Restaurants are upgrading their payment options to enhance the customer experience and steal market share from fast casual.

When nearly three-quarters of diners say technology improves their guest experience—per a 2017 study from POS provider Toast—restaurant brands and owners implement accordingly. And though payment technology isn’t the sexiest of upgrades, full-service concepts are keenly aware of how up-to-date payment tech can improve customer service, grow revenue, and steal a little share from fast-casual competitors.

For many restaurants, pay-at-the-table technology is king of the category. One company specializing in this arena is TableSafe, which counts restaurants like The Fort in Denver and 71 Above in Los Angeles among its clients. TableSafe’s RAIL device allows guests to pay for, split, and add tip to their checks from the comfort of their table without the help of a server.

While the technology is new, the time-saving idea behind it is rather timeless. Between flagging down the server, waiting for a check, and finally paying it, the payment process can leave a bad taste for many diners, says Frank Kerr, TableSafe’s chief sales officer. “You’ve just taken something where the customer is having a great experience and they’re enjoying themselves, but they’re ready to leave,” he says. “And now you’ve delayed them for 15 minutes unnecessarily in the payment process.” But with tableside devices, customers can close out the tab the second they’re ready to leave.

Tableside tech also saves time for servers by pulling them away from the POS allowing them to focus more on customer service, and—in theory—secure bigger tips from satisfied guests. For operators, Kerr says a device like RAIL saves up to eight minutes on table turn, which in turn boosts revenue. It also allows casual-dining brands to more easily steal share from fast casuals during the lunch daypart, as speeding up the payment process helps diners get in, out, and back to their desk within the span of a lunch hour.

Time savings aside, pay-at-the-table devices are becoming more crucial than ever as diners become more concerned about fraud and card skimming. Many of these devices are fully encrypted, and card information is never stored on the device. “The idea of giving your credit card to someone you don’t know and then them disappearing with it for five minutes is becoming unsettling,” Kerr says. “So the idea is that the consumer never has to give up physical possession of the card. They’re controlling the process from start to finish.”

Diners are also turning to their own mobile device to take even more control over the payment process. A new app called OneDine delivers both lifestyle and payment utility; users can mine partner menus for items that match their preferences, palate, dietary needs, and allergy restrictions. At the restaurant, guests can then use the mobile pay option to order, pay, and split checks.

“We let the phone do the heavy lifting,” says Rom Krupp, founder and CEO of Marketing Vitals, the company that created the free app. OneDine partnered with full-service brands like Twin Peaks and Front Burner Brands to test its capabilities in Dallas, and early tests showed that participating brands turn tables 7–10 minutes faster when customers use the app to pay.

Many up-and-coming payment technologies also help restaurants get real-time feedback from guests, starting with: How was your experience?

“We’re now getting an 85 percent take rate on that critical question,” Kerr says, noting that TableSafe is rolling out a manager-notifications feature, where restaurant managers are alerted the second a guest reports a bad experience via RAIL.

The idea is that the manager can then catch—and make amends—to the customers before they leave the premises. “Rather than managing your online reputation using other tools to combat bad Yelp reviews and the like,” Kerr says, “you’re actually able to prevent the bad Yelp review from ever happening in the first place.”

Feature, Technology