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Choosing the right table payment technology is critical for restaurants.

Why It's Crucial to Get Table Payment Right

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How using the wrong solutions can disrupt business.
By Steve McKean November 2017 Expert Insights

The story of Frankenstein has been told for generations, yet the lessons from this tale of mad experimentation gone horrifically wrong are still being learned today, sometimes in the unlikeliest of settings, such as full-service restaurants. 

No, this isn’t a general commentary on food or menu decisions, but rather the “monsters” that are being built to enable guests to pay at the table. You see, while pay-at-the-table solutions are relatively new to the hospitality marketplace, they have actually been on the minds of restaurant operators for years. Operators have long ideated around the many risks associated with taking a consumer’s credit card from their possession, the convenience that a pay-at-the table solution could provide for customers, and the efficiency that it would bring to wait staffs. But like Victor Frankenstein learned in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, there’s a risk to tampering with the natural order of things.

Many operators fail to consider the dramatic impact that some pay-at-the-table technologies can have on their guests’ overall restaurant experience. The importance of that final interaction with the customer is often overlooked or undervalued. Yet, it’s the last impressionable segment of the dining experience and the final touch-point that operators have before their customer walks out the door. If the pay-at-the-table process isn’t elegant or secure, or if it fails to complement the actual dining experience, it puts the entire restaurant visit at risk. There is truth to the fact that you never get a second chance to make a last impression, as well as the first.

Despite the risks, a number of full-service restaurant operators have performed experiments with pay-at-the-table technologies that were rushed to market, repurposed from another industry solution, or built on a software platform that is not integrated with their point-of-sale system. To compound the problem, many of these solutions hadn’t met important payment security standards while others looked like they were designed for a middle school science project. While there is no evil hand wringing, flashes of lightening, or diabolical laughter that accompanies these experiments, often times the dangers of ambition simply turn into obsession, and Frankenstein’s monster is born.

In defense of this experimentation, only recently has technology arrived to the marketplace that addresses these shortcomings and is making pay-at-the-table accessible, practical, and beneficial to both restaurants and their guests.

Yet, while bringing pay-at-the-table technology to life may seem like a simple concept on the surface, to be done fully and correctly, it actually comes with some careful considerations. If you’re a restaurant operator, examine first what Dr. Frankenstein ignored. Ask yourself, how will humans connect with my payment solution? Does it fit the aesthetics and more importantly the hospitality experience of my restaurant? Is it purpose-built for my environment and designed with the future in mind? If there are no affirmative answers to these questions, then the pay-at-the-table solution will probably disrupt the restaurant experience, rather than enhance it.

To truly compliment the full-service dining experience, pay-at-the-table solutions need to fit the part. They shouldn’t stand out like Frankenstein’s monster at the Governor’s Ball. Operators should focus on technology that is purpose-built for the full-service restaurant environment, both in form and function. Yes, the end goal is to accept any type of payment directly from the table, but there’s also a much bigger opportunity to connect with guests and to strengthen the restaurant brand. More thoughtfully conceived pay-at-the-table solutions allow restaurant operators to further engage their guests, help motivate them to come back again, or alert floor management to dissatisfied customers before they leave. And it should also enable guests to split their bill, auto-calculate tips, and control the entire payment process. An ill-conceived monster could never do that.

More advanced pay-at-the-table solutions will also enable restaurant operators to anticipate their future needs, such as the adoption of mobile wallet payments, the use of Quick Chip technology for EMV card transactions, and even analysis of restaurant operations and payment information. Misfit conceptions won’t do that either.

If you’re a restaurant operator that is disappointed in—or even frightened by—what you have brought to life, the solution is not to find it a companion built in much the same way. That scenario didn’t work out in the movies, and it will certainly only compound your problem as well. As in Shelly’s tale, your creation may need to meet its fate. In the novel, the monster leaps from a window and drifts away on an iceberg. That seems a little dramatic for migrating to a more modern, well-designed pay-at-the-table technology, but, whether taken away, thrown away, or given away, it may very well be time to end your horror too. 

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, restaurant communications and eliminate credit card fraud while enhancing the customer experience.