Cashing in on Cashless

Cashless payment systems, which use pre-loaded debit cards, benefit operators and customers alike.

All over the country, schools, healthcare facilities and corporate dining operations are making the switch from cash registers to cashless transactions. The systems, most of which debit pre-loaded cards to pay for meals, boast a number of important benefits—from speeding up cafeteria lines and making customers happier to increasing transaction amounts and streamlining back-office operations.

FoodService Director - Cashless -  Emigrant Savings BankParental Control: Cashless payment systems offer "a considerable advantage for our operation, and for the customer," says Cameron Bolender, director of corporate services for Michael’s Catering, Phoenix, AZ. Last August, he installed new payment systems at Michael’s accounts at the private Rancho Solano School, which has a pre-K-through-8th grade enrollment, and Brophy College Preparatory School, an all-boys Catholic high school.

With approximately 1,800 students, Rancho Solano operates on a quartet of campuses. "We created a program where parents set up declining balance accounts for their children," says Bolender. “At the beginning of the month, they can select from a variety of meals offered each day.” Michael’s employees use itemized lists arranged by class and student name to ensure everyone gets what they ordered. Cold meals and a limited hot-meal selection are offered.

Each meal includes an entree, fresh vegetable or fruit side, and a snack. On any given day, for example, vegan, ethnic, and other choices are available to appeal to a wide variety of students.

The cashless system is "a huge win for parents because they can go online and easily make purchase decisions and print out their orders on a calendar that shows them what days the kids are getting what meals," says Bolender.

At Brophy Prep School in central Phoenix, transaction speed is the most important benefit of the cashless system. There, Bolender has to feed 1,250 students in a very short time. The morning break is from 10 a.m. to 10:20 a.m., and Michael’s processes approximately 550 transactions in that time.  Lunch is from 12:10 to 12:45, with an additional 600 transactions during that period.

Says Bolender, "There is no possible way we could do that without the cashless payment system." Each transaction—from the time the child arrives at the register until it’s complete—averages just nine seconds, and parents like the fact that money in the declining balance account can only be spent in the school cafeteria.

What’s in your wallet: Ease of use, both operationally and for customers, is what Kenneth Sheridan, director of café management and finances for Emigrant Savings Bank in New York City, was looking for when he installed a cashless payment setup at the 200-seat dining operation last November.

Emigrant wanted a system that would be simple to manage from an accounting standpoint, Sheridan says.  "They didn’t want to have to worry about theft, or about overages or shortages."

They also wanted something that would be convenient and efficient so that guests could move through the line without having to pull out credit cards or cash and wait for change.

The security badges carried by the 500 Emigrant employees and 500 other occupants of the building double as their ID cards for the cashless system.

The cards are loaded with money in advance. "You decide how you want to fund the account," explains Sheridan. "When you present the card to the reader at the terminal, it takes money out of your account, gives you a receipt, and off you go."

Revenue boost: Of course, generating more revenue is one of the most compelling reasons for switching to a cashless transaction system. Since Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center in New Brunswick, NJ, installed its cashless system in November 2005, it has seen a boost in sales.

Prior to that, the medical center used an outdated voucher system for residents and interns, notes Tony Almeida, director of Food & Nutrition/Environmental /Host Services.

The medical center’s 325-seat cafeteria will generate about $4 million in sales this year. It is open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., with an additional "midnight meal" from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. There is also a gourmet coffee bar in the Children’s Hospital that uses the cashless system. 

Almeida also loves the fact that the cashless system takes his office out of the loop. "The medical school deals directly with it," he explains. "They issue the cards, and by doing that we save $10,000 a month. It costs us $1,500 a month and we save $100,000 to $120,000 on charges."

"The clincher is that the system has boosted revenue. About 600 employees have signed up for the program, and their average transaction is 10% higher than for people who pay cash," he says.

"The switch over was easy," says Almeida. The supplier put a tag reader next to each register and programmed the interface. Best of all, "if customers have any issues, they go to the supplier, not to us," he says.

Charges are deducted from payroll, which can be complicated. However, the supplier handles the entire transaction. "What I like about this system is that it is really easy for us," notes Almeida. "We pay a monthly fee, which I don’t think is really that high. We’ve been on this program for a year and a half and we haven’t had one issue."