South London’s cashless café

By Visa, global payments technology • Visa Vision

May 11, 2017

When Browns of Brockley, a small café in south London, became the latest business to go cashless, owner and founder Ross Brown described how it had eliminated aspects of the working day that he considered a “real faff”.

We popped round for a chat and a coffee.

Why give up cash?

We had our first cashless experience when visiting a former staff member in Sweden. During the trip we visited a wide range of venues, from the larger more established chains, to smaller pop-up restaurants, and other places that might require cash payment in the UK, but we didn’t need to handle cash in any of them in Sweden.

Aside from briefly considering how convenient it was, I didn’t give this discovery much thought again until I was inspired by Nathan Heller’s article on cashless-ness in the New Yorker. It really resonated with me, and I believed that Browns of Brockley could go cashless and began to set the gears in motion for the switch.

Before taking the plunge, we spoke to staff, consulted regular customers, and met with our merchant supplier to make sure that the move was feasible and in our customer’s best interests. Then we officially phased out cash at the end of 2016.

Were your customers ready for the switch?

Overall, the response to our move away from cash has been a positive one. Most of our customers didn’t notice that we no longer accepted cash, as the vast majority already paid by card. Change is never going to be welcomed by all, but we’ve only received one or two complaints. Compared to 20,000 fuss-free transactions, it’s not been nearly as disruptive to the business as some might expect.

Becoming a cash-free café sounds futuristic, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly tech savvy or an early adopter, I don’t even own an iPhone. I’m just a café owner who’s not afraid to make changes to ensure the business is running as efficiently as possible. Hospitality is a challenging industry, one that should be doing more to utilise these new technologies.

How has the journey to cashless been?

Our customers use a variety of cashless methods to pay. Some people still use chip and PIN, but we’re also seeing a growing number of people making payments with their phones and with wearables. One of our goals is to go 100% contactless and we encourage everyone to use contactless when they can as it’s quicker for all parties. Even with that, we understand that our customers, and ourselves, are not yet ready for a completely contactless café.

With less time spent calculating change and counting tills at the end of a trading day, we’re able to invest more time and money in other aspects of the business. Retailers might be concerned about the impact that a system outage might have on a cashless operation. To quell these fears, we’ve fitted our café with an Ethernet and a 4G terminal, as the likelihood of both going down at the same time is relatively small. Others are concerned that our move away from cash might exclude the elderly or more vulnerable members of society. Research from a number of sources has found that contactless card usage has grown rapidly amongst over 50s , so I think that’s a bit of a red herring.

Could this be a move for more in the industry?

Looking back, I don’t think we would have had any issues making the move away from cash sooner – even 12 months earlier. Although the nearest bank branch is only a ten minute walk away, the move to online services could well see it closing in the near future – from there the next bank is at least a half-hour away. I think it’s definitely a case of future-proofing the business. I know some other small cafés have also started moving away from cash, but I think even smaller operations, such as street food traders, could benefit most from the switch.

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