Restaurants’ refusal to accept digital payments sparks debate

By Thanh Nga, Quynh Nguyen   May 22, 2024 | 05:00 am PT
Thanh Cong was stunned when the restaurant owner declared they accepted “cash only” as he asked for a QR code to make a bank transfer for his bowl of noodles.

The restaurant’s policy left Cong, a 23-year-old resident of Ho Chi Minh City, embarrassed. Having gone cashless for many years, he had not even brought an ATM card with him.

Other customers at the eatery were all elderly and did not use online bank transfer services, so he ended up asking a friend of his, who was 5 km away, to bring him come cash.

"I was waiting for my friend in extreme embarrassment," Cong recalled. "Some people even teased me, saying that I should wash dishes to pay off the debt."

The restaurant located in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, that Cuong visited. The eatery  has posted a  no bank transfer notice, as seen on May 4, 2024. Photo courtesy of Cong

The restaurant located in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, that Cong visited. The eatery has posted a "no bank transfer" notice, as seen on May 4, 2024. Photo courtesy of Cong

Vietnamese people are becoming increasingly fond of cashless payments. A 2023 report by Visa revealed that the average number of consecutive days a Vietnamese person did not use cash was 11, a near fourfold increase from 2022. Additionally, the report noted that 61% of Vietnamese respondents now carry less cash than in previous years, and 85% use QR codes to pay.

Meanwhile, according to statistics from the State Bank of Vietnam, in the first five months of 2023, QR code payment increased 151.14% in quantity and 30.41% in value compared to the same period last year.

Hong Loan, 25, residing in the capital’s Ha Dong district, has also ended up cashless at several cash-only establishments.

Once she had to leave her friend at an eatery for a while so that she could find an ATM for. Other times, she had to ask other customers in the restaurant to pay for her meal in cash and then return the amount to them via bank transfer. When she could not manage it, Loan turned to her parents or friends for help, just like Cong did.

Learning from such experience, now every time before entering a restaurant, Loan asks if the owner accepts digital payment. If their answer is "no," she leaves, no matter how good or highly-recommended the restaurant is.

For Loan, the benefits of living cashless far outweigh any risks. She never has to worry about theft, paying the wrong amount, or having her cards swallowed at ATMs when attempting to withdraw money.

"Yet there are still restaurant owners or gas stations in the very center of the capital city that do not accept money transfers," she complained. "How stone-age!"

A person paying with their card. Illustration photo by Pexels

A person paying with their card. Illustration photo by Pexels

As observed by VnExpress reporters, most enterprises across the country already accept bank transfers via QR codes, account numbers, or cards as payment methods. Vegetable sellers in local markets, street vendors, and sidewalk stalls have begun accepting this method, even when the amount is just a few thousand dong (VND1,000 equals US$0.04).

That’s why some stores’ refusal of online payment methods has drawn attention on social networks, often receiving mixed reactions. Some say businesses should move with the times and put customers first by accepting cashless payments. Others believe that each person’s own way of doing business should be respected, not to mention that digital payments also carry many potential risks, especially for the elderly who are not familiar with them.

A survey carried out by VnExpress in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other provinces indicated that a number of stores, restaurants, and gas stations do not accept online payment. Among them, some post notice signs, but some don’t say anything until customers try to pay that way.

According to a financial economist, who is also a former lecturer at the Banking Academy of Vietnam, the main reasons why some proprietors refuse to accept transfers are fears of being scammed, technical issues, hesitation to share wifi passwords, and the time-consuming nature of having to check whether they receive the money.

Owners may also see the possibility of payments made with wrong amounts and their potential consequences a disadvantage. Also, they may be elderly and have difficulty keeping up with new technologies.

The owner of a noodle shop in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City said they no longer accept money transfers because the crowd of customers waiting to scan codes made favorable conditions for pickpockets and robberies. Since August last year, their customers have been required to pay in cash upon ordering to avoid such risks.

"Many times it has taken me a whole day to receive the money transferred," they said. "The restaurant was so busy that I could not force customers to stay and wait until the money arrived."

Vy, the owner of a pho restaurant on Hanoi’s Tam Trinh street, accepts cash as the only payment method at her eatery as well. She said most of her customers are residents of the neighborhood and often use paper money.

Recently, a few people have asked for her bank account number, only to be met with her refusal. She said her restaurant is too busy for her to allocate a staff member to manage the transfers. But only a few customers have complained, so the restaurant has remained cash-only.

Vy’s cash-only pho restaurant still attracts a lot of customers, as seen on the morning of May 4, 2024. by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

Vy’s cash-only pho restaurant still attracts a lot of customers, as seen on the morning of May 4, 2024. by VnExpress/Thanh Nga

Use it wisely

Understanding restaurants’ resistance to digital payment, some experts still argue that technology should not bear all the blame for the troubles that may occur with transferred payments. The important thing is how wisely and properly users utilize technological advances to keep up with the times. Restaurant owners may ask their children or staff for support instead of sticking to traditional cash payment simply because they are unfamiliar with the new and changing methods.

"If we keep following outdated methods and refuse to integrate and develop, sooner or later we will be eliminated," said the financial economist that used to be a former lecturer at the Banking Academy of Vietnam mentioned.

A coffee shop run by Toan, 80, in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district, is cash only because he and his wife are not tech savvy. The only person in his family that has a bank account is his eldest daughter, but she is busy working during the day when his shop operates. There have been a few times that customers have asked for digital payments, and Toan showed them a QR code linked with his daughter’s account, but no amount was credited after that. Whether it was due to a network error or he was swindled is unknown to him.

In addition, authorities have also issued warnings that some restaurant owners lost money when their QR codes were overwritten after their bank account information was stolen. Such incidents prevented Toan from modernizing his way of doing business.

"I would rather see customers decline to use the service and products I offer than get scammed, since the profits from real customers cannot compensate for such losses," said Toan. "My children will not take up this business anyway [so I don’t have to keep it afloat]."

Perhaps the best solution to these problems is to combine different payment methods, like what Nguyen Thanh, a 28-year-old Hanoian, has done for the past five years. Despite his preference for online payments, he still has some paper money with him in case shops or restaurants insist.

"I cannot force businesses to meet all my demands," he said. "Payment applications or banknotes are created to serve people. They should be used flexibly and in accordance with the context."

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