One Year Later: Are We Still Turning Tables on Pay-at-the-Table?

Tech has taken its seat at the table – literally. Pay-at-the-table proved its value through the pandemic and breathed new life into old technology like QR codes. However, can innovation teach these old dogs new tricks, or will a post-pandemic environment sunset this trend?

The Quintessential QR Comeback

QR codes were invented in the 90s but didn’t pick up steam until 2011 – when smartphones became the ubiquitous devices they are today. However, since many restaurant operators didn’t understand QR codes, they failed to implement them correctly or didn’t properly advertise them, so the trend quickly died. 

Now, the QR code is known as the comeback kid. 

The pandemic re-opened the door for QR codes when contactless menus became paramount. According to a statement by Professor Cihan Cobanoglu, director of the M3 Center for Hospitality & Innovation at the University of Florida, “contactless menus will be a key point for restaurants to adapt. To both keep businesses as clean and safe as possible and align with customer expectations.”

Pay-at-the-Table Adds Up, Especially with CX

Pay-at-the-table is becoming increasingly popular among restaurants of all levels – from quick-service and fast casual to fine dining, particularly as brands increase adoption, the technology and user experience continually improve. By delivering on customers’ expectations for this type of technology, operators are able to offer the best-possible customer experience (CX).

Without a pay-at-the-table solution, a server places a check on a table, returns to pick up the credit card, walks to a stationary terminal to process the card, potentially waits behind other servers processing checks, returns to the table with the receipt and goes back to the terminal to process the tip. This takes quite a few steps – literally and figuratively – that slows down the restaurant’s ability to efficiently turntables and leaves guests looking over their shoulder for their waiter/waitress.

A restaurant’s ability to deliver consistently engaging, memorable experiences that drive a connection to the brand at every touchpoint is more critical than ever. Customers expect restaurants to:

  • Engage Them: Interact in an authentic, friendly, genuine manner across all channels – table-side, mobile app, website.
  • Empower Them: Provide the ability to customize based on preference or needs. 
  • Delight Them: Create memorable experiences beyond customer expectations and personalize where possible.
  • Know Them: Remember guest preferences and anticipate their changing needs.

Weighing the Options

Pay-at-the-table can bring the point-of-sale (POS) front and center to the customer, which can help increase revenue and improve table turn rates. Restaurant operators should consider the pros and cons of implementing this solution before diving headfirst into this trend. First, some benefits of pay-at-the-table include:

  • Greater operational efficiency – Pay-at-the-table saves time and steps, freeing up staff to focus on CX;
  • Increased table turns – Pay-at-the-table streamlines the payment process, which means faster service, more people served and greater revenue per shift;
  • Higher gratuities – Pay-at-the-table eliminates confusion around tip because the device does the math. Tip amounts are calculated so patrons can easily see how much and what percentage they should tip;
  • Improved payment security – Guests never hand over their credit card or worry about compromised card information;
  • Better customer engagement – Since less time is spent processing payment, servers can spend more face time with customers; and

Turning tables faster, maintaining customer engagement and building loyalty are the ingredients for more profitable business operations. However, it is also important to take a closer look at some of the cons pay-at-the-table has, including:

  • Rushed customers – Some guests would like to decide when and where they pay without feeling hurried to pony up and hit the road. Customers can see a check as a signal to move from the table, in turn, making them feel unwelcome to sit and enjoy; and
  • Significant investment – Pay-at-the-table is a considerable technology investment, so it is key for restaurants to have a solid strategy before implementing. However, while an investment, this technology can yield substantial payoffs. 

Since Pros Outweigh Cons, Why Not Give it a Try?

According to The National Restaurant Association (NRA), restaurant operators agree that technology provides a competitive advantage, and, as such, are investing in customer-facing platforms that will enhance service and convenience for their guests. 

So, the verdict is out and the ROI is in – pay-at-the-table has been embraced by diners and restaurants everywhere. So, if you are a restaurant operator asking yourself, “Is pay-at-the-table the right technology for my restaurant?” the answer is likely, yes.