'Check' It Out: Why This Restaurant Group Began Using a Tableside Payment System

'Check' It Out: Why This Restaurant Group Began Using a Tableside Payment System
Image credit: Rush Jagoe
Paid and full: Derek Nettles of Dickie Brennan’s in New Orleans.
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This story appears in the December 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

For the four Dickie Brennan’s restaurants in New Orleans, the benefits of moving to a point-of-sale system that would bring the payment transaction right to the dining table were too compelling to ignore. 

Derek Nettles, IT director of Dickie Brennan & Company, believed that in addition to facilitating the payment dance between diner and waiter, such a system would allow the company to accept EMV (chip-enabled) cards ahead of the fall 2015 deadline established by the credit card industry, when restaurants without that capability may be held financially liable for fraud.

The fix

Nettles found slim pickings during his search for a pay-at-the-table system. However, one solution—the Wi-Fi-enabled TableSafe platform (formerly Viableware)—stood out, not only for its EMV capability and ease of integration with existing POS systems, but for its sleek device, which looks just like a traditional leather-bound bill folder. 

To use it, diners open the folder, choose their payment method from the device’s screen (credit or debit card, cash, PayPal), swipe a card, plug in a tip, then sign the screen with their finger. The system even accommodates splitting the bill among multiple cards. 

The process takes less than a minute, and since it’s data-encrypted, it meets merchant security standards. What’s more, it offers ease of mind for diners, whose credit cards never leave their hands.

One problem: The platform was unproved outside of limited pilot programs. So Dickie Brennan’s struck a deal to use the system, provided Seattle-based TableSafe made certain enhancements, such as adding an LED light to the bill folder to indicate what stage the transaction is at, eliminating the need for waitstaff to bother customers.

The results

Dickie Brennan’s rolled out the system in September 2013 at one of its restaurants, Tableau, and this year implemented it at the other three. “So far, so good,” Nettles says. “We’re very satisfied with how it’s working.” 

By cutting the time it takes to square up a bill, the system has increased table turnover. Meanwhile, the waitstaff has seen tips increase by 2 to 3 percent thanks to TableSafe’s 20 percent tip default setting, which is used by 85 percent of customers.  

According to Nettles, customer reaction has been “very positive.” They like the extra layer of protection and the streamlined process, which allows them to control the entire operation without interaction from servers. 

A second opinion

“In the restaurant business, if you look at the ones that really succeed, consistently they are early technology adopters,” says Aaron Allen, founder and CEO of restaurant-consulting firm Aaron Allen & Associates in Orlando, Fla. However, he observes, functionality has been an issue with some early pay-at-the-table solutions, largely because they were designed by people who lack understanding of the specifics of the restaurant industry. Above all, such a system must be secure and transparent for the customer. 

“It has to be frictionless for guests. You don’t want to give them too many chores, too many clicks,” Allen says. But find the right solution, and a pay-at-the-table platform “really gives you a competitive edge.” 

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