Cash Concerned

In Eat, July/August 2020 by Max TrujilloLeave a Comment

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Dear Restaurant Guru,

In order to avoid transmitting germs during the coronavirus outbreak, we hear it’s better to pay at restaurants using a personal card rather than cash. But it doesn’t really seem like that is the best option for restaurants and servers, especially for tips. Is it?

Thanks, Cash Concerned

Dear Cash Concerned,

In light of the global pandemic, many of our normal practices are changing. We must remember to never leave the house without our keys, phone, wallet, mask, sanitizer, gloves, sunscreen, umbrella, sunglasses, eyeglasses, hairnet, beard net, breath mints, Elvin invisibility cloak and Mithril chainmail (those last two are for my fellow “Lord of the Rings” nerds).

Notice I didn’t mention cash? That’s intentional. Keep your cash in your bank.

To keep yourself safe from viral contamination, the easy answer to paying at restaurants is to simply pay with credit cards versus that cold, hard, sticky, moist, bacteria-ridden cash. But there is a drawback to using credit cards for your payment needs. Credit card companies need to get paid to make their business work too, so it’s coming at a cost to the restaurants you’re trying to support.

Over the last few months, restaurants and their employees have struggled, to say the least, and even now they have limitations on doing business, so there’s no perfect answer to say what’s best.

Paying in cash avoids fees for restaurants on every transaction, so cash is best on a financial side. And servers love getting tipped in cash because that’s money in hand, instead of waiting for a bi-weekly paycheck. But let’s be honest, we’ve been moving away from cash for years and the pandemic has virtually eliminated the need for carrying money in our wallets altogether.

Most business owners I’ve spoken with admit that cash accounts for less than 6 percent of total revenue. And that was before the pandemic. So, even if there’s the faintest chance of transmitting a virus because of the interaction of exchanging a few dead presidents, let’s just use a card. 

Will paying with a card affect the bottom line for restaurants? Not as much as it affects their livelihood if you’re not consistently supporting them. Whether it’s curbside takeout, dining while socially distant, patio dining or even delivery, just keep coming back. We need you.

Max Trujillo

— Max Trujillo
Host of the NC F&B Podcast.

If you have a question about Raleigh’s restaurant/bar scene, email

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