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Cashless Dining: Smart or Senseless?

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Photo Credit: Rebecca Rider

New signs have been popping up next to Catawba merchant registers.

Rebecca Rider, Writer
October 1, 2012
Filed under Restaurants, Student Life & News

Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario:  You have an unexpected break between classes.  You woke up late and didn’t have time to grab breakfast so you decide to run over to Mondo’s, the Smoke Stack, or the Bookstore and grab a quick bite to eat using the $5 that’s burning a hole in your pocket. When you get there, however, the nice lady running the cash register informs you, very kindly, that Catawba no longer accepts cash.

Maybe you haven’t run into this problem.  Maybe you’re a resident student who never uses cash, never carries it, and swipes your Catawba One card to pay for everything on campus.  If so, this article probably doesn’t interest you.

However, for those it does affect, this semester’s new cashless dining policy initially came as a shock and an unpleasant surprise.

The initial reaction from many commuters and cash-carriers was anger or irritation. Whose idea was this? What made it a good idea? Living in a small town, the idea of a business that didn’t accept cash seemed preposterous.

A small, anonymous survey of the student body indicated that most students—the ones who took the survey, at least— were discontent with the new policy. Even if it didn’t directly affect them, they were still curious about why Catawba went cashless. Several residential students voiced concern for commuters, who often carry cash, and for parents or visitors.

One student’s concern was for the businesses themselves, “I know we are becoming a cashless society, but is it really necessary to hinder people’s buying abilities by not being a flexible merchant?”

Some however, were in favor. One student said of the new policy, “I like it because it means I don’t have to worry about spending my cash. I use my flex dollars only, so I have to pay more attention to my meal plan and spend accordingly.”

Cashless dining was a change that seemed to come from nowhere, and left many feeling confused, and feeling that the decision was senseless. The student body, it seems, is more conflicted about not knowing the “why” of the policy than it is about the policy itself.

Cashless dining was designed and launched by Corey Fischer, our local Chartwells representative, Ben Smith, and Jana Burkhart.  While cashless dining might seem like a confusing move to some, a quick chat with one of the decision makers is enough to assure students that the reasoning behind it is solid.

Fischer, Burkhart, and Smith decided to go cashless for two main reasons.

Their primary motive was safety. Fischer said that with bookstore funds and the Catawba One card, there is no reason for a student to carry cash on campus other than to buy food.  That doesn’t mean student wallets are empty, there are still plenty of vending machines on campus, but it eliminates a reason to carry anything other than loose change.

And while a Catawba merchant has never been robbed, there have been plenty of stick-ups in the surrounding area.  One has only to look at the incident that occurred in front of Omwake-Dearborn chapel this summer, or check your Catawba e-mail, to realize that as much as we would wish it, Catawba is not a crime-free campus.  Violence can, and has, occurred on the grounds. Cashless dining, Fischer says is just “another deterrent” to such incidents.

The second reason cashless dining passed was efficiency. Anyone who has ever worked as a cashier can trade stories about endless hours of training, counting the cash drawer, frazzled nerves when the drawer is short–or over, having everything checked and double checked, and being constantly watched by managers. Cashless Dining means that Catawba employees don’t have to deal with that extra stress.

And it’s faster. Fischer said that since going cashless, Catawba merchants have cut about 20 minutes off their opening time every morning.

“I don’t have an exact percentage,” he said, “but I’d say about 90% of the days we were open we only took in $25—that’s for upstairs and downstairs.”  Keeping a lot of cash-change on hand for that little profit is bad for business, and it’s a safety hazard.

So while cashless dining may strike some as an annoyance at first, it’s the thought that counts.

For those who frequently find themselves foiled by the system, there are ways to get around it. All registers at Catawba are equipped with Credit/Debit capabilities, and any amount of money can be put on your Catawba One Card, at any time. There is no maximum or minimum amount, “So if you want to throw $20 on there, you can.”

To put it simply, the solution to being a cash-carrier or a commuter and eating on campus is a piece of advice you’ve probably heard from your parents: Plan ahead, and have a plan B. Just in case.

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