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A Thing

Serving up the foodie POS

By Scott Henry

On any given day across the United States, a couple dozen stories about identity theft are likely to be published. The number easily spikes when a high-profile situation develops, such as the theft of a government laptop containing information on millions of consumers.

This media blitz has heightened consumers' awareness of risks associated with turning over credit and debit cards at the POS. It has also created a new selling opportunity for you.

As VeriFone's Gary Fravel noted in this publication last month, nearly 60% of respondents in a recent survey indicated a high level of concern regarding potentially fraudulent use of their credit cards with existing payment systems (see "Scuttle those restaurant skimmers," by Gary Fravel, The Green Sheet, Aug. 14, 2006, issue 06:08:01).

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission reported that identity theft accounted for 37% of all complaints filed with the agency in 2005.

The pay-at-the-table payoff

As American consumers demand more control over the payment process, your ability to provide merchants with solutions, such as pay-at-the-table, will be vital to retaining their loyalty. Consumers increasingly want to hold on to their cards and are exerting strong affinity for self-service payment operations. This is evident in self-checkout lanes at supermarkets and home improvement stores.

If you're not actively prospecting the restaurant market, you're passing up a huge opportunity to reach a merchant base of more than 200,000 businesses nationwide. Sales at full-service restaurants are projected to reach $173.4 billion in 2006, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Already well-accepted in European markets, pay-at-the-table is an answer whose time has come in the United States. New form-factors in wireless terminal design and the proliferation of high-speed wireless networks have fueled the pay-at-the-table reality. These advances enable mobile payment systems that servers can place on the table, allowing diners to swipe their own credit cards and enter PIN debit numbers. And, PIN debit represents a tremendous cost-savings opportunity for restaurants.

To leverage this trend, it's incumbent that we provide consumers with an effortless, pleasant experience and ensure that transactions can be completed expediently with minimal merchant intervention. To accomplish this, application user interfaces (UIs) must be designed with a holistic view of the dining experience, factoring in consumer mindsets and levels of technical expertise.

But mobile devices and associated UIs are only part of the equation. Restaurants will need a way to manage transactions and settle payments. Larger operations have the luxury of integrating pay-at-the-table devices with existing restaurant POS management systems, such as Micros and Aloha. Smaller operations need to decide which management systems will most effectively meet their needs.

It's possible, of course, for stand-alone wireless POS terminals to communicate directly to a processor. In this model, all wireless terminals operate independently and retain separate daily batches. To run reports, close tabs or batch, each terminal must be addressed independently. This is practical only if restaurateurs intend to use just two or three wireless terminals.

The managed-services marvel

In many cases, though, restaurants will want to use multiple wireless payment terminals to enhance the efficiency and benefits of pay-at-the-table solutions. Without terminal and transaction consolidation, such solutions are difficult to manage, at best. They require exorbitant time and effort to run reports, adjust tips, complete daily batches and so on.

This is where managed payment services rise to the challenge. Managed payment services provide complete online management. In the case of pay-at-the-table, managed payment services enable transaction consolidation and reporting, terminal management and automated settlement services.

A robust managed payment service should allow restaurant operators to log on to their PCs and access host services to develop a multitude of reports, including detailed transaction summaries, server details, IRS tip data, etc. The approach doesn't require an enterprise POS system. However, it does provide merchants with many of the following benefits typical of much higher-end systems:

  • Transaction information is stored in a managed, online environment that is removed from merchant locations.
  • Any terminal in merchant facilities can initiate or complete transactions.
  • A server can initiate a transaction on one device and complete it on a second. In the interim, the server can leave the first device at another table without interrupting the payment flow.
  • Reporting functions for an entire enterprise can be completed from any terminal.
  • Transaction history can be viewed from any PC with Internet access, providing restaurants with a full suite of reporting functions.
  • Batch close can be preprogrammed on the gateway, enabling merchants to make transaction adjustments, while providing the appearance of a host-capture system.

Managed payment services is a relatively new business model for the POS. Using services and software, a service provider consolidates information technology and removes it from a business location to a third-party host. In essence, this takes the management of technology out of the end-user's hands.

By hiring professionals to service and maintain your system, you are guaranteed reliability. And by streamlining an information system, you eliminate lengthy rollout and training time.

Just as importantly, this type of approach eliminates the issue of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard noncompliance: No cardholder data is stored in terminals.

As consumers grow increasingly wary about card security, more merchants will look to accept payment at the table. Be ready to educate them on how wireless pay-at-the-table increases consumer account security, while at the same time, it speeds up table turnover and reduces wait times for tables and check settlement.

Scott Henry is Global Software Product Manager with VeriFone. He can be reached at

Article published in issue number 060901

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