docpop.jpgMany San Franciscan business owners seem to have completely neglected to keep up with advances in the field of payment methods. They either don’t allow the use of those pesky plastic money cards that keep popping up everywhere these days, or they punish people for using them by making some insane, and ever changing “credit card minimum” so that we are forced to supplement our gum, with random Kinder candies, mini flashlights, and airplane-size bottles of liquor that add up to EXACTLY $10.00.

You always think while you’re adding these useless items to your pile that the counter person is going to get tired of this stupid game, and waive the minimum or only make you buy one mini bottle of Ouzo, but they never do. Choosing instead to let you humiliate yourself for your refusal to take out more than $20 at a time from the ATM, like, “Oh this should be enough for the rest of this MINUTE.”

You would think that with the preponderance of corner stores, bars, taxis, and street food vendors that only accept dollar dollar bills San Franciscans would make it a practice to have cash on hand or at least make it a practice to not act shocked and indignant every time they go into one of these cash only establishments.

But for some reason ‘cash only’ is something San Franciscans refuse to wrap their heads around. It’s like S&M with your wallet: it hurts, but you like it. Here is a scene that plays out at least 10 times a night in this city:

“Wanna go to a bar?” “Duh.” “How about Toronado?” “Isn’t that place cash only?” “Is it? Ugh REALLY?!” “We should be able to remember this since we were just there yesterday.” “Is it cash onlyyyyyy? Somebody tell me the truth.” “You’re getting hysterical Margaret.” “Who the fuck is Margaret?” “Do they have an ATM there?” “I’m NOT gonna pay HALF the price of a drink to get money from a non-denominational ATM.” “Walgreens?

Once you’ve had this depressing conversation you realize how poor you really are or how cheap your friends are, or how unfair the class structure is in America and you hardly even want to drink at all anymore. You kind of just want to crawl under the covers and try to figure out why people hate debit cards and why your friends keep calling you Margaret.

Photo of register at Humphrey Slocombe by Doctor Popular

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  • Xenu

    So you get cash, you go back, and you’re ready to buy the Red Bull for $2.75. Fine.

    But of course you only have $50 and $100 bills, and the store doesn’t take those. “I no have enough change! Only small bill!” the elderly Chinese man behind the counter barks at you.

    “Fine,” you grumble to yourself, and swear to get your petty revenge on this elderly small business owner.

    You run back into your apartment and take out your change jar, dumping the entire thing on the floor. You carefully sort out exactly 275 pennies without even noticing the hour and a half that’s gone by. FUCK! But the store is still open for 10 more minutes.

    You shovel the pennies into a plastic back and run downstairs to the store. At the counter, you throw the bag of pennies in front of the Chinese man, and look at him with a derange smirk.

    “There you go old man, that’s exactly 275 pennies.”

    He looks at you with a dumbfounded expression for a moment. But it quickly turns into an arrogant smile.

    “You forgot tax!”

    Realizing your mistake, you sulk out of the store with your bag of useless copper coins as he flips the sign to “CLOSED.” You have failed, and you go home to weep and contemplate suicide.

  • Greg Dewar

    you did a great job making light of the trauma that is cash only bars and whatnots. very awesome.

    btw fun fact: it is a violation of EVERY credit card company to have a “minimum” amount to use a card. It is illegal, and if you report them to Visa, etc., the business could lose their ability to take cards at all, or at least get a warning blah blah blah. The reason they do it is they don’t want to pay the Visa/Whatever “tax” for a pack of gum, which is understandable, but if they really don’t want to deal with it….they can say cash only!


  • PhilD


    I don’t mind the minimums. I understand that the CC companies harm small businesses, so I willing to compromise by not being a snitch and turning in some poor mom n’ pop to the feds (or whoever it is you would bother with such a minor, petty complaint).

  • Erik

    A local coffee shop where I used to live started offering gift cards with a poster explaining how much more of your money stayed in the building if you bought a $20-30 gift card with your credit card and then bought all your coffee with the gift card compared to if you put every individual coffee purchase on the credit card one at a time.

  • bloomsm

    Any business that limits the ways in which it takes money from a customer has its head up its ass. Your customer has come to give you money; if one form of payment is less profitable than another, consider it the cost of the relationship building process. Also, a customer in bar with an open credit card will always spend more. The short-sightedness of businesses in this regard is amazing.

  • Belgand

    Unless I’m mistaken it’s also a violation for businesses to offer a different price for paying in cash, but just about every gas station in town seems to have moved that way.

    To me the bigger problem is larger businesses that clearly are not hurting for customers, but insist on this. Like Burgermeister. It’s not uncommon to have a check for two come to $25-30, but they think that cash-only is reasonable despite having three or four locations around town (the Daly City location is bizzare though in that not only do they take cards, but they also have full table service). House of Nanking, IIRC, has a rather high limit for credit despite having a line out the door every time I’ve ever been by.

    Most of these places seem to think that they can just put in some off-brand ATM and force the charges onto their customers. I mean, who cares about treating them well if you can save some cash?

    What they probably aren’t thinking of, however, is that by doing a large amount of business and being cash-only you’re inviting robbery, as the Cole Valley Burgermeister found out not too long ago. Is it really worth it to make yourself a target and inconvenience your customers?

    Cash-free is the future, but this seems to be yet another area where the apparently high-tech San Francisco insists on staying rooted in the past.

  • ava8harrierusmc1

    This is the young old guy again, Being there in San Francisco in the 80’s and watching people bounce checks like crazy and stealing stolen credit cards and using them left and right and then the owner of the sore takes the lose I have to agree with them no money no service. Simple yes not every one is a theif but theifs do talk to each other when they get a good thing you have to remember. But what do I know I’m just a 50 year young black guy righttttttt!

  • Fred

    It’s only a matter of semantics: Merchants may offer a cash discount, but conversely can’t call it a credit card surcharge.