As coffee shops across the world stop taking cash in response to the Coronavirus, we have to wonder if this will have a permanent effect on the future of payments at the coffee shop. But is cash really that dirty, and what are the risks? Studies have been done, including this one in 2014 showing how forms of virus and bacteria can survive on either paper notes or coins for several hours.
An abstract of the study states “Banknotes recovered from hospitals may be highly contaminated by Staphylococcus aureus. Salmonella species, Escherichia coli and S. aureus are commonly isolated from banknotes from food outlets. Laboratory simulations revealed that methicillin-resistant S. aureus can easily survive on coins, whereas E. coli, Salmonella species and viruses, including human influenza virus, Norovirus, Rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus, and Rotavirus, can be transmitted through hand contact. ”
In my own restaurant, staff who handle money that day, cannot also handle food. It’s something we always did regardless of any current outbreak because it seemed common sense. Not everyone agrees, however – Mike Orcutt of Technology Review website makes a case in this article that frankly it’s an impractical method of transfer. The article refers to a statement from the US Centers for Disease Control who state: “It may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
They may have a point, but the problem is that we’re still in the discovery phase, and nobody wants to take chances. So in the UK, companies like Costa have statements on their websites stating: “All stores will be cashless and will only accept card payments.”
This will at some point get reversed as the risk fades, but I think so many of us will be used to paying using our mobile phones that I expect to see cash takings to be markedly smaller in the future.
Most places still have a jar for cash tips, because psychologically, we feel good about throwing the change into it. It’s a visible gesture of goodwill that is noticed by the staff and the customer gets to feel good about themselves. As we move cashless, I wonder how much shop staff will lose out. There are no good alternatives I’ve seen on the market that is as simple and fast as throwing a spare coin in a jar.