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The Pros and Cons of Restaurant Pay-at-the-Table Technology

Posted by Tamara Scott on 6/12/17 1:00 PM in Restaurant Technology

5 minute read Print

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Pay-at-the-table apps are becoming increasingly popular among restaurants of all levels, from fast casual to fine dining. As restaurants increase adoption, the technology also gets better and the user experience - both for the employee and the customer - becomes smoother. 

These apps started as a way for small businesses to streamline their payment processes and reduce technology overhead. Rather than purchasing an expensive and confusing point of sale system or signing an expensive merchant services contract, many small business owners chose tablet-based platforms that organize payments, email receipts to customers, and include loyalty and rewards programs. 

The use of tablet-based apps at the dining table for seated restaurants — aptly named pay-at-the-table — has caught on much slower. In fact, only 41% of restaurants plan to be using tablets by the end of 2017. 

And yet, many restaurants that have clung to the paper receipt model for years are moving this direction, as it saves the restaurant both time and money, increases profits and tips, and reduces waste. It also provides benefits to the customer, which makes pay-at-the-table even more appealing. 

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of pay-at-the-table technology in restaurants.

Cons

1) Technology is Expensive 

Whether your restaurant has already invested in the best POS system or you’re researching possibilities for a new system, you’ll need to budget for the expense of your technology.

No one uses the old-fashioned cash register anymore - at least not on its own. To stay relevant in today’s cashless society, you have to be ready with card readers, or lose customers quickly.

Pay-at-the-table is an investment when you factor in the cost of enough technology to reasonably serve the entire restaurants. Despite these expenses, you may find that the initial investment pays dividends because you avoid costly software updates and the eventual expense of a specialized POS register.

2) Customer Experience

Customers like to decide when and where they’re going to pay and would rather not feel like their server is rushing them to pay and get out. In most situations, customers take a dropped check as a signal to move out of the table. While pay-at-the-table speeds up this process, it can make some customers feel unwelcome to sit and enjoy one another’s company.

Because restaurants traditionally use a paper receipt system, some customers may object to the shortened pay process that doesn’t allow them to peruse the itemized receipt at their leisure before dropping their card. Pay-at-the-table can also require the employee to stand at the table while payment is made, making customers feel like their tipping and totaling process is under surveillance.

While 68% of diners agree that pay-at-the-table technology improves their experience, restaurant managers and trainers will need to research and test best practices in these situations to provide the customer with the optimal experience.

Pros

1) Customer Security

When other countries look at the US payment systems, they express shock that Americans will allow the server to leave the table in possession of their personal credit card. Pay-at-the-table gives customers a sense of security knowing that they keep control of their credit card and its financial information.

A pay-at-the-table system also gives customers the opportunity to use even more secure forms of payment like Samsung Pay or Google Wallet, which uses biometric information or passwords to securely store and transmit credit card numbers.

2) Easy Expense Tracking

Because pay-at-the-table systems are designed using software best practices, they provide easy access to financial data for both customers and restaurants. Restaurants can connect easily to many accounting systems over an API port, automatically sending financial records and updating restaurant accounts without time-consuming and tree-killing paperwork.

For customers, emailed receipts are actually better for expense reporting software, which require a digital version of the receipt. Why not email the receipt to the customer, rather than printing a receipt that will be photographed and then thrown away?

3) Increase Table Turn

Pay-at-the-table systems reduce trips back and forth to the POS terminal, which in turn decreases the time it takes to close the sale. This lets tables wrap up their meal and get back to their day quicker, and reduces friction due to split checks or servers multitasking while payments are being made. Some restaurants have seen increased table turn by 15 percent or more, which in turn increases revenue for the restaurant and increases customer happiness as they get to their table faster. 

4) Higher Tips

Restaurants can see higher tips due to using the pay-at-the-table system. This can be attributed to the increased awareness through the tip prompt screen that appears before the signature screen. Tip increases are good for the whole restaurant, resulting in happier employees and more productivity.

5) Get Rid of Receipt Paper

Restaurants are some of the worst offenders for waste in general, but getting rid of paper receipts help companies reduce their overall waste and receipt expenses. Paper receipts require purchasing rolls of paper and ink cartridges, or if you choose to use thermal paper you run the risk of exposing employees and customers to BPA, a known carcinogen.

All receipt printers are expensive, requiring ongoing spend on paper and ink. And don't forget about upkeep. Pay-at-the-table programs get rid of so much paper from receipts to accounting spreadsheets, they’ll make you and your employees feel better about the unavoidable waste of paper napkins or plastic take out containers.

The Verdict

Because it's grounded in efficiency, has a proven ROI, can be used by full-serve and quick-serve restaurants, and has been embraced by diners, the answer to the question "Is pay-at-the-table technology right for my restaurant?" is yes.

Going Mobile in Your Restaurant

No point of sale system is perfect, but pay-at-the-table programs provide an option that reduces your overall spending on paper products, while also providing your customers with a sense of security. Add in the high morale due to increased tips and less wasted time, and your employees will be clamoring for pay-at-the-table options.

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Written by: Tamara Scott

Tamara Scott is an analyst at TechnologyAdvice, a research company that connects buyers and sellers of business technology. She writes about point-of-sales, CRM, email marketing, and many other technology verticals.


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