How a restaurant payment system can improve customer satisfaction

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Think back to the last time you ate outside of your home - whether it was at a fast-food stop, a local diner or an upscale sit-down restaurant. What method did you use to pay? What options were you presented with? How was the overall experience for you?

How a restaurant payment system can improve customer satisfaction - illustration of consumer making payment via handheld card processor and using digital resources to select products on tablet

These are questions which are becoming increasingly important to American consumers, with the rapid pace of technology meaning that traditionally popular payment methods such as cash and credit cards are now rivaled by mobile and digital options. To use one example, 29% of Americans in a Statista survey said they would like to ditch cash and cards entirely, and use only a smartphone for payments.

A good POS system in a restaurant is essential

‘Americans Are Spending Like Crazy At Restaurants’ proclaimed a Bloomberg headline in August 2018. The data speaks for itself, as the preceding three months had seen the biggest percentage increase in consumer spending at food and drink establishments in almost thirty years.

Although Americans continue to spend on meals away from home at an increasing rate, the restaurant industry is notoriously competitive. This is especially true in today’s environment, where consumer habits are constantly evolving. If you’re involved in running a restaurant, or are thinking of starting one, you’ll know how important it is to be on the lookout for any advantage you can gain over your competitors.

One aspect, sometimes overlooked, is putting the right point-of-sale (POS) system in place for your restaurant. The options you offer will differ depending on the needs of your customers, their demographics, and their payment preferences - for example, 39 percent of respondents to a 2017 survey indicated that when eating at a fast-food joint, they prefer to pay in cash. By contrast, only 19 percent said they would choose to use cash in a full service restaurant, with the majority preferring to use debit or credit cards.

Regardless of the circumstances for your particular restaurant, putting in place an effective payment system can have a number of benefits for both your business and your customers.

Improved security for customers

Although technological advancements can have a positive impact on society, they also provide more opportunities for cybercriminals or hackers to gain access to unauthorized information. These breaches undermine consumer confidence and can have a significant financial impact, with the average cost of a data breach in the United States totaling $7.91 million.

The restaurant sector faces unique challenges, particularly in a sit-down restaurant where it may be commonplace for the card to leave the customer’s sight to be processed. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the dangers; according to a 2017 survey, 46% of respondents could recall a restaurant or coffee shop experiencing a data breach which may have compromised the credit and debit card information of customers.

Ensuring your POS system meets stringent security protocols is essential for maintaining the confidence of your patrons. Ideally, your chosen solution should include point-to-point encryption (P2PE) and help you remain PCI-compliant by ensuring that sensitive data - such as credit card numbers or customer details - never come into contact with your organization’s systems. This reduces any potential exposure of customer data as the result of a security breach.

Moving with customer trends

Although some establishments may be able to deal in solely cash transactions, the reality is that consumers now want a variety of payment methods depending on the setting. The rise of mobile payments is illustrated by data indicating that almost half of millennials would prefer to use a mobile device compared to cash.

The choices you offer your customers will depend on the type of restaurant you are running, in addition to the volume of transactions and options for tips and reward schemes. A food truck, for example, may not require the same level of complexity as a full-service restaurant which needs to make allowances for tips or upselling opportunities. The rise of online marketplaces such as GrubHub and Just Eat also offer additional choices for customers.

A recent survey by U.S. Bank showed that almost 30% of respondents said they made no purchases in a typical week using cash - and for those that do carry cash, the majority have less than $50 in their wallets. In a society where fewer Americans are carrying physical dollars in their pockets, a payment system which offers flexibility and options for consumers is a necessity for anyone operating in the food and drink sector.

Improved efficiency for the restaurant

With studies showing that the average American has less than half an hour of free time per week, time is a precious commodity for all of us. This is particularly true in the restaurant industry, where time is truly of the essence and can have a detrimental impact on the customer experience. It has become such an important factor that Google has even introduced a feature to show the average wait time at restaurants.

From an impatient customer’s perspective, the time they have to spend waiting when they eat at a restaurant can be frustrating. They may have to wait to be seated, wait to place their order, wait to receive their food, and then wait for the check. Each stage can be optimized to improve the efficiency of the restaurant - for example, a system which communicates the customer order directly from the table to the kitchen, as opposed to scribbled notes on a scrunched piece of paper, reduces both the wait time and the potential for miscommunication which could result in the food being prepared incorrectly.

Short wait times are important for customers, but there are also other benefits for the restaurant in streamlining these processes. By reducing the wait times, there is the potential to move more patrons through the establishment and increase revenue through the number of orders that can be processed.

Upselling and rewards programs

Loyalty programs can bring a number of benefits to your restaurant. Particularly useful in a coffee shop or casual setting, rewards offered through a smartphone app or card are rising in popularity, increasing customer satisfaction and the likelihood of return visits. The option to tailor these offerings on a customer-by-customer basis is beneficial for the customer (rewards or discounts can be offered for a favored meal or drink) and the restaurant (raising awareness of the launch of a new dish by offering a discount, for example).

Another benefit of a comprehensive restaurant payment system is the ability for wait staff to easily identify upselling opportunities. This may be as simple as displaying drink choices that would complement the dish ordered by the customer, or informing the customer of available upgrades or discounted side orders to accompany their meal. Displaying this information clearly on a waiter or waitress’s handheld terminal means that the offers can be changed as necessary, and removes the need for the staff to memorize every single possible upselling opportunity.

In summary

In any sector, the customer experience should be integral to the planning and execution of a business strategy. This is especially true in a competitive market like the restaurant industry.

From the moment a customer walks through your door, you should think about how improvements to your processes could increase their satisfaction - in the long run, there’s little doubt that benefitting your customers will have numerous benefits for your restaurant.

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