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Sweetgreen Salad Chain Passes on One Green: Cash

January 5, 2017         By: Steven Anderson

Lettuce, cheddar, long green; are they salad ingredients or synonyms for money? Both, actually, though at the Sweetgreen salad chain, soon they will only be salad ingredients. The entire chain—all 64 locations of it—intends to go completely cashless starting in 2017, which means it will be putting a particular premium on its in-app ordering and payment system to conduct business.

A recent interview with Fast Company, featuring the restaurant’s co-founders Nicolas Jammet and Jonathan Neman, detailed the reasons behind the change, and there were surprisingly many such reasons on hand.

First there were improvements to the restaurant itself, including such things as speed in ordering and getting customers their food faster as well as overall hygiene; cash can be a surprisingly dirty affair. Plus, there are cost savings to consider; managers no longer need to make bank runs, and cash-in-transit costs fall as well. Reports even suggest that employees can carry out five to 15 more transactions every hour without having to handle money.

There are benefits here, but there are also risks: NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs noted that cashless systems run the risk of alienating entire market segments, particularly the economically disadvantaged that don’t have credit or debit cards of mobile payment systems.

Beyond that, there’s also a risk of alienating those who don’t carry such things for security reasons, technological reasons, or anything else. While it’s always a good idea to have these things on hand—customers like options and want to be able to order and pay their own way—it’s never a good idea to force customers to use them or eat somewhere else.

Let’s face it; Sweetgreen probably has plenty of competitors in the area, and if it wants to lose a non-trivial amount of business to said competition, that’s its own call. It’s playing a very dangerous game here, and hopefully it will come out well on the other side. It doesn’t help to speed up customer service if there are fewer customers to serve.

Cashless options are great. Cashless only is no real option at all. Sweetgreen is taking a big step here, one that might cost it a lot of business in the end.