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I know this sounds like the old joke about a light bulb or a chicken crossing the road, but the way some restaurants operate, the joke is on them.  There are many restaurants that have their servers pick up checks from a cashier.  Then, the check is brought to the patron who pays (with a credit card in this case).  The server must then bring the credit card back to the cashier who will run the ticket and return to the server a payment slip along with a receipt.  The server has to bring the paperwork and credit card back to the patron who signs for their check.  Lastly, the server has to bring the signed slip back to the cashier.

In this scenario, if either the server or the cashier gets busy during any part of the back and forth process, it is the patron who suffers.  There also is a simple rule when dealing with people – the more you have people involved with a process, the more opportunity there is for something to go wrong.  With the recent boom in technology, especially in the fast casual space, there is no reason for restaurants to support this antiquated method of accepting payments.

One of the hottest trends to speed up the check out process and increase customer satisfaction is tableside checkout.  This involves a payment device that a server can bring to a table instead of their check.  The device lists everything that the paper check would, and the patron can swipe their credit card right there at the table.  The server no longer has to run back and forth to check the table out, and most importantly, the customer never has to turn over their credit card to anyone.  This eliminates a major avenue for theft from skimming. (To learn more about skimming click here).

Implementing this type of tableside service does require an investment in equipment and wireless infrastructure, but compared to the faster table turn over and customer satisfaction, that cost is minimal.  It is important to understand that this type of check out process will require wireless communication, and that should not be taken lightly.  Make sure that if you consider using wireless in your restaurants that you look into how to do so securely. (Click here to learn more about wireless security).

Especially today, restaurants need to do everything they can to increase profit.  That can be done by improving efficiency or increasing prices.  Table side systems allows restaurateurs to improve their bottom line without reaching further into the wallets of their customers.  That is a win-win scenario which is why so many fast casual establishments are embracing the technology.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Curtis Stevens
    Table-side ordering and checkout are both relatively new. Table-side ordering isn't too expensive for the restauranteurs to implement, depending on their POS system. When it comes to checkout or pay at the table, that is a different story. Most POS systems cannot support it. Will it be the future? I'm going to say probably not. The cost involved is very high. Plus, you are talking about something very expensive in the hands of the waitstaff, something they can steal. You have the same concerns with table-side ordering too, such as using an iPad to accomplish that task.

    I believe PCI compliance would be a major hurdle for anyone wanting to do pay at the table. If it is going to ever become standard, you will see many of the major casual dining chains implement it first. If they don't abandon it, that is a great sign.

  • Brad Cyprus
    While it is true that several POS systems are still not compatible with the numerous pay at the table options that exist, many of the most widely used systems do have technology partners to supply this already. Furthermore, some significant restaurant brands have just announced that they are in trials with pay at the table technologies ( It is unlikely that this technology will simply disappear. Most of western Europe adopted this technology over 10 years ago, and Canada just finished rolling out it out over the past few years.

    As far as PCI compliance goes, paying at the table can actually reduce someone’s PCI burden rather than increase it. There is the complexity of wireless to consider, but many of the table side payment systems integrate point to point encryption along with tokenization and hosted gateway services. Additionally, skimming opportunities are also reduced which is not so much a direct PCI concern but an overall increase in security none-the-less. We have not yet run into a pay at the table implementation (that was integrated into the POS system) that prevented someone from achieving PCI compliance, and I believe the reason is that the companies providing these solutions understand the needs of their customers and consider security while developing their products. So far, security has not been a core problem, but it is always a good idea to consider how any new technology will affect the overall security of a restaurant.

    The bottom line is that I would never suggest that any single technology is right for every environment, but there can be real ROI benefits to pay at the table including faster table turn, increased customer satisfaction, and PCI scope reduction. Everyone who is looking for ways to increase profit should at least perform a cost / benefit analysis for this technology to see it will pay off in their restaurant since it has the potential to do so.
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Brad Cyprus
Bradley K. Cyprus has more than 20 years experience in the security industry. He manages the development of in-house solutions to validate compliance, and he is a resource that Vendor Safe customers can rely upon to help interpret the PCI standard.
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