SweetGreen’s New Cashless Policy Turns Sour for Poor & Marginalized Communities

Photo by kennejima via Flickr Creative Commons

I had my mind set on a Harvest Bowl from SweetGreen last night. I grabbed a $20 from the top of my dresser, threw on my flip flops and headed down 14th & W. I spent time modifying my bowl, after waiting in a line of about 10 people. I got up to the cash register and pulled out my $20 bill only to be met by a cashier who told me she couldn’t accept my cash.

“Huh?, I don’t understand what you mean…”

I was met with an explanation that “about a month ago” the restaurant went “cashless.” I told her I left my cards at home and cash was my only option. The 9 or so people behind me in line waited as she pointed to the “no cash” sign by the register explaining the new policy.

I hastily asked if the policy was to “keep the black and brown people that have always lived in the neighborhood from seeing this restaurant as an option…” Knowing that marginalized black and brown communities have distrust in financial institutions and have significantly less access to credit cards, debit cards, and smart devices (SG has a new app).

The young woman smiled as the manager stepped away from the food counter to let me know they could give me “the discount.” I was confused again, given the aforementioned circumstance, but my meal was comped.

It’s not lost on me that my $14 salad is already problematic (we can unpack that later), but access for ALL people willing to pay shouldn’t be negotiable. SweetGreen’s mission states: “We want to make an impact and leave people better than we found them, and we tailor our approach in each market to reflect the needs of the community.”

Perhaps today their “tailored approach” was offering my meal for free, but this policy seems to limit our options rather than expand them.

Disruptive technology and innovation can be good for our communities, but in this case I see an unfair strain this puts on poor people, senior citizens, immigrants, and historically marginalized folks.