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Trend Report: How Pay-at-the-Table Technology Can Drive Revenue

From QR codes to mobile POS, personal devices, and beyond, it’s time to bring mobility and guest empowerment to the table.
a man and a woman sitting in a restaurant

HT’s research studies — including our 2022 POS Software Trends Report: Integration, Mobility & Analytics and our 2022 Restaurant Technology Study: Making Magic Happen have spoken, loudly and clearly, of the benefits of mobility and guest empowerment (often referred to as self-service). 

According to our 2022  POS Software Trends Report, restaurant operators identify enabling new payment options such as e-wallet as the top business driver impacting their next POS upgrade, followed closely by  enabling self-service options. Another top driver was adding mobile POS. Restaurant operators surveyed in our 2022 Restaurant Technology Study report a high level of adoption (81 percent) of mobile payments.

While mobility and self-service have recently manifested themselves most visibly in off-premise solutions, restaurant operators also recognize the need to bring them to the dine-in experience. 

The ability to offer guests a convenient way to pay directly from their seat — without the need to exchange cash or hand over a bank card — is now recognized as table stakes.

Benefits of QR Code Ordering & Payments

  • QR codes save guests time and give them control over their dining experience.
  • Restaurants using QR codes enjoy faster table turns, increased ticket sizes, and savings on labor.
a person sitting at a table with wine glasses

A Trend Toward Guest Empowerment

“Pay-at-the-table has long been a mainstay in other parts of the world such as Europe,” notes Daniel J. Connolly, Ph.D., Professor of Management, College of Business and Public Administration, Drake University. “It was adopted initially as a security measure, when credit card companies implemented chip and PIN to reduce credit card fraud. American restaurants were slow to embrace this technology until the pandemic drove them to implement contactless service.”

Connolly, a frequent contributor and co-author of HT’s research studies, goes on to observe that guests appreciate the convenience and speed of pay-at-the-table solutions. “In our annual Customer Engagement Technology Study, frequent restaurant guests tell us they value this service,” he says. “Restaurants benefit from faster table turns, greater customer throughput, and the freeing up of servers to spend more time waiting on guests and selling.”

Hanson Li, Founder & Managing Partner, Salt Partners Group, echoes this positive assessment. “Restaurants deliver doses of happiness to patrons via food and drink, decor, experience, and service. I view pay-at-the-table as a component of how to make our service better for the patron and, in the process, deliver another dose of happiness.”

a man and a woman standing in front of a window

QR Codes Enhance Efficiency & Revenue

One of the most effective and easily implemented pay-at-the-table solutions, QR codes have experienced a renaissance.

“QR Codes are a perfect example of the re-purposing of an old technology to support a business problem,” says Toby W. Malbec, Managing Director, ConStrata Technology Consulting. “We recognized during the pandemic that customers prefer to minimize exposure to people in order to maintain their personal safety, and that compounded with the ongoing labor challenges has allowed some restaurants to reduce ‘table touches,’ menu print costs, and increase customer comfort around health concerns. Not bad for a technology that has been around since 1994!”

Li observes, “I’m not yet sold on QR code as a menu — but QR code on a receipt is something that I think will stay and spread. The payment dance at the end of a meal is reduced to just one step after the server drops a check. The process is also controlled by the patron — no more unnecessary waiting for the server.” But Li cautions that QR codes will not replace more conventional forms of payment. “I think it's a great option, but we can't expect it to be the only way. This means team members need to observe the table after dropping a check, in case the guests choose to not pay with QR code. This is also the conundrum, as this technology is supposed to help with staffing and cost but yet he still needs to pay attention to the payment dance.”

a man sitting at a table

Mobile POS & Personal Devices

In addition to QR codes, extending a restaurant’s POS to accommodate mobile, handheld staff devices and/or payments directly from guests’ personal devices is now essential.

“The allure of mobility has finally taken hold and now the organizations that have adapted their operations to embrace the changes aren’t looking back,” enthuses Malbec. “We see widespread adoptions at smaller brands where decisions around process changes are easier to identify and adopt, but it shouldn’t be long before major brands also take the plunge. The obstacles at the moment are environmental (meaning the restaurant needs reliable wi-fi from wall-to-wall), financial (the restaurant needs 2X for the number of servers to account for re-charging and inoperable units), and clearly operational, since organizations will need to change their SOPs to fully leverage the value of true server mobility.”

Tamy Duplantis, President of Return on Information, points out the wide demographic open to pay-at-the-table options. “We used to be concerned that only the younger, more tech-savvy customers would use a mobile device to order and pay.  But since the majority of people not only own a cell phone but have learned to use it to find a restaurant via maps, scan a QR code to view a menu, and even use a mobile app to order food or groceries, restaurants can offer self-serve mobile options like pay-at-the-table with less concern that the customer base will not engage.”

Jim Balis, Chief Executive Officer, Sizzling Platter, notes the popularity of server handhelds. “We see better guest adoption of server handhelds than of QR codes. And tipping onscreen is now very popular with our guests. The benefit is there’s no processing step for the server, and no security/data risk — I wish people would communicate the security of it more.”

Li advises that mobile POS — whether handheld or on tabletops — must integrate smoothly into a full-service dining experience. “I would just want to make sure that my staff is still delivering hospitality as a full-service promise with mobile POS helping with the flow — and not in replacement of why I have a full-service, staff-driven restaurant.”

Critical Considerations and Next Steps

What other options may be ahead to meet restaurant guests “where they sit”? And what level of infrastructure is needed to support pay-at-the-table technology?

“I believe there is still value around beaconing and geo-location technology for in-restaurant and prospective customers nearby,” says Malbec. “Whether it’s a fresh batch of cookies that just came out of the oven or an intra-day special premium entrée, the ability to know who is nearby and can take advantage of a ‘now-offer’ can be a powerful sales tool.”

“When it comes to digital experiences at the table, the most common mistake full-service restaurants make is a failure to anticipate the impact of a congested internet connection on the customer experiences,” says Tim Tang, Director, Enterprise Solutions, Hughes. “The occasionally annoying slow internet everyone experiences at home absolutely destroys the brand experience at the table. When the consumer’s LTE connection is congested, they struggle with simple tasks like accessing QR-code menus. When the restaurant’s internet connection is faulty, the consumer becomes furious with repeated attempts at a credit card transaction that takes minutes to complete instead of seconds. To preserve an outstanding dining experience, restaurants must employ appropriate solutions, such as SDWAN and LTE backup, to maintain high application performance over congested internet connections.”