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Trendinista: Technology at the table

Trendinista: Technology at the table

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Remember that time you offered great service, delivered a phenomenal lunch and tasty beverages and were ready to collect a big, fat tip … until you found yourself in the weeds and were delayed in dropping off the check? You didn’t realize the diners were in a hurry, but by the time the check was delivered a few of them were late for a meeting and their desire to leave that big, fat tip had waned.

Or picture this common but awkward situation: you’re serving a large lunch group who forgot to mention the fact they all need to pay separately. You drop off one check and are about to take care of your other tables when one of the diners asks abashedly: “Can you split it 11 ways?”

Mobile payment—either with diners’ smartphones or with a tablet carried by the server—eliminates both of those occurrences. It often allows customers to pay as soon as they are ready, and some technologies permit a group of diners to split the check evenly and each pay their portion through their phones.

While some diners—typically in mature customers—dismiss the idea of technology at the table, the fact of the matter is smartphones are ubiquitous today and, when used properly, can alleviate pain points for both diners and restaurant staff. In fact, more than a third of consumers say they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than two years ago, according to a recent study by the National Restaurant Association. In addition, a significant number of respondents reported using their smartphones to interact with restaurants on a regular basis, such as ordering delivery and redeeming rewards.

Here's why you can't ignore this trend:

According to the NRA study, overall technology use in restaurants is increasing. A majority of smartphone owners say they use their devices for the following restaurant-related tasks: look up basic information about a restaurant (location and hours of operation, for example), viewing menus, reading online reviews, using rewards and special deals and ordering takeout or delivery on restaurant-branded apps. Half also say they look up nutrition information on their devices several times per year, and one-quarter use their phones to pay for meals at that frequency. 

Source: National Restaurant Association

"While overall usage of restaurant technology options is still more common among diners in the Millennial generation compared with Baby Boomers, the age gap generally levels out when it comes to frequent users," said Hudson Riehle, s.v.p. of research for the NRA. “As restaurants integrate more customer-facing technology, usage among consumers is growing. When done right, it can help a restaurant's productivity and the customer experience.”

Among the consumers polled, 32 percent said they would use a smartphone app to pay their check instead of using cash or debit/credit card, if offered.

A recent Cornell Center for Hospitality Research study finds that restaurant guests are enthusiastically ready to use smartphones and tabletop tablets to settle their bill. In a survey of nearly 1,300 U.S. consumers, the study found that the consumers rated paying with technology significantly higher than the traditional payment method that involves handing over a credit card.

"Our study was conducted before Apple Pay was announced, but it's clear that restaurant customers are ready to use this kind of technology to settle their checks," says Sheryl Kimes, a professor of operations management and coauthor of the study. "We tested the use of smartphone apps and table-top systems on eight different measures. Technology beat out the traditional settlement method on all eight, including overall guest satisfaction."

The study respondents rated settlement using smartphones, tabletop systems and traditional methods on the following eight measurements: accuracy, control of pacing, convenience, efficiency, experience quality, future spending intentions, privacy, and satisfaction with the payment method. On all eight measurements, paying with technology was rated significantly higher than the traditional settlement approach.

A litany of technology suppliers have identified an opportunity in the space and have unveiled solutions. One example is Dash, which connects patron mobile devices with legacy restaurant and bar point of sale systems to allow diners to view, split and pay their check without handing over physical payment sources or waiting for their server to present a bill. Merchants benefit from increased efficiency, social media exposure, patron loyalty, and the ability to build customer profiles.

Merchant Customer Exchange, a consortium of retailers led by Walmart, Target, CVS and Best Buy, recently introduced an alternative to Apple Pay that will appeal to a broader market as it doesn’t require an Apple device. The technology, called CurrentC, is sold as doing more than just payment, but also tying into retailer loyalty programs and coupons.

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