No more cash purchases in Portillo’s drive-thru lanes

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Starting Monday, if you have a hankering for an Italian beef, char-grilled Polish or slab of chocolate cake from Portillo’s, American currency will not get you what you want — at least not if you’re going through the drive-thru lane.

The business is going cash free outside, and only credit cards, debit cards and Portillo’s gift cards will be accepted.

“This is safer for our team members, and it creates a faster, smoother service for our guests,” according to the company’s website, www.portillos.com/service/faq.

Cash will still work if orders are placed inside all Portillo’s locations.

The company’s been spreading the word by posting signs outside its restaurants, which locally include locations at Randall and Bowes roads in Elgin, Batavia, St. Charles and Streamwood.

A sign outside a Portillo's restaurant notifies customers about the Jan. 16 switch to a cashless system in which only credit cards, debit cards and Portillo's gift cards will be accepted as payment for drive-thru orders. Currency can still be used for in-restaurant purchases.

The shift did not come as a surprise to Tony Lucenko, director of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Elgin Development Group, although he questioned if it might not pose problems for some customers.

“There’s obviously been a longtime push for everything to go cashless, but I would think that not everyone is in a financial position to have credit or debit cards,” Lucenko said.

That said, many people did get into the habit of using credit and debit cards more regularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some businesses stopped accepting cash because of concerns about handling money, he said. He also noted that a coin shortage during the pandemic contributed to more places going cashless or at least rounding up costs to the next dime or dollar.

During peak hours, Portillo’s posts staff outside to take orders and payments from drive-thru lane customers. Doing away with taking cash and making change should streamline the ordering and paying process and eliminate the risk of potential robberies.

A vast majority of the company’s sales come from drive-thru orders, according to QSR Magazine. It reported in November that each Portillo’s restaurant averaged $4.9 million in drive-thru sales between July 2020 and June 2021, compared to $1.9 million in dine-in sales and $850,000 from delivery sales.

The business dates back to 1963, when Dick Portillo launched it out of a trailer called “The Dog House” in Villa Park. He sold the chain In 2014 to equity firm Berkshire Partners, reportedly for about $1 billion, but remains the landlord of many of locations, published reports said.

Now a publicly traded company, the Oak Brook-based chain now has more than 70 locations across nine states.

Mike Danahey is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.



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