Pay-at-the-Table: The Trending Sweet Spot for Operators


We’ve all had this happen. After sharing a delicious meal out with friends, we order the homemade Boston cream pie and sink our forks into the delectable mixture of sweet vanilla custard and chocolate glaze, relishing its sweet decadence, then we top it off with a piping hot cup of coffee. Seeing that we are approaching the conclusion of our meal, the waiter discreetly lays the bill on the table. Later he swings back by to pick up the credit card, then disappears. We’ve eaten until we’re full. Snug waistbands give us an uncomfortable clue in that regard. The conversation dies down and heads pivot to search for the waiter in possession of our credit cards. There he is, taking orders for another large party of 15. We’ll catch his eye as he finishes. Instead, he grabs the menus, looks down and quickly bolts for the kitchen.

Our waistbands grow even tighter; everyone is ready to go. Minutes drag on.

What we first judged as a brilliantly prepared and delivered meal has now become tainted by slow payment processing. Sadly, this scenario plays out daily in food service businesses of every size and concept. While restaurant operators can ensure specific steps are taken to prepare guest checks in advance, traffic jams at ePOS terminals can occur at any time. Multiple servers trying to close out tickets simultaneously can leave diners feeling as if they are stuck on the 405 in Los Angeles.

Fortunately, a new service trend called pay-at-the-table (PatT) or mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) is gaining traction in restaurants across the country. While consumers are demanding convenience throughout the dining process, operators are using this technology to meet that demand. 

Mobile Point of Sale: A Rising Trend
Further illustrating the size of the mPOS growth trend, research firm Global Market Insights, evaluated three market sectors affecting this technology: entertainment, health care and hospitality. The firm’s research shows that the demand from these sectors is expected to push the mPOS market to $55 billion by 2024.

Consequently, the United States lags behind other European markets where consumers have been using contactless cards and pay-at-the-table technology to complete dining transactions for the last decade. Europay, Mastercard, Visa, or what Europeans call EMV transactions, offer a chip and PIN functionality versus the U.S.’s adoption of the dip and sign method. The method in use in America calls for the insertion, or “dipping” of the card underneath the credit card processor’s keypad before completing the transaction with a signature.

Even though late to the table, the U.S. is now catching up. Thanks to an increasingly broader embrace of pay-at-the-table solutions, restaurant operators have seen that in addition to other operational benefits, customers who pay at the table have greater peace of mind when leading the financial transaction.

mPOS Benefits
Some technology solutions only benefit business owners; others benefit customers; a few might also help staffers. However, tableside payment processing has benefits that affect the complete dining experience trifecta: customers, staff, and operators. By bringing the ePOS directly into the customer’s hands and away from some isolated cash register corner, pay-at-the-table technology produces win-win-win results for each stakeholder. Here are a few benefits for each:

Stakeholder One: Wait staff

●     More guest facetime — Food is only one part of a memorable dining experience. Exceptional restaurants know that guests will often forgive a mediocre meal when encountering an attentive wait staff and mPOS offers that additional time.

●     Better tips — Tip prompt screens, with pre-calculated percentages, make tableside payments even better for servers. These prompts take the guesswork away from mathematically-challenged diners and offers transparency around tipping expectations. Which makes for happier employees, too! 

Stakeholder Two: Customers

●     Better protection for customer’s sensitive cardholder data — Today’s financial transactions are fraught with an ever-increasing potential for hacked data. Retail and restaurant workers are especially vulnerable to recruitment from nefarious skimming operations that pay for stolen credit card numbers. Providing customers with a pay-at-the-table option promotes good will.

●     Convenience — Credit cards are convenient; online banking is convenient; waiting for a wait staff member to return with an itemized bill or a credit card slip for signature, not so much. Today, consumers expect convenience in everything they do, and when restaurant operators respond to those expectations, they can expect customer loyalty.

●     A better guest experience — Gone are the days when one person picked up the check. Today, guests want to split table checks, paying with multiple cards. With pay-at-the-table solutions, guests can have what they want, the way they want it.

Stakeholder Three: Restaurant Operators

●     More table turnarounds — Operators know that a fast and efficient table turnover rate will increase the number of patrons that can be seated. To pare down patrons who head out the door and over to a competitor when tables aren’t ready, operators can use pay-at-the-table technology to find the sweet spot of table turns. They can do so by simply handing over payment control to the customers as they finish their meals.

●     Decreased labor costs — Being able to assign more tables to each server, which results in more table turns, mPOS decreases the time needed for training new employees on mPOS technology.

●     Less chargebacks — Pay-at-the-table technology increases security for patrons, but also lessens the liability burden for operators. Europeans’ EMV security standard is here to stay, and U.S. restaurants know that upgrading their technology to accept these new payment methods creates higher transaction numbers, but also increases the risk of chargebacks if not EMV-compliant. Becoming EMV compliant is costly, but with today’s pay-at-the-table solutions, a restaurant inherits EMV compliance through the vendor’s technology, which shifts liability back to the banks.

Say it at the Table  
Once operators implement pay-at-the-table technology, payment processing burdens are lessened. Additionally, forward-thinking operators can now find vendors with mPOS solutions that allow them to take PatT one step further. By combining PatT with mPOS, operators can also implement a step in the tableside transaction process to obtain valuable guest feedback. As a customer completes a dining transaction at the table and uses some form of contactless payment like EMV, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, or PayPal, a short survey can pop up on the mPOS device to prompt immediate feedback.

Cutting the time between meal completion and guest response to that dining experience can increase survey response rate. Depending upon your organization, your guest respondents, and/or their motivation for responding, response rates will differ. Organizations have found that financial incentives for surveys are the most effective for encouraging engagement, but for restaurant operators who work with lower margins, that incentive is cost prohibitive. Deploying a pay-at-the-table solution with built-in guest surveys will sidestep that financial incentive and instead encourage prompt responses that give a more accurate reflection of the food and service for less cost.

Grateful Customers
Patrons enjoy technology, and when operators embrace convenience and security advancements for their customers, they are richly rewarded with strong guest loyalty. In a past State of the Industry Report published by the National Restaurant Association, 79 percent of consumers said they believe technology increases convenience, while another 70 percent expressed beliefs that technology increases order accuracy and expedites service.

Operators can eschew this new technology by clinging to old payment methods, but only at their peril. Why? A new crop of diners is also on the rise. No other generation enjoys eating out more than millennials. By snapping photos of social media-worthy dishes for Instagram posts, they show their love for frequenting trendy spots to satiate gastronomic pleasures. In the end, only those operators who address the millennial generation’s demand for payment convenience, while addressing the older generational demands for increased security will reap the rewards.


Lee Leet

About the Author

Lee Leet is the CEO of QSR Automations and founded the company in 1996.QSR is a leader in technology stack integrations, after developing industry solutions that advance restaurant innovations and empowerment. 

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