Tradeoff: No cash but faster lines

NEW YORK (AP) — The lunchtime lines at Dos Toros move faster these days — customers don’t fumble for bills or coins, and employees don’t make change. Since around New Year’s, the Mexican food chain has been cashless.

“For the vast majority of customers, there’s no reaction at all; they’re already paying with their cards. And the significant majority of cash customers don’t have any problem with it either,” says co-owner Leo Kremer, who has 14 stores in New York and one in Chicago.

If people do try to use cash, employees explain the reasons for the change — faster service for customers, saving the business time and money.

The trend toward cashless small and mid-sized businesses is fairly new. Many of the companies adopting the policy are restaurants with menus and prices more upscale than fast-food chains, but service that aims to be almost as quick as a McDonald’s or Subway. During a busy lunch hour with customers lined up at ordering stations and cashiers, forgoing cash means faster transactions.

Many business owners would rather be cashless. Cash actually costs money — banks charge fees for cash deposits and to handle coins. If businesses take in enough cash to justify pickups by armored car services, that’s another cost, and given that restaurants can be a target for holdups, not one that can be eliminated. And counting and checking cash and preparing it for deposit takes up time a manager could spend with staff or customers.

“We feel a manager’s time is so valuable, and it was being spent on what is only 10 percent of our revenue,” says Kremer, who also says revenue at Dos Toros hasn’t been hurt by the transition.

Millions of consumers use little or no cash. In a survey released last month by the financial services company Capital One, only 21 percent of 2,000 people questioned said cash was their most common way to pay for things.

But going cashless isn’t a slam-dunk. Some customers who want to use cash point to a statement on paper money: “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” However, the Federal Reserve says on its website that private companies can make their own policies about cash unless there is a state law saying otherwise. Massachusetts does have such a law.

Thomas Nguyen switched two of his restaurants to no-cash — and then had a change of heart. Nguyen, whose has three Peli Peli South African fine dining restaurants and a Peli Peli Kitchen fast casual location in the Houston area, transitioned one restaurant at the end of 2016 and the other last August. Less than 7 percent of his revenue was coming from cash, and he believed customers would largely be OK with the change.

But last month, Nguyen heard from staff at both locations that they were getting daily complaints.