Your Guide to Restaurant Pay at the Table Technology

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Contemplating using pay at the table technology at your restaurant? Here are the pros and cons of this contactless technology.

What is Pay at the Table?

Pay at the table technology allows restaurant guests to order items or pay their tab by scanning a QR code with their smartphone or via a handheld point of sale device used by a server.

Pay at the table options are becoming increasingly popular among restaurants of all types, from fast casual to fine dining, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, hospitality often came in the form of long chats with attentive servers and other front-of-house staff who checked on them frequently. But was the typical payment process actually adding hospitality to the experience?

Here’s how a typical payment process goes for customers paying via credit card:

  1. You flag down the server and let them know you’re ready for the check.
  2. Your server drops the check at the table, and you leave your card.
  3. The server comes by to grab your card, and processes payment at the central POS (which may take a few or several minutes, depending on how busy a restaurant is and how many tables the server has).
  4. The server comes back with your receipt and walks away.
  5. You calculate the tip, and the server returns to grab the receipt again.

Before the pandemic, the idea of pay at the table technology could have seemed cold and robotic, because it removes a few of the touchpoints between a server and customer — breaking with tradition in an industry that thrives on friendliness and warm interactions. But really, as Andrea Borgen told us at our Restaurant Recovery Staffing event last fall, no one is wowed by how well a server swipes a credit card. What really matters is a server’s ability to guide the guest through their meal, suggesting menu items, upselling, and ensuring that everything meets their standards. Taking payment in the traditional way isn’t going to improve a guest’s experience, but delighting them with new, convenient tech might.

And as the pandemic continues to loom, guests' expectations have changed entirely, and the industry is adapting to make everyone feel safer. This is leading to a new type of hospitality that thrives through adopting new technology. Lingering small talk and a drawn-out payment process have been, for now, replaced with speedy interactions and even speedier payments, along with an emphasis on safety and cleanliness and social distancing measures. To provide the feeling of safety and speed that this environment has necessitated, many small business owners have pivoted away from the traditional card and receipt model.

And when COVID is long gone, guests will be thrilled to bring back the chatting and lingering connection — but they won’t want to give up the convenience of the pay at the table processing they’ve learned to love this year.

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How does pay at the table work with handheld point of sale?

Quick and contactless payment options (like order and pay at the table technology, or a pay at the table POS) are quickly becoming the norm, in order to minimize contact with menus and other high-touch items. Handheld-based platforms that process payments, email receipts to customers, and include loyalty and rewards programs are now the top choice, even for restaurants who have clung onto the traditional paper receipt model for decades.

Restaurants can save both time and money, increase profits and tips, and reduce waste while providing benefits to customers, which makes tableside pay even more appealing.

How does pay at the table work with QR codes?

An increasingly popular, newer type of pay at the table technology is Order & Pay, where guests scan a QR code from their phone to access a restaurant’s full menu. The entire mobile ordering process — opening the menu, selecting food and drinks, paying the bill, and adding gratuity — is all done from the guest’s phone. There’s no menus, receipts, credit cards, or pens to touch — ever. 

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

The Cons of Pay at the Table Technology

1. Technology requires upfront investment

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. Plus, the reporting and analytics provided by cloud-based point of sale systems give you a wealth of powerful information to help you increase revenue.

While the upfront costs can be expensive, staying current with new technology can save you money and time in the long run. For example, handheld POS systems increase table turns by reducing how many times a server walks back and forth to a central POS system (which is 4-5 times per table, on average). By reducing that number to zero, servers can focus on what matters most — delivering exceptional service to more tables — and turning those same tables 15-20% faster than restaurants that don’t use handheld POS systems. 

And even though Order & Pay at the table technology is cashless, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have less cash flowing into your coffers — in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Alpine Inn in California, like many restaurants, was struggling to pivot in the new COVID landscape, especially as the state reopened. After adopting Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ technology, guests were given complete control over the ordering process and they saw their numbers increase — the average check size went up 45%, and Alpine Inn restaurant is now processing over $100,000 in orders each week using Toast Mobile Order & Pay™, which represents almost 90% of their on-premise dining volume. In a time where restaurants are hurting, Toast Mobile Order & Pay™ has allowed Alpine Inn to thrive. 

2. A different customer experience

Customers sometimes like to decide when and where they’re going to pay, and don’t like to feel rushed while dining. Over the years, customers have learned to take a dropped check as a signal to move out of the table. But while Order & Pay technology eliminates dropped checks and puts this process in the customer’s own hands, this might make some customers feel unwelcome to linger. And using handheld POS systems can require the employee to stand at the table while payment is made, making customers feel like their tipping and totaling process is under surveillance. 

But pay at the table setups simply take a little getting used to, and customer education is a big part of that. Train your servers to explain your payment options at the beginning of their interactions with guests, to keep checking on them throughout the meal, and to keep hospitality and connection top of mind.

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.

The Benefits of Pay at the Table Technology

1. Customer security

When other countries look at the U.S. 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 financial information. 

Handheld POS systems also gives customers the opportunity to use even more secure forms of payment like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, which uses biometric information or passwords to securely store and transmit credit card numbers.

And with Order & Pay technology, customers key in their own card numbers, so the whole transaction is in their hands.

2. Improve table turn times

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.

3. Higher tips

Restaurants can also see higher tips due to using pay at the table systems like handhelds and Order & Pay at the table. This can be attributed to two aspects of handhelds: first, the increased awareness through the tip prompt screen that appears before the signature screen. Tip increases are great for the whole restaurant, resulting in happier staff and greater productivity. And secondly, servers can cover more tables with this tech, meaning more table turns and more tips each service.

Toast Go® 2
The Next Generation of Handheld POS

4. Reduce Labor Cost

With order and pay at the table technology, guests are in complete control, which is a great thing for your business. Guests don’t have to wait for menus or checks, which keeps the staff focused on connecting with guests, promoting upsells, and assisting them with choosing menu items. 

Without your staff worrying about processing payments or receipts, you can operate as efficiently (or even faster) with fewer servers. With easy to pay, contactless options, guests can rest assured that you’re taking proper safety measures during COVID (and you can rest assured that payments are made safely, too).

5. 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?

6. Say goodbye to receipt paper

Restaurants are some of the worst offenders for waste in general, but getting rid of paper receipts helps 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 reduce paper usage 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.

Pay at the Table Technology: The Verdict

Pay at the table technology is efficient, has proven ROI, can be used by full-serve and quick-serve restaurants, and has been embraced by diners. If you’re asking yourself "Is pay at the table technology right for my restaurant?" the answer is yes. Pay at the table technology provides an option that reduces your overall spending on paper products, while providing your staff and guests with a sense of safety and security. Add in the high morale due to increased tips and faster table turnarounds, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the switch earlier. 

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Toast Mobile Order & Pay™
Give guests the experience they're looking for with mobile order & pay - easy access to what they want, when they want it, from their own device.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.