Imagine this scenario: It’s a crisp evening in March, and you walk into a fine dining restaurant with Mark, Henry, and Jenny for a relaxed dinner. You order up two appetizers for the table, an entrée per person, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to split. Actually, make that two bottles.
A couple hours later, after a laughing yourselves silly at the story of Mark’s mishap with the grocer over the difference between salmon and salmonella, it’s time to head home.
The server brings over a receipt folio, as usual, but inside is a surprise: a touch-screen payment device. You tap the components of your meal – the honey-glazed ham entrée, half of the guacamole appetizer, and half a bottle of wine – and hit the button that allows you to pay by credit card. You slide your card through the reader at the top right of the folio and pass it to Jenny.
Jenny, a little flushed from the wine, pays her share. As she finishes the transaction, a screen pops up that says, “We really care about you. A cab drive is just a button away.”
Jenny decides a cab is an excellent idea. She taps the button, the cab company receives a text, and a minted yellow taxi arrives to pick her up 10 minutes later. The restaurant also gets a percentage off her ride.
Mark pays with cash, causing the LED lights on the top and bottom of the device to flash green. A server appears to handle the cash transaction and give Mark his change.
As Henry accounts for his meal, he decides to leave an extra generous tip for the server. The options on the screen are 15, 18, and 20 percent. Forgoing these, Henry taps Custom, and enters a $15 tip, then closes the device as everyone prepares to leave.
This device is Viableware’s RAIL, and beta testing is underway. The creators of the RAIL gave Rmgt a demo of this pay-at-the-table technology that is set to launch at a number of restaurants next year.
“In our presales, we are talking to a lot of big chains, and we have a pretty solid pipeline of restaurants that want this product,” says Joe Snell, CEO Of Viableware. “What they want is a secure, pay-at-the-table transaction where the customer no longer gives their credit card away.”
Snell calls RAIL’s security a major selling point of the device. “Standardly, now, you’d hand [your card] to the server and they’d take it to the point of sale system,” he says. “Now, at the table, your credit card or debit card doesn’t leave your possession anymore. There’s no credit card number the restaurant puts in the system now.”
This strategy also prevents credit card information being stolen in the case that a hacker compromises the restaurant’s POS system.
The team behind Viableware – Snell, CEO; Steve Stoddard, president; and Bob McBreen, vice president of product development – developed RAIL specifically for the restaurant industry.
“We’re not taking someone else’s hardware that was intended for some other purpose and throwing our software in it, hoping it works at the table,” Snell explains. “The stuff is designed for the consumer restaurant.”
The system allows for a bill to be split up to nine ways evenly, or for guests to pay for their own food and beverage and then pass the RAIL along. Guests can pay by cash or card, and choose to have receipts emailed, printed, or disregarded altogether.
Restaurants preconfigure how many tip options they want to show up on the screen, what these individual tip amounts are, and whether they are based on the pre- or post-tax amount.
“It’s interesting when you talk to restaurants, because they’re one way or the other, 100 percent,” McBreen says. “The first restaurant we went to is post-tax, and the second is pre-tax.”
Stoddard, who is the former CEO of Restaurants Unlimited, which owns and operates 60 restaurants, says clients have been surprisingly comfortable with the idea of bringing technology into their walls.
“I have been pleasantly surprised at how little to no resistance we’ve received at all from people, from a technology perspective,” he says. “The restaurateurs – and we’ve talked to a lot – really grasp the efficiency that this can create for their restaurant [and] the customer convenience it can provide for their clientele.”
Viableware has accordingly fashioned the RAIL to look like the receipts customers are familiar with.
“Hopefully when they see the Order Summary screen, the guest says, ‘Oh, I know exactly what that is,’” McBreen says. “And, even though we’re bringing technology to the table, we’re delivering an experience where the user knows exactly where they are.”
Visual clues aid this process: the receipt on the screen appears with tear lines along the top, suggesting it came straight out of a printer.
The RAIL can also include short surveys at the end of the transaction to ensure guest satisfaction. Restaurants can choose to have a text message sent to the manager on duty if a guest rates his experience as Fair or Poor, giving him a chance to go to the table and soothe things over.
“As a restaurateur, this is the aspect I am most excited about,” Stoddard says. “Any time you have an opportunity to intercept a guest that’s had a poor experience and rectify that prior to their departure, it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
The opposite effect is also possible: If a repeat customer comes into a restaurant for, say, his fourth visit of the month, a manager can be proactively alerted via text.
“You can go up there, introduce them, smooze up to them, treat them like a value customer,” Snell says.
Viableware began beta testing the RAIL last week, and has another test round set up for the first week of January. The team says they’ve had interest from independent restaurants, restaurant groups of 50-60 locations, and even some of the best-known national chains.
As to where they came up with the name, Snell says that reflects back on the industry itself.
“When you deliver a food product to the table and realize, ‘I don’t have the jumbalaya that was ordered with this’ or ‘I forgot to enter it into the POS system,’ you would go back to the kitchen and say, ‘I need a jambalaya for Table Three, put it on a rail!’ or ‘Rail it!’ Urgency and speed – we wanted that to be a part of this whole transaction process.”
By Sonya Chudgar