Robt Sadeckas

Grow Guest Satisfaction and Refine the Dining Experience with Next-Gen Payment Capabilities

The year is 2019, and technology is converging with table service in a profound way. It’s being led in the U.S. by the transition to EMV payments. Chip cards, and their NFC-enabled equivalent, require interaction by the guest, necessitating the availability of payments at the table. This simple logistical shift has the potential to influence much more in fine-dining and other environments than simply eliminating the inefficient, fraud-filled “card dance” that currently takes place at the table whenever a guest pays their check.

Pay-at-table is a disruptive technology, offering opportunities to add considerable value for restaurants. Table payment gives operators an innovative channel to digitally “converse” with the guest – perhaps with a last chance to secure additional wallet share. Expected uses include prompts that tempt the guest with promotions on desserts, coffee, cordials or aperitifs, for example. The guest may also be tempted with an offer that promises a prix fixe menu for a reduced fee when prepaid, or digital gift cards to be sent to recipients who would enjoy a similar dining experience.

Timely delivery of such offers is known to increase guest spend. What’s more, the amount is simply added to the check to increase overall revenue, making the additional spend quite easy for everyone.

Coincidentally, pay-at-table also helps promote environmental stewardship. It digitally captures guest and check details, making e-receipts, surveys and even promotions easier to execute. Restaurants have a cumulative impact on the environment and moving toward sustainability with paper reduction is a small, but important step that offers restaurants a social and competitive advantage.

Guests Want to Share

In addition to eliminating paper versions of customer data, surveys or receipts, this new digital feedback device offers information in real-time – while the dining experience is fresh on the minds of guests. An obvious advantage of this real-time feedback is the operator’s ability to influence the dining outcome by addressing guest concerns while the guest is still present. It creates more opportunity to turn what could be a negative experience into a delightful one, which until now has been a challenge.

Properties have also reported significant increases in their ability to contact guests after their visit. According to payment device manufacturer, Ingenico, restaurant operators have reported an increase in their customer contacts, including phone and email, from around 12 percent to as many as 72 percent of guest visitors willing to share their data. This is a result of device prompts during the payment process. Guest interaction and feedback is important to refining the dining experience and generating business momentum.

The U.S. Is Different

There are some reports that discount the pay-at-table technology available in the U.S., citing that it differs significantly from the familiar, international dining experience. While true that outside the states guests typically do not add a gratuity, in the states tipping is an essential part of the food-service economy. Still, tips can add to the complexity of the “card dance” after the meal, as the check total is authorized and updated by the server, but only after the tip is added to the check. But in the mobile payment environment – namely pay-at-table – the consumer adds gratuity to the amount displayed on the device prior to processing the card. This can be made more convenient for guests by offering preprogrammed or suggested tip amounts. Using this approach, the total amount is understood prior to authorization, which brings table dining and payments more in line with retail payment workflows and eliminates the need for the card dance altogether.

Another area of complexity sometimes cited is the use of PINs for cardholder verification versus the use of signatures. For credit transactions in the U.S., signatures have long been the traditional method to authenticate transactions. That is, verifying the signature panel on the back of the card. In most global markets, consumers typically have all their banking services at a single financial institution. In many ways this simplifies payment processing. With just a single PIN used for purchases, it’s easy enough to remember it. However, U.S. consumers may have multiple bank relationships and sometimes a half dozen credit cards at any one time. Most only know a single PIN, and it’s most often the one associated with a debit card to enable ATM transactions. But in April 2018, credit card companies agreed to eliminate the requirement for signature authentication on EMV transactions in the states. This helps mitigate the recall challenges as U.S. consumers don’t have to try to remember multiple PINs.

More Marketing Opportunities

Technology presents one of the most important marketing strategies in business today. Pay-at-table is no exception. It is the catalyst to digitally engage guests in the physical world. The presentation of technology at the table creates more opportunity for restaurant operators to increase brand exposure, as well as incremental revenue. It provides a vehicle for guest interaction, gathering valuable contact details, feedback about the service or meal, and delivering promotions to foster return visits. Over time, this engagement at the table will expand to include interactive digital menus, allowing guests to review multiple aspects of a given menu item (e.g. ingredients, allergens, nutrition, images, reviews, etc.).

Marketing strategies can be as creative as the team using the technology. Examples such as “May we tempt you with a slice of our delicious homemade apple pie?” and “Thank you and please enjoy 10% off you next meal,” or “Send an eGift to someone,” all have been successful tactics to increase average spend.

Looking to the immediate future, restaurants that partner with ride shares, theaters, sports and concert venues, museums, and other area businesses can help promote a sense of community and further enhance the guest’s experience.

Next-Gen Table Service

We’ve come a long way from the first iteration of tableside order placement and payment processing. Not so long ago, these were multiple devices cobbled together, consisting of a tablet on a sled with an attached payment device.

Today, all-inclusive order placement and payment devices are appearing in the market. These are more compact than ever, yet robust enough to run the POS and accept card payments with a quick dip, tap or swipe – whichever the guest prefers. These can be found around casinos floors or poolside, for example – areas where the need to communicate orders and process payments from afar are important.

Courtesy of iStock

It won’t be long before these are introduced into more businesses where they can help create additional revenue, hinting at upsells and cross-sells. It’s becoming much easier for service staff to sell more without creating a disjointed experience, such as having to carry around multiple devices or running back and forth between stationary terminals and guests. Today’s convergence of technology with table service provides new ways to enhance the dining experience, giving servers real-time access to information and suggestions that were previously only captured on whiteboards in the server area or on crib notes maintained by the individual server.

Next-Gen Mobile Payments

Today, companies like Ingenico and Verifone have devices that provide basic pay-at-table functionality, but be on the lookout for next-generation devices by both companies. Payment devices are being designed with much greater flexibility for interacting with guests and refining the pay-at-table process. Displays on these devices are expected to have much more real estate for marketing and an HTML5 touch screen to effectively engage the guest.

In addition to accepting all the traditional payments, the next-gen mobile payment devices offer guests the flexibility to pay using mobile wallets. Think Apple Pay, Google Pay, Android Pay, as well as the acceptance of lower-cost PIN debit transactions. In the current environment of server-processed payments, the guest doesn’t have access to the payment device, so they can’t tap their phone or enter a PIN. With next-gen, mobile, pay-at-table devices, those limitations are altogether eliminated.

Widespread Mobile Apps

Most of us already have at least one, and some of us have multiple payment apps. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) payments allow guests to access and pay their check using their smart device. Storing cards and processing payments using apps like Apple, Android, Google, PayPal, WeChat or AliPay bring convenience and security to restaurants.

Next-gen mobile payment devices offer guests the flexibility to pay using mobile wallets. Think Apple Pay, Google Pay, Android Pay.

Some apps afford operators additional convenience with mobile integration to the restaurant’s POS application, where the check can be viewed throughout the dining experience to ensure orders have been placed timely and accurately. In some apps this functionality has been extended to include reordering items and automatically adding those items to the guest’s check. Restaurants find that these apps are increasing their average check as guests have greater control and service is timelier.

Good Financial Sense

Reports have shown that pay-at-table increases server productivity, eliminating 60 percent of the steps from the current server-managed payment process. Most of those eliminated steps represent the greatest exposure restaurants have from employee-initiated fraud. As many restaurant owners and operators know, there are issues with this process. When the card leaves the guest’s sight, it significantly elevates the potential for fraud. Having the guest process their own payment and entering their own tip on the payment device virtually eliminates opportunities for card-skimming and tip-adjusting.

Critical Success Factors

Employee satisfaction is critical to the successful deployment and maintenance of pay-at-table workflows. Servers can make or break the dining experience based on their guest interaction skills, menu knowledge and response time. Pay-at-table executed well can help servers meet their performance metrics in some of these areas. Furthermore, studies have shown that when presented with pre-defined tipping options, overall tip amounts increase. Consumers simply choose a percentage or enter a flat amount and the total is automatically calculated. Eliminating the math leaves the guest with a more favorable impression, and servers often see increased tips as a result.

Perhaps a more controversial metric lies with server productivity, and specifically table turns. Pay-at-table brings notable improvements in the time it takes to serve guests, and this includes a reduction in guest wait times. Time savings are estimated in the range of seven to 13 minutes. Not disputed is the fact that pay-at-table frees up a server’s time which translates to greater accessibility and better service for all guests – another potential driver to higher tips.

Finally, that extra 7 to 13 minutes over a five- or six-hour dining window translates to more guests being seated and served quicker, including a higher guest satisfaction rate when shown to their table within, or less than, their estimated wait times. Moreover, this expedited flow often results in additional seating during the busiest periods.

This technological shift can influence much more in dining environments than simply eliminating the risky and inefficient card dance as guests pay their checks. And those additional table turns not only result in additional revenue, but also generally equate to more tips for servers, with more satisfied guests who are likely to return and tell their friends.

Robt Sadeckas is the Director of Product Management for Payments at Agilysys, a leader in hospitality technology for more than 40 years. The company is known for its leadership in gaming, its broad product offerings and its customer-centric service. Some of the largest hospitality companies around the world use Agilysys solutions to help improve guest loyalty, drive revenue growth and increase operational efficiencies.