Plastic Only: Cafe Refuses to Accept Cash

These days, you can buy almost anything with a credit or debit card. But Snap, a cafe in Washington, D.C.,'s Georgetown neighborhood is taking it one step further. Snap's owner has decided to stop accepting cash.

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In the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. a café called Snap doesn't want your money, at least not your cash. The café's owner switched to accepting only plastic about five months ago.

Nazanin Rafsanjani reports.

NAZANIN RAFSANJANI: It's dinnertime at the Snap Café and a line of customers snakes its way through the narrow aisle between the café's shiny silver tables. As people wait, they try to decide between crepes, the specialty here.

Café worker, Josh Boll(ph) mans the register. And as customer Chris Lenz(ph) tries to pay for his order, he asks a pretty common question.

Mr. CHRIS LENZ (Customer, Snap Café): You guys really don't - you really don't accept cash?

Mr. JOSH BOLL (Cashier, Snap Café): Yeah, really we don't.

Mr. LENZ: All right, I guess I'll pay on debit.

RAFSANJANI: Boll nervously swipes Lenz's debit card. He and the rest of the café staff find themselves explaining the no-cash policy all the time. Lenz says the prices here are relatively low and it's hard to believe he can't use cash.

Mr. LENZ: I took out cash before I came here out of a debit machine so that I could use it. And I thought it was a joke at first, but I guess it's not. I've never been to a place that doesn't accept cash ever in my life.

RAFSANJANI: Most customers said the café's policy was new to them. But they didn't think it was a problem.

It's been over five months since owner Margarita Uricoechea(ph) decided to stop taking cash. It might seem drastic, she says, but it's made her life a lot easier. She rarely goes to the bank now and doesn't worry about having to make change. Plus, she says, the credit card policy has solved other major problems she faced as a small business owner: how to keep large amounts of cash safe and how to trust employees with her café when she can't be there herself.

Ms. MARGARITA URICOECHEA (Owner, Snap Café): I was away for Easter and one person was in charge of depositing all the money in the bank. So I was in Los Angeles and thinking, well, you know, I really trust this person, I'm glad she's there, but what if I leave again in the future and she's not there or the business expands? I don't know everybody on a personal basis and how do I trust them with the cash?

RAFSANJANI: She was tired of worrying about it. So Uricoechea got in touch with the company that processes her credit card transactions: Verus Card Services.

Verus charges Uricoechea a fee each time a customer uses a card. She explained that she was going all plastic and asked Verus to lower her fees in exchange for the extra business. They agreed. Verus says while they don't encourage businesses to refuse cash, they do consider lowering their rates as a merchant becomes a bigger customer.

The reaction has been pretty good, Uricoechea says. Occasionally, a patron gets mad or asks whether it's legal to refuse cash. It turns out, in D.C., it is legal but very uncommon.

Mike Staten is a professor at George Washington University's business school. He studies the way people spend their money. He, too, is surprised that a cash-free business is here.

Professor MIKE STATEN (Professor, George Washington University School of Business): We've heard about it for years, but I've never actually seen an institution where, at the point of sale, where there are actually live customers there physically, that would accept only plastic.

RAFSANJANI: So is this the vanguard of a cashless society? Staten says not quite yet.

Prof. STATEN: Clearly, there's been a trend, an upward trend in paying with debit cards in addition to credit cards, but cash has always been freely accepted. I doubt that we'll get to the point where the majority of merchants will not accept cash. I just don't see that happening.

RAFSANJANI: And indeed other businesses near the Snap Café are glad to take cash. But a flower shop owner admitted, going cash-free is a pretty appealing prospect.

For NPR News, I'm Nazanin Rafsanjani.

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