DES MOINES, Iowa — Starting next year, those pork chops on a stick can be bought with a card.
The Iowa State Fair has confirmed that it will require all food and drink vendors to accept credit and debit card payments beginning in 2020.
Cash has long been the dominant method of payment for the fried cheese curds, corn dogs, and scores of other foods bought by fairgoers, many of whom visit to see the famous Butter Cow sculpture. Roughly 30 ATM machines are located throughout the fairgrounds.
But the fair recently informed concessions vendors that they will be required to use Clover cash registers starting next year that accept credit and debit payments. They will have the option to use the small machines at this year's fair, which begins Aug. 8.
The Nebraska State Fair, which will take place in Grand Island in late August, recommends that its vendors accept credit and debit cards, but has no set policy in place, said Jaime Parr, its chief of sales.
"I know this is something a lot of fairs are considering now, but we have no time frame for that," she said. "We recommend that our vendors take credit cards because everyone usually has one in their pocket. When they accept them, their sales will increase."
Any changes to traditions at the Iowa fair can be controversial. In 2014, fair officials quickly abandoned a plan to require customers to purchase tickets in order to pay for their concessions after a backlash.
In a letter to vendors, concessions director Mike Nye noted that he has been encouraging them for several years to consider accepting credit cards and that some of them have successfully tested out different systems. He said that research shows people spend 15 percent more per transaction when using credit cards and that customers overwhelmingly prefer cashless payment options.
He said the new registers will also allow more consistent reporting of vendor sales, 19.5 percent of which returns to the fair for rent, and can help track inventory as well.
"Our goal is to have a system in place that has integrity and consistency in reporting that makes it quick and easy for the user while letting the consumer use whichever payment method they prefer," he wrote. "The Clover System will do all of that and more."
The systems can be purchased for $499 apiece, rented or leased and also have some costs associated with software, internet connections and transaction fees.
Fair spokeswoman Mindy Williamson said that the machines will still allow for cash payments. But she said they will reduce the amount of cash handled on busy days, which will improve safety. She said that the change is being implemented over two years to allow vendors to plan for the expenses and to train their employees.