COVID-19 Concerns Point in Direction of Cashless Payments

To promote safety and efficiency, the restaurant industry is encouraging cashless transactions. But what about those without access to a bank or credit cards?

When the coronavirus crisis took hold of the U.S. in mid-March, restaurants were forced to close their doors and shift to offering take-out and delivery services exclusively. In an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus, many of these businesses said they would, for the time being, no longer be accepting cash.

At the start of the pandemic, eight percent of U.S. businesses were effectively cashless — meaning 95 percent of all sales were made with a credit or debit card. By the end of April that number jumped to 31 percent, and now, in early September, it’s leveled off at 20 percent. 

COVID-19 continues to inch the economy closer to becoming cashless. Even with reassurance from health officials that cash is safe so long as employees and consumers wash their hands, many are concerned that direct handling of cash could spread the virus. For restaurants in particular, this has caused a shift in how they approach transactions.

Now more than ever, as restaurants begin to reopen it’s important for them to introduce contactless payment options to quell customers’ and employees’ fears surrounding cash exchanges and indoor dining. The demand for contactless payment solutions is growing worldwide, as studies show that 50 countries have reported an increase in contactless payment transactions.

But what does a dining experience look like without cash? Paying with credit and debit cards has become second nature to most restaurant patrons, but as the rules of the industry are being rewritten, available payment options are no longer limited to what’s in a customer’s wallet. Apple Pay and Google Pay are prime examples of companies helping restaurants and customers adapt to the trend. Cardholders can rely on near-field communication (NFC) services that enable them to complete payments with their phones, watches and other smart devices for a safe and efficient transaction. 

Additionally, restaurants are beginning to integrate alternative POS systems. Tableside tablets are another contactless payment system restaurants are utilizing to promote operational efficiency and eliminate touch points for customers and employees. These tablets allow for bills to be paid with NFC technology. 

The shift in tradition may be intimidating to some, but for most people with smartphones who have been completing transactions online for some time now, the transition should be seamless. In fact, most millennials and Gen Z-aged consumers seem to prefer using their smart devices to pay, claiming the process makes things much easier. Businesses can use this information to their advantage and promote a tech-forward dining experience to appeal to this demographic.

Cashless payments are certainly more efficient and ease consumers’ concerns around cash exchanges spreading the virus, but the reality of the situation is that at some point this becomes exclusionary. Even amid a rise of plastic and online transactions, many Americans are without a bank or credit card and still rely on cash to make purchases. With this in mind, it’s not likely that all businesses will be able to go completely cashless, but they will nevertheless encourage customers to seek out payment app options or use their debit or credit cards to promote efficiency and to limit the spread of germs.