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Street SmartsSM:
Secret Recipes for Selling to Restaurants

By Amy B. Garvey

Before working in the payment processing industry, my background was in foodservice, so I know that vendors always enter a restaurant through the back door, in the kitchen. When I became a merchant level salesperson (MLS), I would do the same when calling on restaurants.

At one point I learned that this approach is considered a no-no because "I'm a professional salesperson, not a food vendor." However, not knowing this "rule" actually helped me. I always received a fantastic response by entering through the kitchen, so I continue to do so today.

This is only one of many tips about selling to restaurants that I have learned so far in my career. Whenever I've sought advice from others in the industry on how to pursue a particular merchant type, they've always been more than happy to help. In return, I want to share this knowledge with you.

Restaurants are my favorite target market for a number of reasons, including: They have few chargebacks and high charge volume. They also usually use an integrated POS system, which practically eliminates technical and service issues.

What are some other ways to get your foot in the door at restaurants? Keep reading for some helpful advice.

Consider the Environment

When calling on a prospective restaurant, walking in dressed to the nines at noon on a Friday will virtually seal your fate: You won't get the business. Instead, dress more casually and only go in before 11:00 a.m. or between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Also, avoid a restaurant's busiest days. If you don't know what these are, call during off-hours and ask.

As with any merchant category, beware of promising the moon. Understand that if restaurants have a problem, it will most likely occur on a busy Saturday night, not a slow Monday afternoon. At their busiest times, restaurants are the least patient with calling a help desk's 800-number. Providing personal service, particularly to locations not using an integrated POS system, is of utmost importance, but it's also necessary to set expectations.

Although I make it a point to tell my clients that I am not ALWAYS available, I do try to answer my cell phone when it rings, even if it's at a late hour. If I can help customers, for example, by simply telling them to press Function 71 and Enter to enable the printer on their Hypercom POS terminal, I will save them an average of 10 minutes calling in to a help desk.

Become a Customer

When first approaching a restaurant, consider the clientele. A burger joint will have a different average ticket and service concerns than a five-star restaurant. Review the restaurant's menu beforehand; if possible, dine there. Get a feel for the flow of customers, amount of table turn and pace of the wait staff.

Sit at the bar, and talk with the bartender. Bartenders usually have the lowdown and often don't mind sharing it. After all, most people talk rather than listen to bartenders. Most of these professionals welcome the opportunity to share restaurant gossip and their own frustrations. They also tend to have a fairly close relationship with the owners or managers and might provide a good lead-in for you.

Learn some industry jargon and buzzwords. An item that has been "eighty-sixed" is sold out. If someone is "in the weeds," they're so busy they can't even think straight.

Serve as a Consultant to the Business

Understand that restaurant employees are usually younger folks with little or no vested interest in the financial well-being of their employer. Speak with restaurant owners about skimming. They will more likely trust someone who understands what they deal with on a daily basis. If you're lucky, you might get an equipment sale out of it, too.

Make sure you discuss password protection for returns or voids and batch transmissions. Once, I reviewed a restaurant's recent processing statements and noticed that for three months in a row, the business had a return of about $3,000, while the average ticket was only $150.

The restaurant manager logged the statement totals into the accounting software, and the accountant made sure it all added up at the end of the month, but no one double-checked to make sure the charges were correct or that nothing fishy was going on.

It turned out the restaurant manager was initiating returns to her own credit card, hoping to pay it off over time. Although I felt bad that my observations cost the manager her job, I gained the restaurant owner's trust and appreciation and landed the account. Make sure owners know that they are ultimately responsible for transactions that occur in their business.

Research the potential fines charged to restaurants that don't verify signatures. Volunteer to review card Association recommended procedures with management and staff. Although I now know that servers should always verify signatures, during my 12 years in foodservice, no one ever mentioned this detail to me.

I know of a local restaurant chain recently hit with a $10,000 fine for this infringement. I guarantee that mentioning a number like this will get prospects' attention. Make suggestions to restaurant owners on how they should store transaction records in case of a chargeback or questionable activity.

Offer additional training sessions as their staff changes, which happens often. I generally suggest training at least once every three months; the time is well worth the investment. An average-size restaurant account with $50,000 or more in monthly volume will easily generate $75 of monthly income for you.

Get to know various integrated POS systems and the capabilities of the stand-alone equipment you offer. Find out from local equipment vendors what a restaurant running its system would be charged to change processors. Most system providers of MICROS, Squirrel and Aloha charge a significant fee for any changes or additions to an existing system. Keep a list of these vendors handy, and contact them to learn of any fees associated with your service.

When calling on new restaurants, inform prospects of these fees. The POS contract states the fees, but many sales agents speed right through this part in a contract review. Some fail to mention it altogether.

Value-added services such as gift cards and check conversion are seeing tremendous growth in this market. Know the products you can offer and how well they integrate with the various POS systems. Again, most system providers charge for software and installation of new "modules." If you don't include this price in your initial quote for gift card services, you will have an irate customer.

Offer Solutions to Problems

Observe the servers and management. Is everyone fairly relaxed and jovial, or are they running around trying to keep their heads above water? What can you as an MLS offer to help turn some of these situations into more positive ones?

Can you provide an easier tip adjustment method? What about a reasonably priced terminal that servers take to the table to prevent skimming that also allows the restaurant to take advantage of PIN debit rates?

Can you assist the restaurant in finding a solution for faster transactions or provide names of service reps in the area? What about additional funding against a restaurant's credit card volume so it can buy a new deep-fryer?

I've often found that simple things get the attention of restaurant owners. Provide them with clear plastic protective covers for their POS terminals. We all know most models cannot withstand getting wet, and I can't think of a more likely location for a spill than a countertop in a busy restaurant.

American Express Co. (AmEx) and Discover Financial Services provide free materials such as reservation books and tip trays. Order these products for your merchants and have them shipped directly to the restaurants.Make sure you put restaurants on a monthly ratherthan daily discount. Restaurants do so many transactions in a batch that if their daily deposits do not match their batch reports, an accounting nightmare results.

Occasionally, you might land a restaurant account by keeping their rates where they are (or even raising them), by split-dialing to AmEx. I've saved some merchants as much as $75 a month simply by getting rid of their AmEx transaction fees.

Get Involved in Their Industry

Keep in touch with restaurant industry news in general. Read "The Restaurant Times," for example.

If you read about restaurant equipment auctions being held in the area, send restaurant owners an e-mail to let them know when and where. They might already have the information, but chances are good that it's buried on a counter somewhere beneath a stack of invoices, menus and aprons.

Join local and state restaurant associations and attend the meetings. Tell members that you are a sales rep who specializes in their industry.

Restaurateurs tend to be a tight-knit community. If you can get these people to talk to one another about something unique and effective that you offer clients, you will get more sales.

Remember: Never sell yourself short. One of the greatest lessons I learned upon entering this industry was in the very first restaurant kitchen that I entered. After meeting with the owner a few times and reviewing copies of his statements, I dejectedly returned to tell him there was nothing I could do for his business.

Somehow he had flown under the radar when the last rate increase became effective, and he was currently priced at below cost. Meaning, it would cost him $40 more per month to switch his services over to me.

He looked me in the eye and said, "What makes you think that money is the only thing that matters to me?" He wanted better service and a faster response to his needs. To him, it was worth the extra $40 a month to know I would help resolve any issues within a reasonable period of time.

Amy B. Garvey is Secretary of NAOPP. She is an MLS in the Upstate of South Carolina for New York-based Business Payment Systems. Call her at 864-901-8722 or e-mail her at agarvey@bpsmerchant.net .

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