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Outdated Technology in Restaurants


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You finish your meal, then ask for the check. After awhile the server comes back and hands you the bill. He goes away. You look at it, confirm it's correct, and then take out your credit card. With any luck a few minutes later the server takes card and bill away and five minutes later returns with the credit card slip. You add the tip, sign and go.

 

If you travel outside the US you realize what a huge and unnecessary PITA that is. In the most recent issue of the Daily Beast they write about this -

 

 

Check, Please! America’s restaurant technology is worse than Polynesia’s.by Michael Tomasky |March 25, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

It happened again not long ago. We went out to dinner and had a perfectly pleasant meal. We were sated. Ready to go. Then we sat. And I wondered what I always wonder: Who among my fellow Americans enjoys this ritual? You ask for the check. The waiter walks away. He brings it. He walks away again. You put your card in the little sleeve. You wait. The waiter picks it up. He walks away again. Eventually, after reciting the specials at one table and opening a bottle of wine at another, he returns. And finally, 20 minutes after you were ready to leave, the restaurant is ready for you to leave.

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America's restaurant technology is worse than Polynesia's. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Reuters)

Within those 20 minutes is contained not just the customer’s inconvenience, but a national crisis and disgrace. America suffers from a terrifying restaurant technology gap. Throughout much of the world, this tedious ritual has been dispensed with. At tables from London to Istanbul, from Casablanca to French Polynesia, when the diner is ready to leave, the waiter reaches for her or his handheld device, runs the credit card, hands over the receipt, and that’s it. Gone in 60 seconds.

 

I thought Americans were the people in such a hurry all the time. Aren’t the French that languorous race of idlers who sit in St-Germain cafés all day, knocking back kirs and smoking Gitanes? No, they are not! Because a few years ago, when I needed to scram from a brasserie near the Comédie-Française to catch my plane, I was out of there faster than you could say Jerry Lewis. French restaurants are a model of efficiency compared with American ones.

 

So what gives? It’s hard to get a satisfying answer. I tried the National Restaurant Association. They were very nice, but confusing. Something about American and European credit cards being different, American ones being more susceptible to fraud. But as I pressed the matter, it became clearer and clearer (to me, anyway) that this wasn’t really the issue. Fraudulent credit-card use is no likelier to be caught at a restaurant terminal than tableside.

 

No, it just seems that restaurants don’t want to invest in the new technology (around $500 a pop for these devices, plus whatever start-up tech costs), and that they don’t want to because Americans aren’t clamoring for it. Most Americans, an ill-traveled bunch in general, probably don’t even know the technology exists. The restaurant association has, as you might guess, done some polling, and found that 52 percent of us would utilize “electronic payment system at the table.”

 

That’s encouraging. But I do wonder, who are these 48 percent who wouldn’t utilize this technology? [The same people who won't use EZpass to pay highway tolls. - Lex] What on earth could they possibly be thinking? Unsurprisingly they skew older, but that seems crazier still to me. You don’t have much time left, and you’re content to spend it waiting on the check?

 

Arise, countrymen! Demand equal footing with French Polynesia!

 

There's another benefit the article doesn't mention. Banks charge significantly less to process debit card transactions because of the added security given by the required PIN number. Many U.S. cash only restaurants don't take regular credit cards because it would force them to absorb the cost or pass it on to their customers.

 

Those portable terminals can handle debit too. I found that out in London more than 10 years ago.

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You finish your meal, then ask for the check. After awhile the server comes back and hands you the bill. He goes away. You look at it, confirm it's correct, and then take out your credit card. Wit

The portable terminals are pretty much the norm in Canada as well.

 

That would explain some of Adrian's smugness. :lol:

 

It really is pathetic. You'd think that a restaurant that put them in would enjoy a competitive advantage, especially if those cash only places began taking debit cards.

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The portable terminals are pretty much the norm in Canada as well.

 

That would explain some of Adrian's smugness. :lol:

 

It really is pathetic. You'd think that a restaurant that put them in would enjoy a competitive advantage, especially if those cash only places began taking debit cards.

hahahaha! Lex, you don't want the portable terminals. They're terrible. Beyond terrible. They speed up nothing - you ask for the check, you get the check, you wait for the terminal. Examples:

 

1. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, waiting for 20 minutes while a table of guys split a bill seven ways and each use the terminal. I have to wait for the terminal to pay.

 

2. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, the waiter standing over my shoulder while I input the tip.

 

3. The awkwardness of always having to input the tip with the waiter right there (even if the tip is great!).

 

4. A room full of glowing screens, like everyone is on their smart phone at all times.

 

5. Awkwardly chatting with the waiter while your card is processed.

 

6. Learning that the baseline tip option on the machine is > %20 and you've got to explicitly type in something reasonable.

 

I hate them. It's refreshing everytime I go to a restaurant and they take the card away. I put in my tip, sign, and leave. I don't need to fumble with some clunky game boy.

 

ETA: smartphone payment will solve all this yesterday. Also, in Canada we couldn't pay with debit until they introduced these monstrosities a few years back.

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You're filling the role that Taliesin left open since he went on sabbatical. He never used Opentable and preferred to write checks and mail them to pay his bills. He never let us know whether he also used a quill pen to sign his name but I wouldn't put it past him.

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Cash only restaurants might find the "money trail" left behind by a debit card a bit too revealing.

 

I don't know if it's still the case, but Quebec restaurants were required to issue you a machine printed receipt. It's been a while since I was accosted by the revenooers, but there was a fine for not having it in your posssession as you leave the restaurant. The inspector then checks your receipt against their transaction record but the real object is to ferret out cash transactions.

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The portable terminals are pretty much the norm in Canada as well.

 

That would explain some of Adrian's smugness. :lol:

 

It really is pathetic. You'd think that a restaurant that put them in would enjoy a competitive advantage, especially if those cash only places began taking debit cards.

hahahaha! Lex, you don't want the portable terminals. They're terrible. Beyond terrible. They speed up nothing - you ask for the check, you get the check, you wait for the terminal. Examples:

 

1. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, waiting for 20 minutes while a table of guys split a bill seven ways and each use the terminal. I have to wait for the terminal to pay.

 

2. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, the waiter standing over my shoulder while I input the tip.

 

3. The awkwardness of always having to input the tip with the waiter right there (even if the tip is great!).

 

4. A room full of glowing screens, like everyone is on their smart phone at all times.

 

5. Awkwardly chatting with the waiter while your card is processed.

 

6. Learning that the baseline tip option on the machine is > %20 and you've got to explicitly type in something reasonable.

 

I hate them. It's refreshing everytime I go to a restaurant and they take the card away. I put in my tip, sign, and leave. I don't need to fumble with some clunky game boy.

 

ETA: smartphone payment will solve all this yesterday. Also, in Canada we couldn't pay with debit until they introduced these monstrosities a few years back.

 

Of the types of machines I've seen - the check line usually has " 10%, 15%, 20%. Other" or " Tip % or Tip $$"

 

Not really any issues with convenience and I don't mind the extra security not seeing my card go for a trip around the room.

 

The only problem I had once was the dancer had glitter all over her hands and I had glitter everywhere - the terminal, my hands, my lederhosen, my harness, etc...it was a debacle for the hotel laundry service.

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Good point about the cash dodge. The ostensible reason for going cash only was to eliminate credit card fees but it lends itself to abuse. OTOH over the last 10 years we've become very much a near cashless society. Having to plan ahead and hit an ATM ahead of time is increasingly annoying.

 

I'll bet the IRS has metrics that allow them to estimate a restaurant's revenue stream with a fair amount of precision but I think there still might be room to fudge things a bit. An extra 5% in off the books revenue might make a big difference to a low margin operation.

 

I have a feeling that if 5% to 10% of restaurants made a move to wireless terminals it would act as a wedge and force the others to get on board.

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Good point about the cash dodge. The ostensible reason for going cash only was to eliminate credit card fees but it lends itself to abuse. OTOH over the last 10 years we've become very much a near cashless society. Having to plan ahead and hit an ATM ahead of time is increasingly annoying.

 

I'll bet the IRS has metrics that allow them to estimate a restaurant's revenue stream with a fair amount of precision but I think there still might be room to fudge things a bit. An extra 5% in off the books revenue might make a big difference to a low margin operation.

(snip)

 

Yes. Bump up your estimate of spoilage, employee theft, and comps (pushes up cost of goods sold) and push your revenue line down with cash transactions reported at 80%, and you can do OK.

 

Business oriented restaurants have a big problem as they're caught between the client who needs to use credit cards for their company's T&E reporting, and their own interest in keeping some items in the grey space.

 

Small restaurants can get hammered with the fees charged by Visa / MC, and the extortion of American Express.

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you can probably find that irs manual without too much trouble. someone showed me one that listed a procedure for buying a large pizza and sending it to a lab to estimate the raw ingredient cost of each pie.

 

Their procedures for barber shops and beauty parlors are equally detailed. Right down to observing the laundry bill for towels (1 towel = 1 haircut). My former barber's mother used to wash and iron some of his towels. The rest came from the laundry.

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The portable terminals are pretty much the norm in Canada as well.

 

That would explain some of Adrian's smugness. :lol:

 

It really is pathetic. You'd think that a restaurant that put them in would enjoy a competitive advantage, especially if those cash only places began taking debit cards.

hahahaha! Lex, you don't want the portable terminals. They're terrible. Beyond terrible. They speed up nothing - you ask for the check, you get the check, you wait for the terminal. Examples:

 

1. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, waiting for 20 minutes while a table of guys split a bill seven ways and each use the terminal. I have to wait for the terminal to pay.

 

2. At a restaurant I otherwise praise, the waiter standing over my shoulder while I input the tip.

 

3. The awkwardness of always having to input the tip with the waiter right there (even if the tip is great!).

 

4. A room full of glowing screens, like everyone is on their smart phone at all times.

 

5. Awkwardly chatting with the waiter while your card is processed.

 

6. Learning that the baseline tip option on the machine is > %20 and you've got to explicitly type in something reasonable.

 

I hate them. It's refreshing everytime I go to a restaurant and they take the card away. I put in my tip, sign, and leave. I don't need to fumble with some clunky game boy.

 

ETA: smartphone payment will solve all this yesterday. Also, in Canada we couldn't pay with debit until they introduced these monstrosities a few years back.

This was my experience in Montreal last year. A friend had talked them up but they were beyond awkward and slow. And they seemed to want to split the bill up and take everyone's card separately. I didn't care for them at all.

 

Square is everywhere out here now and very much the best payment option I've used -- both swiping and their wallet.

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