QSR Customers Won’t Buy It–Why Cashless is Not the Right Move for Fast Food

Image Credit: Pexels

The Gist: Though the majority of US Adults are open to the concept of cashless restaurants, making a card-only move may not be the right call for QSRs.

Fast Casual chains going cashless–yes, debit or credit card-only–seem to be trending lately, and so far, so good. With people carrying less cash these days anyhow, we wondered how going cashless may help or hurt fast food/quick-service restaurants (QSRs). As we do, we asked about it.

Topline results right here:

We found that 10% of US Adults say they would go to their favorite restaurant more if cashless was its reality, and 64% would go there the same amount. At first, this sounds like a positive. However, as we break this down by restaurant type, a different narrative unfolds.

Since all of the questions we ask can be compared to our legacy tracker questions, we took a look at what this means by type of restaurant these respondents eat at the most.

The chart comparison shows us, unsurprisingly, that independent/locally-owned restaurants would be the most negatively affected by their user base ceasing to patronize them should they make this shift. This breed of restaurant probably wouldn’t benefit from going cashless to begin with, so this is not surprising.

However, QSRs, the industry wherein some restaurants may consider trying this, could isolate a large portion of their customer base by going cashless, as 42% of people who frequent QSRs say they would go there less or stop altogether.

This is likely due, in large part, to income. 27% of people who say they would stop going to a cashless restaurant make less than $25,000 per year.  When we look at the frequent QSR customer on a larger scale, this adds up, maybe too perfectly: 27% of those who eat at Fast food/QSRs the most make under $25k annually, matching up perfectly to the smaller sample above. Whether these people don’t have access to credit or debit, just prefer to pay with cash, or use EBT cards, we’d venture to say that moving to cashless would hurt fast food chains.

Though trendy fast-casual chains like Sweetgreen are cashless and thriving in big cities, the average US Adult who most often dines at a QSR won’t buy the cashless trend. The benefits a restaurant may glean by going cashless: fewer employees by using an app or kiosk, tracking a customer’s ordering habits and offering coupons, wouldn’t outweigh the pitfalls of making this switch, which could be the large loss of customers. Dare we say cash may always be king?

Now that you know a little about CivicScience, tell us about you!

  • Hi, my name is
  • and I work for
  • .
  • You can contact me at
  • to keep me in the loop about the latest insights.

Explore More from CivicScience

Finance Finance
Health Healthcare
Media Media & Entertainment
icon-retail Retail