the company’s app. Twenty dollar bills, however, are a no-go.
The system brings three advantages, according to Sweetgreen’s co-CEO Jonathan Neman, who spoke at the Code Commerce in New York on Thursday.
One of these is safety. No more stacks of cash means fewer bandits waving guns at employees. While not a pervasive problem, Neman said Sweetgreen experience several stickups a year—a problem that’s been eliminated since it got rid of cash.
Another advantage is hygiene since many dollars and coins, which pass from hand to hand, are filthy and not something you want people touching your lettuce to be handling all day long.
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The biggest upside to going cashless, though, is probably speed. Transactions are just quicker when customers swipe a card or flash an app.
Speed is an especially big concern at eateries like Sweetgreen, which experience huge spikes of customers and, for a while, was as well known for its lines as its salads. The no-cash policy helps alleviate those lines, as does special software the company built to let customers order with their phones and pick up their meals a few minutes later.
Interestingly, going cashless has not had an effect on Sweetgreen’s bottom line. While more credit cards (many of which charge merchants 3%) would normally mean more overhead, Neman said it has been a wash financially—other than the decline in robberies.
Meanwhile, Sweetgreen’s policy raises delicate issues about excluding certain groups of people—particularly seniors or low-income people who use only cash—from its stores.
Neman acknowledged that this is a pressing issue within the company, and told Fortune that it will have a solution to accommodate such people by 2019.
Finally, Sweetgreen’s vision of a cash-free experience is not quite complete because of one state. Thanks to laws in Massachusetts, Sweetgreen customers in Boston have the right to pay cash.