How I Fell in Love... With Credit Card Processing

If you’ve ever thought the fees for accepting credit cards at your restaurant were too high, you’re right—you ARE wasting your money on credit card processing fees. But most likely, you’re all wrong about how you're wasting it.

The conventional wisdom is that the percentage of guests choosing to use plastic instead of cash continues to rise, and that this line item adds up to one more difficult cost of doing business. 81 percent of the money spent in the U.S. at full-service restaurants in 2012 was charged to debit, credit, or pre-paid cards—an increase from 72 percent in 2006.

So what do you do about it? The usual approach is to listen to churn-and-burn processing sales representatives who knock on your door or blow up your phone with boiler-plate sales calls. They advertise lower prices while hiding fees in impossible-to-interpret statements that make the linen companies' invoices seem simple. You may switch to them, but you won’t have a clearer idea of what you pay and you won’t get anything beyond the ability to move money. No innovation in processing has happened in at least 40 years.

But today I’m writing to share a little secret. There’s a better way.

A Paradigm Shift

Every credit card swipe can tell you remarkable things you can act on: how much each guest spends, how much they tip, when they visit…and you can even learn their name, demographic, and contact information. Here's the best part: this data already runs through your restaurant. It’s just waiting for you to unlock it!

So where’s the rub? Traditional credit card processors don’t want you asking about this data, or trying to smash the lock and get in to it. They’ll mention everything: “It’s protected by law. It’s hard to track. It’s inaccessible. It's too hard to act on so much ‘big data.’” I’ve been hearing these excuses for years.

The winds of change are blowing and a few innovative companies will now deliver that data to you, plus the X-ray vision to put it to work. They can transform card processing from an expense without ROI into a valuable marketing investment.

The Processing Investment

At Founding Farmers, an upscale-casual restaurant in Washington, D.C. that's one of the busiest in the country, we dug into the credit card gold mine. What we saw was transformative.

We learned that:

  • Repeat guests spent $2 more than new guests each time they dined in October.

  • Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m. were the slowest hour of the week in January.

  • The restaurant’s second-best guest spent nearly $340 each visit, came in 17 times since September, and visited last on November 4th.

This information is marketing power. Now at Founding Farmers, we can measure the ROI on our loyalty programs (repeat guests should be coming in more often and spending more), schedule the launch of a promotion to drive foot traffic (late Wednesday afternoon), or be able to send targeted invitations to best guest VIPs (rather than a “one-size-fits-all” message to every guest).

The important lesson here is how we accessed this data in the first place.

If your processor can’t or won’t get you this data, find one who will. We worked with a next-generation “payment marketing” company to unlock the data held hostage in the cards we swiped. We can access the Founding Farmers activity data 24/7 in an online dashboard chock-full of analytics and marketing tools that we use strategically on a daily basis. The data streams in every hour, and managers add important information to it. For example, the front desk can add notes to recent guest profiles, and our marketing team can schedule automatic marketing campaigns when they expect sales to dip based on historical information.

At the end of the day, this means we’re extending the Founding Farmers brand to deliver an awesome guest experience, at times when guests are in the restaurant as well as when they leave. We know tons more about our guests now than ever before, and it’s actionable intelligence.

Call to Arms

So how do you know whether it’s time to take the data plunge yourself? I can’t tell you, but I can share what I did that led me to my answer.

I made a few calls to partners we work with at Founding Farmers. I asked our processor to send transaction data broken out by guest along with our next statement. I also asked a digital loyalty company I knew of if they could provide this data on all our guests, not just the few who opted into the loyalty program. Neither could deliver.

When we learned the new breed of payments experts could, however, we quickly brought our VP of Marketing into the processing conversation as a key decision maker. The rest is history. Now Founding Farmers has streamlined and opened up the tools we rely on every day: OpenTable, Avero, and Swipely. Switching to an integrated “payment marketing” approach really is the Holy Grail. Now if only we can get these three services into one…

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