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Hungry for More Business? Quick Service Restaurant Industry Dishes Up Opportunity
By Michelle Graff

Consumers are demanding the convenience of plastic everywhere they go - supermarkets, gas stations, drug stores, video stores and restaurants. And now debit and credit card acceptance is emerging into a space that historically accepted only cash - the quick service restaurant (QSR) market - where the average ticket may be less than $12 and speed is king.

Take a look at the market. The top 50 chains operate more than 100,000 stores. Franchisees operate the majority of the QSR units, so while they all share a single brand, they make many individual decisions regarding store operations, equipment purchases and even card acceptance.

The Opportunity Is Now

A wave of card acceptance is occurring in the QSR space. The market is opening up because of several factors:

  • Competition: Today's pace finds families on the run. Dual incomes, school, soccer practice - it all adds up to a busy lifestyle. Families are turning to supermarkets, restaurants and take-out as sources of home meal replacement (HMR), a growing percentage of disposable income. And savvy QSR operators understand that a family of five easily can spend more than $20 on a meal. To earn their share of HMR dollars, they need to offer the same convenience found at businesses competing for a family's wallet. That means extending the convenience of plastic to their customers. And once the chain "across the street" accepts debit and credit, the domino effect will take hold, and competition between the QSR chains will drive widespread adoption.

  • Aggressive Pricing Models: As the card associations and acquirers vie for this space, they are brokering deals with QSR chain headquarters to extend "best in class" pricing to all participating franchisees. In many cases, this allows an owner of one or two stores to receive the same terminal and transaction rates as those operating 200 stores.

  • Faster Transactions: Historically, one of the barriers to entry in this market was the fact that transactions needed to be fast. Today, a combination of quick-pay programs from the card associations, combined with advances in IP communications that result in transaction times of 2-4 seconds, means transaction times don't slow down the checkout process.

Keep it Simple

As this market opens up, it's important that everyone in the payment industry - from terminal manufacturers, to acquirers and processors, to ISOs and Merchant Level Salespersons - understands the unique challenges facing QSR operators and the solutions that will result in success. So put yourself in the shoes of the franchise operator and design a total solution to win their business. Here are some tips that might prove successful:

  • Easy to Use: High clerk turnover means QSR operators are constantly hiring and training new employees. Therefore, systems must be easy to use. Today's intuitive ATM-style payment terminals speed training time and greatly reduce clerk errors. The software application must be simple to customize by activating parameters. Providers must offer a variety of configurations - from stand-alone dial, to LAN, to integrated POS - to fit into the widely varied POS environment of QSR operators.

  • Drive-thru Operations: Nearly 65% of all QSR transactions take place at the drive-thru window. Therefore, it is essential to capture payment information at the "point of order" so consumers can simply swipe, order and drive around to the pick-up window. Point-of-order devices must be durable enough to withstand the elements of heat, humidity, cold and frost, yet must be designed for easy access and ease of use.

  • Value-added Applications: In our industry, merchant retention is one of the keys to a profitable business. Before approaching a QSR account, ask yourself what other services can be offered that add value to the merchant countertop, making it more difficult for the operator to "unplug." Certainly, an application such as gift cards comes to mind. In order to securely run multiple applications in the same device, make sure the solution supports true application separation at the hardware and software levels.

A Menu of Solutions

The QSR market is diverse and fragmented, requiring a menu of solutions to serve the needs of individual stores operating a variety of POS equipment. Your choices include stand-alone payment, integrated POS payment and even unique payment solutions that can withstand the abuse of the drive-thru lane.

Quick service requires quick payment; the payment system can be an important aspect of consumer satisfaction if it fulfills certain requirements:

  • Must fit easily into the environment. Fast service for high consumer volumes is essential. Consumers can't be kept waiting while transactions are processed.

  • Must be easy to learn. High clerk turnover requires terminals that are simple to learn and operate.

  • Must be reliable. Terminals must resist the hard knocks of the quick service environment.

  • Must be fast. If terminals support advanced communications such as DSL, you can expect transaction times to be 2-4 seconds - just the fast time needed for fast food. Terminals also should take advantage of special quick service options, such as disabling receipt printing, to speed consumers through the payment process. Customer-activated terminals such as those used at supermarkets and drug stores can further speed throughput by eliminating the need for consumers to pass cards across the counter.

So if you're looking for the last bastion of new opportunity for first-time card acceptance, look no further than your next meal. Drive up and supersize your business!

Michelle Graff is Director of Global Marketing for VeriFone.

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