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How Restaurants are Surviving Ever-Changing Payment Technology

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By Steve McKean April 2017 Expert Insights

I never imagined that a reality television show would have any redeeming value for me, so I certainly was surprised when I suddenly noticed a connection between the popular TV reality series Survivor and many of the full-service restaurant operators that I’ve come to know over the years. Now, as many restaurant owners will tell you, the restaurant game itself is a contest of survival, but my observation went a little further.  

As most of us know, in the Survivor competition, contestants are subjected to a variety of challenges where they compete through physical effort and problem solving to the best of their individual abilities. This isn’t unlike scenarios facing full-service restaurant operators when it comes to deploying a modern payment solution for their establishment.

The recent explosion of consumer payment options has thrust restaurant operators into a real-life Survivor competition in which contestants are tasked with presenting effective and nimble payments solutions as quickly as possible without any clear guideline. The simple difference between “winning” and “losing” is often determined by the approach to the problem.  

In the full-service restaurant game, there are four basic approaches commonly used to deploy modern pay technology.

1. Repurposed Existing Payment Solutions

Not everybody can afford to write-off an early investment in an ineffective payment technology, and nobody likes to admit they were shortsighted when choosing a solution that’s now obsolete. Many operators have elected to “upgrade” their existing payment solution by repurposing it with technology that simply bolts on new features and functionality to their existing hardware. In the car world, it’s analogous to building a “rat rod” as these cars appear unrefined and are cobbled together, often with incompatible or even conflicting parts.

While this patch-work approach can cut short term costs, it can create far greater headaches and expenses just a short distance down the road when the rat-rod needs a complete overhaul.

2. Deploying Smart Phone-based Payment Apps

Due in large part to their convenience, smartphone-based apps have emerged as a popular option for retailers, especially large ones, to handle payments. And since the mobile phone has reached ubiquity among most restaurant workers, operators make the quick assumption that they too can rely on their employees to run a payment app on their personal device or one owned by the restaurant.

However, as a consumer, there’s nothing more disconcerting than watching someone take your payment information in this manner. For those concerned about the security of their personal financial information—and in today’s environment, they should be—it’s very bad optics. It raises a flurry of questions in the minds’ of the consumer. Who is this person taking my payment information? Are they storing my information somewhere? Is this transaction encrypted? Or can someone on the WiFi hack into the process? These questions are becoming more important to today’s consumer and could lead to a decline in repeat business for a restaurant that relies heavily on the dining experience to entice customers.

3. Fixing a Device to the Table

Connecting technology directly to the table has been an approach that some highly-visible full-service restaurant brands have pursued aggressively. As a result, table-side kiosks are commonplace in certain restaurant chains, successfully conditioning groups of consumers to rely on them to manage the payment process as well as a number of other service-oriented tasks.

What makes this option attractive to restaurant operators is that it can be effective at streamlining operations. After all, it puts select services at the fingertips of the consumer. But that’s also the very reason why this technology isn’t a fit for most full-service restaurants. Many restaurant guests who are looking to “unplug” from their day and sequester themselves from technology have found it to be distracting and disruptive. Parents find that their children are less engaged with the family and many miss the higher level of personal hospitality delivered by other restaurants. Dining in the ambient glow of a computer screen ultimately isn’t an attractive experience for these guests or the restaurants that serve them.

4. Delivering a Device to the Table

Curating a spectacular guest experience is a top priority for nearly all full-service restaurant operators. Yet, when it comes to controlling the payment process, operators are often handcuffed and forced to play by the rules of their technology provider. As a result, the restaurant experience is shaped by the limitations of the payment technology. This is where devices delivered to the table can liberate restaurant operators and their customers.

These devices reside in the back-of-the-house and only make their appearance at the table when it’s time to pay the bill. Purpose-built to securely accept any type of payment and meeting the highest security standards, it’s like having the POS delivered to the table. As compared to table-resident kiosks, these devices also allow wait staff to spend more time attending to their dining guests.

So if you’re a restaurant operator playing the “payment Survivor game”, take a minute to think through your approach and ask yourself, “What’s the best path for my particular restaurant environment and my guests?” How you solve the problem may win you immunity from a number of other headaches. 

Steve McKean is the president of TableSafe, a company that designs, builds, and sells software and hardware products purpose built for the restaurant and hospitality industries. The products are designed to increase efficiency and restaurant communications and eliminate credit card fraud while enhancing the dining experience. You can follow TableSafe on Twitter @TableSafe.