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Tabletop Tech Boosts Restaurant Efficiency, Customer Security

June 12, 2015
Small Business
Tabletop Tech Boosts Restaurant Efficiency, Customer Security
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Imagine you’re a restaurant owner, and your place is full on a Saturday night. Yet your customers are eating and leaving at a much quicker pace, freeing up tables for more diners, thanks to technology you’ve implemented. Instead of waiting for their credit cards to be processed at a register, customers pay immediately, right at the table.

Restaurants are experimenting with new technologies such as digital checkbooks to increase sales, reduce the risk of credit card fraud and improve the overall dining experience.

And customers are getting on board with the changes. Consumer usage of restaurant technology is 35% more likely now than it was two years ago, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

“The new capabilities now to facilitate and make payments at restaurants easier and faster obviously holds great allure to both restaurant operators and their customers,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association.

Technology has made rapid advances in the restaurant industry over the past couple of years, says Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association. “The industry doesn’t want to lose its connection to the customer, but there are ways to increase customer satisfaction and not lose that connectivity,” he says.

MORE: Surprise! 9 Unexpected Costs of Opening a Restaurant

Card never leaves customer’s hand

Derek Nettles, the IT director for Dickie Brennan & Co., says that three of the four fine-dining restaurants the company operates in the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans have implemented a mobile point-of-sale system called RAIL from TableSafe.

RAIL from TableSafe

TableSafe’s RAIL device lets customers pay right at the table by swiping a card. 

The RAIL device is a digital checkbook that runs on Wi-Fi. When guests open the checkbook, they see their itemized bill on the screen and can pay the bill immediately by swiping a card.

“Let’s say guests are having a business meeting at the table,” Nettles says. “The payment process doesn’t become a sort of interruption.”

The device has also led to increased sales for the restaurant chain due to faster table turnover, which means customers are getting in and out of the restaurant at a quicker pace, Nettles says.

“We found it [shortens] table-turn time by five to 10 minutes, which totally increases your revenue on an annual basis,” he says. “On busy nights, that’s when we really utilize the RAIL the most.”

The top benefit of the device, though, is credit card security, Nettles says. A card never leaves a guest’s hand. This can eliminate the chances of a fraudulent activity, such as skimming, in which thieves use a card-reading device to steal card information.

Put it on my tab app

TabbedOut and Zapper are mobile apps that let customers view and pay restaurant or bar tabs on their smartphone.

Robert Grimes, chief executive of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association, says mobile payments are becoming more important for restaurants as the world slowly becomes cashless.

With TabbedOut, a customer at a restaurant or bar opens up the app, starts a tab and tells the server that he or she will be using the app to pay, says Teri Harwood, executive vice president of product at TabbedOut.

When a customer opens the tab on the app, it also opens on the restaurant’s point-of-sale system, Harwood says. The customer’s credit card information is stored in the app and has already been verified by the company. Not having to hand over a credit card to a waiter also reduces the risk of fraud, Harwood says.

“For the consumer, it’s all about having control and convenience,” Harwood says. The restaurant typically experiences a table-turn time savings of eight and a half minutes, Harwood says.

With Zapper, customers scan a barcode on their bill with the Zapper app to pay, split the bill and leave a tip, all without having to wait on the server, says Jim Hite, chief revenue officer at Zapper. “There’s no waiting on your credit card to get returned to you or worrying about your card falling into the wrong hands,” Hite tells NerdWallet.

Restaurants can also gain insight into their customers’ dining preferences and experience, while customers can receive targeted promotions and vouchers delivered to their inbox from their favorite restaurants, Hite says.

Tablets at the table

Tablet computers that allow you to place orders, search the menu and pay for bills at the table have become a common sight at large chain restaurants. Olive Garden recently began installing tabletop tablets in all 845 of its restaurants, while Applebee’s installed 100,000 tablets at its restaurants back in 2013, according to news reports.

As technology becomes more prevalent in restaurants, a challenge for the industry is keeping the human touch between the server and the customer, Jackson says.

“It’s great to be able to give the customer the ability to look at a wine list and find some information about some bottles on the list,” Jackson says. “But there’s also that human touch about working with the customer to help them pick the wines that go best with their food.”

Riehle echoes that sentiment, saying the biggest challenge for restaurant operators will be remaining “high-touch in a high-tech environment.”

“In the end, the restaurant industry is a hospitality industry,” Riehle says.

Tips for restaurant owners

Fine-dining restaurants have to be very careful about how technology at the table is presented, Nettles says.

“We’re never going to have order-your-meal on a device at the table, which eliminates the waiter interaction with the guest. That’s more for fast-casual” restaurants, Nettles says. “We’re very sensitive to how the quality of the experience would be for a fine dining guest.”

Technology also shouldn’t replace the ability to provide excellent customer service from the wait staff.

From the customer perspective, the ability of the restaurant to deliver on food quality, service and other attributes remains equally as important as the availability of technology, Riehle says.

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Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.

Restaurant image via iStock. RAIL image via TableSafe.