By Erik Ploof

Open a trade magazine and you’ll see plenty of articles and hype surrounding the use of hand-held mobile devices in restaurants. Attend a restaurant conference this year and you’ll come across dozens of new cloud-based POS companies that didn’t exist last year. Watch the investment space and you’ll see millions of dollars being poured into new technologies designed to improve restaurant efficiency in everything from ordering to payments to inventory management. 

Everywhere you look, you’re being reminded that mobile technology, and specifically hand-held tablets,   is the best solution to streamline the ordering and payments process in restaurants.  In some instances a guest is simply presented with a hand-held device displaying the amount due, tip request and signature line. This is referred to as a hand-held terminal separate from the POS terminal, and is similar to the kind that is frequently used in Europe and Canada. In other circumstances, the server presents a slightly more complex device for ordering and payment, referred to as a tablet, which still requires the server to be involved in the payment process.  However, in the rush to streamline, is it possible that everyone has lost sight of the most critical thing - creating a positive customer experience?

Sure, on the surface it seems like using a hand-held tablet for tableside ordering would provide an efficient process for the restaurant. Similarly, using a device for the checkout process feels right as well. Unfortunately, real-life applications don’t always tell the same story, especially when restaurants look to use a single hand-held device for both ordering and payments. In fact, using a single solution for both can be counterproductive and actually harm the customer experience.

Making a move to tablets that combine ordering and payments shouldn’t be taken lightly. Whereas most restaurants can efficiently operate on an average of one stationary POS terminal for every three servers, using a hand-held tablet for ordering and payments means that every server will require their own tablet or be required to share.  You also need to have some extras on hand for those units that need charging during the shift. Due to the high costs and challenges with storing, securing, and charging so many tablets, some restaurants opt for the sharing method. This can make it particularly challenging to gain efficiencies when servers are forced to wait for a device that is currently being used for payments and vice versa. 

Where customer experience can really suffer is during the checkout process. Here are just a few realities:

  • The server, needing the tablet to take orders, is going to try to close out the table when it’s convenient for him/her, not when it’s suitable for the guest.
  • Although a hand-held terminal or tablet enables the payment transaction to be completed away from the POS terminal, it still requires the server to be involved in the payment process and stand watch as the guest completes the payment.   
  • While the hand-held tablet is being tied up with the checkout process for one customer, the server is unable to attend to the remaining dining guests.
  • Guests often don’t appreciate having their server hover over them while they determine the same server’s tip.
  • If a guest’s card is declined it can lead to an embarrassing moment for the guest and server.
  • In the end, ordering is a social experience and payments is a private one.

If customers lose the ability to pay at their convenience and instead have to pay when the server comes by with the tablet, it can lead to a frustrating and tense interaction for both sides - but especially for the customer.

To eliminate this tension, some restaurants have found that it’s best not to lean too heavily on what sometimes is called an all-in-one device by keeping the ordering and checkout process separate. Fortunately, restaurants do not have to abandon the idea of a streamlined payment process or go back to traditional checkout methods. Solutions like the RAIL from TableSafe offer a familiar customer checkout experience with added benefits. The solution includes an EMV-certified payment platform that is designed to be left with the guest at the time of payment.  Guests control the entire payment process while maintaining the privacy they desire.  Best of all, servers are free to focus on service, not on payments. 

By maintaining separation between ordering and payment transactions, solutions like TableSafe’s RAIL payment platform can increase table turns, preserve guest privacy during the payment process and improve the restaurant’s overall efficiency - without disrupting the customer experience.  This, in turn, maintains the restaurant’s hospitality and brand experience while enabling key operational efficiencies.