How Restaurant Execs Prep for Mobile Payments

By Rocky Lucia, Director of IT, B.R. Guest Hospitality | November 18, 2013

The recent 2013 Restaurant Executive Summit offered an opportunity for foodservice leaders to network and share ideas with their peers. The Summit took place October 2-4 at the Four Seasons, Dallas and boasted two days of intimate networking, high-level seminars, and engaging workshops. During the Day One Networking Luncheon, Rocky Lucia, director of information technology for B.R. Guest Hospitality hosted a topic table entitled, “Prepping for Mobile Payments.” He was joined by the table’s co-sponsors, Peter Wolf, ParTech and Scott Smith, Quickcue. The table was rounded out by top restaurant executives including: Chris Incorvati, Au Bon Pain, Adrian Dragomir, Taco Mac Restaurant Group, Scott Brazwell, FCH Enterprises, John McDermot, DineEquity, Vincent Burchianti, Firehouse Subs, and Michael Haley, Lettuce Entertain You. Here are some of the key takeaways from the group’s discussion, according to Lucia.
 
The Summit’s sessions contained a great combination of colleagues from fine dining, casual mid-scale and QSR restaurants. The mix of business models fostered lively discussions that crossed all aspects of restaurant operations. Our luncheon networking topic was “Prepping for Mobile Payment.” With a cross-section of concepts present, the conversation started with a broader discussion about each attendee’s perception of mobile payment.   
 
Defining mobile payment
The attendees’ foremost concept of mobile payment started with giving patrons the option of paying checks at the table with the server bringing a device to swipe payment cards. This practice didn’t resonate particularly well as being an efficient and secure means of mobile payment with the operators believing there is a better chance of skimming by the server swiping into an “unknown” device. Unfortunately, this is something for which this industry is notorious.
 
The longer and more debatable discussion was about having an app on a smartphone to pay checks. Whether it’s Tabbed Out, My Check, Level Up or another one of the many other apps available today, opinions varied on how customers know this payment option is available. The attendees discussed using internal marketing efforts to reach out to guests and let them know that a specific app is available throughout brands enabling guests to pay at the table.
 
Another issue surrounded the question of what customers can do if they like going to three different “favorite” restaurants on a rotating basis. The current problem with this scenario is that customers would need to have three separate apps because they all integrate differently. The consensus was that there is simply no universal solution at this point, but that a resolution for that dilemma would be very welcome in the industry.
 
A question of PCI compliance
Clearly this was hot button topic for operators. Execs worry whether or not these apps and mobile payment devices are on the list of approved devices to make sure restaurants maintain compliance. Most of the operators were relatively confident that devices that integrate with the POS directly and are from approved vendors such as VeriFone and actual processing companies are compliant. The other concern was having a wireless network on which to carry the devices and transactions. This would typically have to be a third party vendor and secure wireless devices separate from guests’ wireless.
 
Benefits of integration
It was agreed that the ideal situation would be if an app integrates directly with the point-of-sale system, meaning it would be just like swiping through a POS terminal but on a handheld or through an app. Many of the new apps out there now are their own processor. If restaurants have a normal POS processing plus an app that is its own system, then managers have to double batch at the end of the night adding another level of complexity to daily reconciliation. Some QSR companies are using external VeriFone devices exclusively and not swiping through a POS at all. This takes the POS out of PCI scope, which is a positive.
 
The conclusion that the table came to was that – as of right now – there is not one ideal solution for mobile payment. It’s coming and inevitable, but since there are so many moving parts, there isn’t a standard in the industry yet. The executives agree that mobile POS is something that eventually the guest will dictate where the industry will go, so restaurateurs need to basically wait and see what that direction will be. 

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