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Cash Only?

Does anyone else sometimes not eat some place they feel like eating because the place is cash only?

I'm not talking about a just-a-couple-of-bucks taco stand or slice of pizza joint, I'm talking about dinner for four = 50 dollars or more type places.

Johnnie's Pastrami is one place on the west side of LA we like to go sometimes (the chili dog is good, fwiw) and it's cash only. And a couple of pastramis, a shrimp sand, some fries and o-rings, a chili dog, some soft drinks, a couple of beers and coffee and pie add up. And I've got the dough, I just don't carry cash that much and if I do use my cash I end up having to run to the bank or ATM to fill the wallet.

Gilbert's El Indio in Santa Monica is the same thing. Four combo plates or burritos, a pitcher of margaritas, some beers, soft drinks and dessert ... it doesn't break the bank, but again, there goes my cash on hand.

I guess there must be reasons, but it's 2006 ... I use my debit card for a latte sometimes. Who wants to carry cash these days?

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  1. I do. It costs your favorite restaurants less to handle a cash transaction than when you pay on plastic, and it costs them much more if you have to sign for it than when you enter a PIN. Do the mom-and-pops a favor, pay cash whenever possible. You don't have to track down an ATM, either. Just about every grocery store I go to offers cash back on a debit card purchase, and since the ones I'm thinking about are all national chains, yours do too. Go in, grab a pack of your favorite gum (look at the gum topic on this board if you need ideas), pay on the debit card, and you have cash back *and gum* for less than using an ATM that isn't run by your bank.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

      Actually some supermarkets are imposing a limit on what you can ask for Cashback for. And other's aren't giving cash back past a certain hour of the night... :P

      So it wasn't always so easy for this night owl... :/


      1. re: Dommy

        We actually stopped getting cash at the supermarket, after hearing about fraud problems at locations where you have to input your pin in conjunction with using your debit card. We still use the debit card to pay for groceries but we use it as a credit card, no pin, no cash back, money deducted from checking account. We do make more trips to the ATM for cash but figure the extra security is worth the slight inconvenience.

    2. I don't go to the bank often and I don't like to pay ATM fees so I pay with my credit card whenever I can. If I really wanted to eat at a restaurant that was cash only, a $2 ATM fee isn't going to stop me. But, it may prevent me from randomly walking into a place I know nothing about.

      1. There are two Italian restaurants, one around the corner and one a bit futher from us in Manhattan, that we enjoy and that are cash only. It doesn't stop us - and we eventually figured out that they also accept checks, which makes it a bit less of a hassle.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MMRuth

          Never understood why restaurants accept checks. Checks are more "traceable" than cash and also more subject to abuse and fraud than credit cards. However, I think with family places and regular customers this may be different.

        2. One of the best Italian restaurants in Philly is Ralph's, cash only. They bridged the ATM gap by placing one in the restaurant. No cash, no problem, machine over there in the corner.

          If I want to eat at a particular place, going to an ATM on the way is no biggie, well worth the added buck or two service fee (that's a topic for another site).

          1. Hey, how about going to the front desk of the hotel you checking out of only to be informed for the very "First" time that they're Cash Only!?!?

            That happened to me 10+ years ago at Gravetye Manor in Southern England. Well, of course I didn't have the cash. I had to drive into town and wait for the Bank to open, as I was checking out right after breakfast: 9-ish. Ruined my time-table and attitude.

            1. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC is cash only. But they make delicious homemade pastas and have very reasonable prices, so it doesn't bother me. Doing it this way lets them keep more money and keep the prices down because they don't have to kick back a percentage of their sales to all the credit card companies.

              I can't quite understand why paying in cash would bother anyone unless they don't have money and were just racking up debt and eating in places they can't really afford. There are ATMs every 10 feet, at least in NY, so I don't see the problem with going on your way to the restaurant.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ESNY

                I took my friend and her boyfriend out to a restaurant of her choice for her birthday and found out it was cash only when I was looking through the menu. By then, it started raining and we had no umbrellas. I waited until the end of the meal hoping the rain would let up and it didn't. I had to run about half a NYC avenue to the nearest ATM, get money and run back. Not fun.

              2. I find it hard to feel sorry for "poor" restaurants that have to pay credit card fees -- every place does it, it's called the cost of doing business, like food safety training and rent and the electric bill.

                There's a fabulous Italian place in Stuart, Fla., called Carmela's that's cash (and check) only. It didn't stop me personally from going there, as I would just hit the ATM at the gas station across the street (I don't consider it safe to carry my checkbook), but if I dined with co-workers and some had plastic, we'd either have to spring for them or end up going somewhere else. I'm certain they lose business there because of it.

                The price you pay in credit card fees makes up for the business you gain by being as accommodating as every single other place in town.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Covert Ops

                  I agree. If paying the credit card fees are going to bankrupt a restaurant, then they're likely to not be making any money anyway. It's a customer service issue for me. As a customer, I don't really care about a restaurant's financial woes. I'm there to eat.

                  1. re: nagrom

                    The point isn't that the fees are the difference between solvency and bankruptcy. Clearly, if it was literally true that "The price you pay in credit card fees makes up for the business you gain by being as accommodating as every single other place in town" than it must be that owners of cash-only establishments are simply bad business people. That isn't how I like to view the economy. Instead, I think owners do things for a reason. Sure, many times they make mistakes and go out of business. But many survive and are cash-only. Thus, I like to think they are making a thoughtful choice to be be cash-only, perhaps lose some customers, but do better on some other margin. See my post below.

                  2. re: Covert Ops

                    Some independents keep their restaurants as a "cash only" basis as it allows them to underreport their income to the IRS. That is one of the reasons why the IRS tends to audit restaurants more frequently than other businesses.

                  3. Unfortunately my answer is 'yes'. I'm not a snob about places that are cash only, but I don't always carry an appropriate amount of cash for a nice dinner at many of the cash only places in NYC. ANd, I will NEVER NEVER use a generic ATM again - why? Because it's prime material for people stealing your info and clearing out your bank account. Happened to two friends of mine TWICE - first cleared out the bank account, then they transferred their savings to checking and then cleared that out too. Their bank and police all said it was stealing an imprint and ATM information from those generic ATMs. This also happened to my brother in Florida.

                    (I was looking for a bank one time and asked a woman in the neighborhood I was in, she pointed one out for me and followed it with "You know never to use the generic ATMs in bodegas, right?" so evidently I'm not the only one!)

                    That said, If I know I'm going to a place that is cash only, I'm good and can plan ahead. But if we are searching for a place to eat, don't have cash and don't see our bank nearby....then unfortunately we're going to pass the cash only place and go for the place that takes our card.

                    Thankfully, we've gotten great at asking before we sit down in a place (as the decals on the outside aren't always accurate).

                    1. The few places I go that don't take credit cards have a better quality-price ratio than their competitors. Seems like a fair tradeoff.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I agree. Although I pay for everything with my card, when possible, I like the fact that some places opt to be cash-only and have lower prices. The variety benefits those who would prefer to save a couple extra bucks and go through the extra hassle of paying in cash.

                        I am sure someone will respond within 6 seconds to say "Joe-shmos restaurant is just as expensive as every other place in town and they don't accept cash." I'm sure Joe-Shmos isn't the only place. What I'm saying is that there are places that realize they can get more customers (or better serve the community they are targeting) by lowering their prices just a little bit. They can do this by cutting costs somewhere, either in the food quality, the number of staff they hire, or by not paying credit card fees. I'm glad we have this variation.

                      2. There are multiple reasons for not accepting credit cards, as mentioned by another poster taking credit cards is not cost effective for some businesses. Also, they (credit card machines)require a certain amount of time, spent by paid employees, clearing the machine out at the end of the day, waiting to get a response from the bank should it be a high volume period, periodic network outages, reversals, etc. Another reason might be not wanting the extra expense of a dedicated phone line, should they stick with their old phone lines, it might put a limit on the number of phoned and or faxed to go orders. Lastly, some business owners don't want a paper trail. I am sure most businesses who only take cash are not doing it because they are old school; they have probably done some cost benefit analysis and have found that in the long run it isn't worth the extra expense.

                        1. My exposure to fancy cash only places has been limited, but if they have really good chow and are VERY upfront about their policy, then I'd give them a shot. We did Larapin up near Arcada, CA and they were high end/cash only and although we them has been warned and calculated everything pretty much ahead of ordering, we still were slightly nervous come bill time that we would have enough. It was a bit stressful... :/ But the dinner more than made up for it...


                          1. Something I just remembered (and correct me if I'm wrong) but isn't putting in the system to take a credit card several hundred dollars at one pop?

                            I say this because I remember speaking with the owner of one of our favorite places in our old neighborhood: small place (10 small tables, tops), cash only, amazing food. She was always having to buy something for the restaurant and I seem to remember her saying it was something like $800 bucks to put the credit card system in place and she just never could see spending that much money at a pop when there were so many other things that needed her attention.

                            Just a thought. For a very small place struggling to make it, that could be a big wad of cash that's not worth it.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: krissywats

                              I can understand why some small places would not want to pay $800.00 up front for the credit card system. But I've seen several high volume places, even local chains that are "cash only". I would go to them more often if they accepted credit cards. I'd gladly pay the extra fifty cents or a buck per transaction that some places do. They're missing out on lots of business. Cash is a hassle.

                              1. re: 2chez mike

                                The Merchant Services people have you over a barrel. I just upgraded the POS system at my husband's office (chiropractor). It cost $600 for the stupid little terminal. You could buy a computer that would design an atomic bomb for less than $600...I call it price fixing.

                                I had to get the new terminal because the old model ran everything through as credit. Now that we have a PINpad, debit cards go through as debit. Credit cost us 4% of the charge...I can see that being pretty big for a restaurant. Debit only costs usa flat 79 cents, so that's what we prefer. Of course, if you buy a latte w/ a debit card...that would suck for the business.

                                Nonetheless, I can't imagine running a business where I made it difficult for people to pay me. Advertising costs a LOT, so I suppose only if I had more business than I could handle anyway, would I opt for cash-only.

                            2. Not only do you have to pay for the CC Machine, you have to pay a percentage to the CC company AND to the Processing company AND you don't get your $$ for 1-5 days! Reward CCards can charge the business up to 5% of the total check PLUS 35 - 50 cents per transaction to the processing company. Hopefully you understand how a buisness with a very small profit margin may choose to not accept cards.

                              1. I used to live in Seattle and can't remember *any* cash-only places, and I'm talking about bars/taverns and restaurants. Just not generally done there. Then I moved to San Francisco and cash-only is quite prevalent. It took some getting used to.

                                1. I'll also offer, as a business-owner who takes cards, that there's a set of additional logistical hassles and liability concerns that credit card transactions bring:

                                  If you take only cash, the cash comes in, you record it, report it (or not), pay with it, it's done.

                                  If an employee undercharges or overcharges a customer, or adds up a bill wrong, once you've discovered the error on the tab, or that the register is over or under, you do what you need to do, you're done. Nobody is going to make billing or accounting errors somewhere in Dover. Delaware, or in their data processing center in Moombai, that you'll have to fix.

                                  You don't need to worry that if you accidentally hired a crooked employee, he/she's going to copy the information off the cash, use it to get more, and when the customer gets stuck, the customer is going to sue you, even if that employee's long gone.

                                  You don't worry that a crooked customer is going to "reverse" or "contest" a payment for food he's already eaten, or claim that he/she was incorrectly overcharged, or accidentally given someone else's bill.

                                  If a customer drops or forgets some cash in your restaurant, he's not likely to come back later looking for it, or, more critically, accusing you or your employees of taking it.

                                  Some guys just like the simplicity of "Here's the food; thanks for the money", and are willing to give up some sales in exchange.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: silverlakebodhisattva

                                      Wow, I said the same sort of thing in another thread, sometimes the costs are far more than the dollars and cents.

                                    2. Credit card companies have an ingenious business model. They do not allow merchants to offer cash discounts or charge extra to use the card, thus making it seem to the customer that using the card is free.

                                      A different, but equivalent, way of thinking about it is that there is a surcharge for going to a restaurant that takes cards, whether you use one or not.
                                      Personally, I like restaurants which don't take cards. It saves us all (except for the card companies) money in the long run.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: viyer

                                        No one is allowed to charge extra for using the card, but in most states you are allowed to give a discount for cash. It just isn't done many places because it's confusing and is perceived as unfair.

                                        That said, I agree that it's part of the cost of doing business and you need to just plan your prices assuming that X% of people will charge their meals or write cheques, Y% of those tickets will be chargebacks, and Z% of people will write NSF cheques. If Y or Z is too high, you consider not accepting cheques or cards.

                                      2. Somewhere in between - Restaurants who don't take American Express as they've historically charged more (double?) what Mastercard or Visa have.

                                        1. Actually, I'm MORE likely to appreciate a cash-only restaurant. It's likelier to mean a reasonably priced meal, and I can be content knowing that they get to keep every penny, instead of a credit place skimming off the top.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Fida

                                            Actually, they don't keep every penny. They pay their suppliers, cooks, waiters, etc. How is that any different than paying a credit card company?

                                            1. re: Darren72

                                              Yes, but they can't serve their customers without suppliers. cooks, waiters, etc, they can live without credit cards.

                                          2. Whenever I visit a place I don't know, I always bring cash because it's easier for the store and myself. Everyone always accepts cash but not everyone accepts debit. I worked at a place that only accepted cash because there was always a crowd and it was easier and quicker to process transactions in cash. People were so cruel; it wasn't my fault, it was management's decision! That memory drives me to be kinder to the front person at least.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: S_K

                                              I'm more or less the opposite. I don't fill up on cash all that often (most of my friends are equally credit-card dependent), and unless I go to a place I already know is cash only (e.g. Hide Sushi in West L.A.), I end up paying way too much in ATM fees or searching for my bank. I don't know of any cash-only places in my area that don't have some sort of reasonably cultish following to exempt them from the usual rules of supply and demand. This may not apply equally to all areas though.

                                            2. I almost always bring cash. I had a bad experience at a nyc restaurant where i left the tip on my credit card. When I got my statement I realized that a 7$ tip was changed to a 15$ tip. Thats why I always usually tip in cash. When you write the tip on the credit card slip, later the waiters run your card again to include the tip. I feel like this is a risky situation.People can sometimes press the wrong numbers or in some cases people may be tempted to adjust the tip.

                                              1. He he. In Japan, it is not uncommon for very high end restaurants not to accept credit cards. We're talking $300-$500 dinners per person. Obviously not an issue of being able to afford the machine, just not interested in customers that can't front that kind of dough to eat there...

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                  This is a three year old thread. Here's a recent one on a similar topic: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/302330

                                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                    There's a big cultural difference at play here though, Japan just wasn't a credit society until more recently. Individuals and businesses just plain didn't use credit cards so not taking them had very little impact. Crime and robbery in post-war Japan wasn't serious enough to affect how much cash you felt safe carrying.

                                                    My ex FIL used to come over to the US on business trips with a wad of cash that was downright embarrasing 20 years ago, paid cash for practically everything. His daughter and I convinced him finally that this wasn't the best idea and got him to use his JCB card. Back in Japan cash was still king, even when we were entertaining for business I'd watch him fork over a pile of notes that would pay for a college education.