Curtis Osmond, president of III Forks Prime Steakhouse, has been in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, and he can’t remember so much attention being given to how people pay for meals.
“It’s pretty remarkable to think that there’s this much attention focused on the way in which people are paying, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of a conversation like this,” Osmond says.
So, what’s all the buzz surrounding III Forks about?
The steakhouse’s Austin location is accepting cryptocurrency, and this isn’t a gimmick. III Forks is fully committed to offering customers alternative ways of paying for their food.
“I don’t care if you come in and pay with an American Express or Visa or a Mastercard,” Osmond says. “I don’t care if you come in and pay with Bitcoin or some other currency. We’re taking it to another level to how you pay, and we want to make sure that it’s unique to you.”
Osmond knew the idea was worth looking into once several customers began asking for it. Additionally, several businesses related to Bitcoin opened in the market.
The company took those two trends as a sign.
“After having to say no [to customers] a couple of times, we asked ourselves ‘well why can’t we take Bitcoin?’” says Brian Kelley, proprietor of the Austin restaurant. “Because people want to pay using Bitcoin. So we tried to find a way to say yes to the guests.”
Conversations surrounding Bitcoin started last year around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Osmond and Kelley wanted to complete their due diligence on the cryptocurrency; while several big-name brands have run promotions associated with the digital product, there wasn’t much precedent with restaurants accepting it as payment for menu items.
One of the major concerns is the volatile nature. There are hundreds of coins and tokens on the crypto market, and their value as it relates to the U.S. dollar can fluctuate dramatically over the course of a day.
That challenge isn’t lost on Kelley or Osmond. In fact, one of the first questions asked was “what happens when Bitcoin drops in value?”
“That’s certainly something we talked about,” Osmond says.
To get around this issue, Osmond and Kelley found a new-age solution for a modern-day problem. Instead of depositing Bitcoin into a III Forks digital wallet (all crypto is stored in digital wallets), the brand partnered with Bitpay and the Lightning Network, allowing the restaurant to immediately convert customers’ Bitcoin into U.S. dollars.
While III Forks takes Bitcoin as payment, it never actually holds any cryptocurrency, removing its exposure from unexpected dips.
“That’s the good part from an accounting standpoint,” Osmond says.
Inside the restaurant, the process is fairly simple. Guests inform their server at the time of checkout they would like to pay with Bitcoin, and the III Forks team presents them with a Bitpay invoice QR code to scan tableside. These transactions settle in seconds, and allow for seamless payment using the guest’s preferred crypto wallet.
“We’re providing convenience, we’re providing options, and we’re providing security and privacy with the transactions, as well,” Kelley says. “We’re just trying to give our guests what they want.”
In addition to providing insulation from volatility, Bitpay and the Lightning Network keeps III Forks from paying credit card processing fees.
“Would a $10 million restaurant want to save $300,000 a year on credit card fees?” Osmond says rhetorically.
The Bitcoin strategy has only been in place for several weeks, but Kelley says customers are already using the option and providing “wonderful” feedback, including many who “are not your typical Bitcoin user.”
III Forks isn’t using Bitcoin as a marketing ploy, but it’s not shying away from the additional media attention either. Osmond says people are curious, and it’s leading to good conversations.
One of the reasons Osmond and Kelley invested in the new payment program is because of the customizable consumer experience, similar to online ordering, contactless delivery, or a loyalty program.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been forced into an environment that was new and different,” Osmond says. “It’s more important to be relational in nature than transactional. So we want to curate an experience that allows people to experience our restaurant in a unique way each and every time.”
As III Forks continues to accept Bitcoin, Osmond and Kelley will keep an eye on the program, fine-tuning it as time goes on. If it remains successful with customers, the steakhouse will consider adding the amenity to its other units in Dallas and Jacksonville.
III Forks locations will receive preference over its sister concepts under the Consolidated Restaurant Operations umbrella, which includes Cantina Laredo, El Chico, Silver Fox, Luckys Cafe, Cool River, Black Oak Grill, and Good Eats.
“We have made it our mission to take elements that are successful in some aspects of our business and then apply them in other concepts,” Osmond says. “We’re looking to glean all the positives from the test in Austin.”
Osmond doesn’t know if Bitcoin will breakout in the short-term, but he’s confident this is where the market it heading. With brands prioritizing customer experience, and technology allowing for risk-free transactions, he says the writing is on the wall.
“I think the incentive is pretty clear,” he says. “We’d much rather be the first doing this than the last.”
III Forks was created in Dallas in 1998 by restaurateur Dale Wamsted, who alongside Dee Lincoln, co-founded Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse.