Swipe, Print, Sign & Go!

By Ed Rubinstein, Contributing Editor | May 01, 2007

In their ongoing quests to optimize operational efficiencies and their customer satisfaction quotients, restaurant operators in all segments are asking their point of service (POS) peripherals to do more, especially mobile POS terminals that run on wireless networks and advanced printers. HT takes an in-depth look a the latest trends with these technologies, and what operators are saying about them.

Portable payment
Amid heightened concerns about identity theft and highly publicized malfeasance in which restaurant employees skimmed from the credit card accounts of their customers, more restaurant operators are implementing wireless POS terminals that allow for tableside printing and credit/debit card settlement, including the ability to account for line-item tips. The obvious appeal for patrons is that their cards remain in sight, while wait-staff remains closer to their customers and have to make fewer trips to remote registers.

POS devices that run on wireless LANs are not new. Just ask Charles Sarkis, the founder, president and CEO of 37-unit Back Bay Restaurant Group of Boston, who recalls seeing them in several European countries some 15-plus years ago. "The beauty of this setup is that the person who is taking your credit card has never left your sight. We've been pushing the POS makers to do this for years but they haven't responded," he says.

That is, until now. So impressed with wireless' potential, Sarkis had a wireless payment setup installed at Boucheé, a brasserie-style restaurant that opened to huge fanfare last November in the Boston area. "Retrofitting technology into an older unit is tough so it was an opportunity to train management and staff from the start. Like our cuisine, we see this as an opportunity to offer something really special to our guests," he says.

Boucheé staffers don wireless terminals for complete tableside transactions and for taking orders and whisking them to the kitchen and bar. The setup sports the Vx-670 terminals with integrated receipt printers from Verifone (www.verifone.com), that are connected to Bouchee's MICROS (www.micros.com) point-of-sale software.

Verifone has positioned its Vx-670 as a ruggedized terminal with moisture-resistant keypad and perhaps most importantly WPA-encryption, which makes the device Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant (see sidebar on page 26 for more information on PCI standards).

Operators should also like the flexibility that the Vx-670 allows to configure the terminals to their needs. For example, some operators may want to have the device resident at tableside for just debit card transactions while others can incorporate a tip prompt, either in dollars or as a percentage of the check amount; it can even accommodate split checks.

Verifone's management also points to the Vx-670's ability to handle either credit or debit transactions which can result in acquisition costs savings when credit transactions with signature debit can be converted to PIN pad debit.

"We've experienced improved workflow and a slight increase in table turns, too," mentions John Metz, owner of Aqua Blue in the upscale Atlanta suburb of Roswell, who this past January opted to make his white table steak, seafood and sushi establishment a test-bed for a similar mobile payments solution.

To date, Metz and his wait-staff have been instrumental in providing Verifone with feedback on what works well as well as recommending improvements, like enlarging the size and typeface of the ticket numbers on checks.

As for other wireless solutions,
some restaurant operators have opted for Microsoft's PocketPC operating system (www.microsoft) and rugged hardware from Symbol Technologies (www.symbol.com), such as its MC50 series. Earlier this year, Action Systems Inc. (www.actionsys tems.com) took the wraps off its Restaurant Manager software, with a Mobile Payment Processing solution. The triumvirate brings together a complete Windows-based solution for the point-of-sale with extensive reporting capabilities, too.

Cheryl Hagen, general manager at the Canyon Grill, a high-grossing, 362-seat establishment in Eden Prairie, MN, says that several operational metrics have "improved measurably" since it has been using the tableside PCs. "Basically, I can run the floor with three to five servers so labor costs have been kept in check. The servers are so used to it that they won't give it up and the guests love it for obvious security reasons," she says.

Printers that stick
On the printing front, quick-service and casual restaurant operators that provide curbside takeout are enthused about dual purpose peripherals that can generate receipts on labels that adhere to common foodservice packages. Earlier this year, TransAct Technologies (www.transact-tech.com) introduced such a dual-purpose printer, the Ithaca 8000 Print-It Stick-It printer. TransAct executives told HT that the new printer, which is currently being field tested by several undisclosed chains, can actually improve drive-thru throughput. It also gives their customers clear demarcations of what they purchased without having to rummage through bags for paper receipts.

Receipts from the Ithaca 8000 can stick to sandwich wrappers, too, which should make it appealing to delis, supermarkets, and many other made-to-order, takeout establishments. And the dual-purpose allows operators to standardize.

Another key printing trend has been the impact made by the influx of kitchen display systems (KDS). As more restaurant operators have installed KDS to improve workflow and customer service, most notably in the casual segment, there has been a decrease in the overall demand for kitchen printers.

Company representatives at Epson (www.epson.com) note that overall sales of its model TM-U220 receipt printer, a de facto standard for receipt printers, have leveled off. But printer sales have risen when it applies to the expeditors who essentially act as the human gateway between kitchen printers and the KDS.

An outgrowth of that trend should be an emphasis on partnerships between leading printing manufacturers and KDS companies, especially when it comes to built-in port connectivity between their respective products.

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