Credit Discrimination: Cashless restaurants could be outlawed to protect the “unbanked”

The growing cashless trend in dining might be halted by the Council to protect the rights of the non-credit-worthy

Restaurants in D.C. are not allowed to discriminate. That is a good thing. Usually.  For the better part of 60 years, Federal Law has prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion in places of public accommodation, i.e. restaurants, bars and nightclubs. D.C. has broadly expanded those protections to include classifications such as personal appearance, political affiliation and matriculation.

Some say that we have drifted to a ridiculous extreme where a restaurant has to serve every thick-necked Republican Press Secretary who can manage to turn sideways and shuffle through the door. (In actuality, you can probably 86 any public figure for generally being an asshole, you just can’t do it because they are a Republican asshole).

Earlier this summer, six (6) Councilmembers proposed expanding the D.C. Human Rights Act to defend the plight of the non-credit worthy.

The Cashless Retail Prohibition Act of 2018 would halt the growing trend of cash-less restaurants in DC. Credit discrimination? Form of payment discrimination? C’mon guys, exactly what are we protecting people from here?

There is a sharp distinction between the public need to shop at a grocery store and drink in a bar.

A number of food service establishments have opted to go cashless for a variety of compelling reasons: reducing employee theft, mitigating risk of robbery, saving hourly wages paid for cash management and reducing time per transaction.

To be fair, the Act does not apply only to restaurants, but to all “retailers.” Clearly, people who cannot muster up a credit card or bank account should not be shut-out from buying staple foods and other necessities. However, that shouldn’t necessarily apply to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores who choose to mitigate risk in their business by going cashless.

The Council’s heart is in the right place, but, the execution is lacking. Lumping together all “retailers” is lazy, bad policy, and unnecessarily interferes with small business owners trying to make it in a tough, competitive space.

There are better ways to protect vulnerable populations and ensure access to basic needs. As far as the right to dine-out, a Visa cash card costs about $5.00 or a prepaid card can be loaded with cash and then used as a credit card would be. Neither option is terribly convenient or cost effective for regular trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, but, for the occasional night out, it is not a huge deal.

The Council has not moved this bill all Summer, but, given the support that it had at introduction, passage seems inevitable. I think the best that cashless food service establishments can hope for is a rational carve out to allow the trending business practice.

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